US$31.8m Western and Eastern masterworks to shine amid Poly Auction HK’s 10th anniversary

On 12 July, Poly Auction Hong Kong will stage its Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale as part of their 10th anniversary celebration.

Poly Auction, a leading house in the Chinese mainland, is known for its Asian art in its Hong Kong sales. In 2016, Chinese Modern Art pioneer, Wu Guanzhong's Zhouzhuang realised HK$236 million (around US$30.4 million) dollars – which set the auction record for the artist.

In this season's upcoming sale, however, there will be many blockbuster Western masterpieces – namely those by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wayne Thiebaud and Adrian Ghenie. Alongside these painters, Eastern Masters are also featured – such as Yayoi Kusama, Wu Guanzhong, Chu Teh-chun and Zao Wou-ki. Together, the 29 oeuvres offered are valued at around HK$250 to 400 million (approximately US$31.8 to 50.9 million) dollars.

Lot 5 | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Untitled; Acrylic, spray paint, oilstick and paper collage on canvas

Created in 1981
122 x 142 cm

  • Didier Imbert Fine Art, Paris, France
  • Annina Nosei Gallery, New York, USA
  • Christie’s London, 27 June 2000, Lot 42
  • Private Collection

Estimate upon request

In 2000, this painting was auctioned at Christie’s London. After 22 years, it returns to an Asian sale – this time at Poly Auction Hong Kong.

In 2017, Basquiat became the then most expensive American artist in history – when his 1982 skull painting, Untitled, fetched US$110 million dollars at Sotheby’s New York. It was purchased by Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa. In 2022, Basquiat's crown as the most valuable American artist ever was overtaken by Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn painting which garnered US$195 million dollars. 

Japanese billionaire Maezawa bought Untitled (1982) for US$110 million dollars – propelling Basquiat as the then most valuable American artist in history

This present masterpiece, with its combative, African mask-like black figure at its heart, is the first fundamental figure of African descent used as a symbol of his early collage-based paintings.

Throughout his career, it remained with Basquiat as his most personal visual language. Untitled depicts a heroic, enigmatic figure with meaningful symbols. Images from primitive tribes such as Africa and Egypt, materials drawn from children's drawings, American pop culture, or inspiration from Masters of different periods – such as Pablo Picasso, Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet – are all presented in this work.

Basquiat's championed figures of the African diaspora – such as American boxer and heavyweight world champion, Joe Louis – as depicted in an artwork called St. Joe Louis Surrounded by Snakes (1982)

Jean-Michel Basquiat

With its large blocks of red and black, this oeuvre is a powerful portrait of Basquiat's intensity at the age of 20. The painting is dominated by a black man wearing his iconic triple-tipped crown. Protagonists of Basquiat's paintings are often drawn from black celebrities whom he admired – such as boxers Jersey Joe Walcott and Joe Louis, baseball star Hank Aaron and jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

The figure is a combination of a hero and the crown, a symbol of warrior and conqueror. The protagonist’s head looks like he is pierced by an X-ray – his face and features are penetratingly multi-layered. His head is held high, while having a firm posture and an energetic expression. On his chest, there are three iron spikes – a symbol of energy spikes of the Congo – expressing an emotional tension between heroism and martyrdom.

Lot 11 | Wayne Thiebaud | Encased Cakes, Oil on canvas

Created in 2010-2011
182.9 x 121.9 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Acquired directly from the artist in 2011
  • Sotheby's New York, 14 November 2019, Lot 30 (Sold: US$8,464,800
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$60,000,000 – 86,000,000 

In 2019, this present painting fetched US$8.4 million dollars at Sotheby's New York. Three years later, in 2022, Encased Cakes will be sold at Poly Auction Hong Kong and is estimated between HK$60 and 80 million dollars (around US$7.6 and 10.1 million) dollars. Whether this present painting will surpass its previous sale figure remains to be seen.  

During the 1960s, Thiebaud was obsessed with ritualistic arrangements of cakes, sandwiches, and sweets. Known as the hungriest artist in California, his work frequently depicts commonly-seen food and consumer goods. He began painting outdoor landscapes in the 1970s, adding vibrant colours and delicate painting techniques to his work. The creative experience of him studying and overlooking river landscapes in the 1990s allowed him to familiarise with switching different perspectives, and the block-like composition of vertical and horizontal views.

There is an interaction of colours and lighting, which creates a sense of dynamism – as seen in this central section of the painting 

Wayne Thiebaud

Created from 2010 to 2011, this present painting uses basic characteristics of triangles, circles, and squares. By combining these geometric shapes with cakes and pies in daily life, these motifs opened doors to the artist's culinary journey in art. These piles of food symbolise the richness of the American culture and the middle-class consumer culture at the time. The artist leverages the spirituality of pleasure created by refreshments and sweets to render the audiences and lead them into the affluent and happy environment he created.

To offer a sense of presence, the main body of the present work uses the grey cake cupboard in parallel perspective. Then, to vividly present the appearance of the two rows of cakes within the counter, he paints the cake at an angle such that the viewer is peering down at the showcase. This method allows the composition to have an illusion of depth. The intersection of the rolling rivers and paths in the river series, dividing the picture into different colour blocks is also reflected in Encased Cakes.

Lot 12 | Adrian Ghenie | Lidless Eye, Oil on canvas

Created in 2016-2018
180.4 x 149.8 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Acquired directly from the artist
  • Private Collection, International Collector
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 6 October 2020, Lot 1123 (Sold: HK$54,920,000)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 – 75,000,000

In 2020, this present painting fetched HK$54.9 million (around US$7 million) dollars at Sotheby's Hong Kong. Two years later, in 2022, Lidless Eye will be auctioned at Poly Auction Hong Kong. Estimated between HK$50 and 75 million dollars, it remains to be seen whether its previous sale price will be overtaken. 

Measuring 180.4 by 149.8 centimetres, Lidless Eye is a self-portrait of Ghenie and is one of the largest self-portraits by the artist to appear on the market to date. The Romanian artist created a series of portraits around 2009 – including this present work. Among these however, there are two with whom he personally identifies: of Ghenie’s titled self-portraits, the most remarkable are those belonging to a small group of recent self-images centred on the effigies of Vincent van Gogh and Charles Darwin.

One effigy that inspires Ghenie is Vincent van Gogh as seen in the Dutch Master's Self Portrait (1887) | Art Institute of Chicago 

Another figure who inspires Ghenie's self-images is British naturalist, Charles Darwin – as seen in his 2013 work, The Death of Charles Darwin

Created between 2016 and 2018, the artist's face in the painting is covered in thick layers of paint – inspired by British figurative painter, Bacon's swirling technique and German abstract artist, Richter's scraper strokes – creating a distinct artistic language. The protagonist's face is formed from fragments – each dash of colour is like a piece of memory and is hard to recognise. The way Ghenie's hair is combed and how his moustache is portrayed are hints for the viewer to identify him as the subject matter.

In 2022, Adrian Ghenie's largest single canvas work, Pie Fight Interior 12, fetched HK$81 million (around US$10.3 million) dollars with buyer’s premium – setting a new auction record for the Romanian artist. In recent years, Ghenie is increasingly one of the most popular artists amongst Asian collectors.

Ghenie's Pie Fight Interior 12 (2014) | Christie's Hong Kong, 2022 | Sold: HK$81,060,000 (around US$10.3 million)

Adrian Ghenie

Other highlight lots: 

Lot 9 | Yayoi Kusama | Infinity Nets (BSGK), Acrylic on canvas

Created in 2015
162 x 162 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • OTA Fine Arts, Tokyo, Japan
  • Private Collection
  • Phillips London, 8 March 2017, Lot 2 (Sold: £605,000)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$16,500,000 – 25,000,000

Lot 10 | Richard Prince | Beat Hippie Punk Hop Trance; Oil stick, acrylic, charcoal, collage and ink injector on canvas (hexaptych)

Created in 2017
Each: 203 x 149.8 cm | Overall: 203 x 898.8 cm

  • Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, China
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$16,000,000 – 26,000,000

Lot 18 | Wu Guanzhong | Warm Spring in the Mountain Village, Oil on board

Created in 1976
46 x 61 cm

  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 24 October 2005, Lot 789
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$16,000,000 – 24,000,000

Lot 23 | Chu Teh-chun | Subtiles nuees, Oil on canvas

Created in 1991
200.4 x 200 cm

  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 25,000,000

Lot 29 | Rudolf Stingel | Untitled, Oil on canvas

Created in 1996
172.7 x 134.6 cm

  • Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
  • Private Collection (Acquired from the above in 1996)
  • Christie's Ne   w York, 11 November 2015, Lot 417
  • Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, China
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 25,000,000

Lot 7 | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Logo, Acrylic, oilstick and silkscreen on canvas

Created in 1984
152 x 122 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
  • Galerie Beaubourg, Paris, France
  • Private Collection, Marciano
  • Christie’s New York, 19 November 1992, Lot 445
  • Private Collection, New York, USA
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Sotheby’s Paris, 7 December 2010, Lot 11 (Sold: €840,750)
  • Private Collection, New York, USA
  • Opera Gallery, Hong Kong, China
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 30 September 2018, Lot 1058 (Sold: HK$29,520,000)
  • Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, China
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$11,000,000 – 22,000,000

Lot 19 | Zao Wou-ki | 23.6.66, Oil on canvas

Created in 1966
81 x 65 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Galerie de France, Paris, France
  • Private Collection, Paris, France
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 24 May 2014, Lot 8 (Sold: HK$9,040,000)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 – 15,000,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Poly Auction Hong Kong
Sale: Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Date and Time: 12 July 2022 | 6:30pm (Hong Kong local time)
Number of lots: 29