Richter's abstract painting fetches US$13 million at Phillips x Poly Auction Evening Sale

Phillips and Poly Auction Hong Kong delivered stellar results in their joint 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 30 November. 

Amongst 52 lots offered, 50 were sold and achieved a sale total of HK$454.5 million (around US$58.3 million) dollars.

German abstract painter, Gerhard Richter’s Kerzenhein (Candle-light) was the sale's most expensive lot. It was sold for HK$101.9 million (around US$13 million) dollars. 

Alongside Richter's painting, the second and third most expensive lots were sold for more than HK$20 million (around US$2.5 million) dollars.

They were by two renowned Asian artists – Yayoi Kusama's Infinity-Nets (OPRT) and Zao Wou-ki's 20.3.64.

Lot 16 | Gerhard Richter | Kerzenschein (Candle-light), Oil on canvas

Created in 1984
200.3 x 179.7 cm

  • Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection, San Francisco
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$55,000,000 – 75,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$86,000,000

Sold: HK$101,970,000 (around US$13 million)

Richter's Kerzenschein (Candle-light) painting was hammered at HK$86 million (around US$11 million) dollars

The bidding was competed between Beijing and New York

Phillips’ Regional Director in China, Wenjia Zhang, with the winning bid

The auctioneer started bidding at HK$35 million dollars. After six bids, the bidding price reached HK$50 million dollars. Scott Nussbaum, Phillips New York's Senior International Specialist of 20th Century and Contemporary Art, then bid HK$65 million dollars  a breakthrough during the bidding. 

After more than 10 bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$86 million dollars – more than 1.5 times of its low estimate. The winning bid was by Phillips’ Regional Director in China, Wenjia Zhang, for her client with paddle number 1058. In the end, the painting was sold at HK$101.9 million (around US$13 million) dollars, with buyer’s premium.

Gerhard Richter’s Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) is a dynamic masterpiece hailing from a critical moment of aesthetic and conceptual transition in the German master’s career.

Created in 1984, Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) reflects Richter’s early abstract works, as well as an important painting that in title and visual association refer to the artist’s iconic body of Kerzen (Candles) paintings from 1982 to 1983.

Longitudinally bisected down the centre, the present abstract composition presents a crisp duality that echoes the earlier still life works featuring two candles, while its abstract planes of colour vividly communicate the dynamic and poignant evanescence of flame and light. Radical and captivating, Richter’s early abstracts scaled new heights of innovation and plumbed formidable depths of conceptual rigour.

Gerhard Richter

Horizontal squeegeed forms traverse the lower half of the canvas, with the stuttering fragmented yellow pigment at the lower left revealing deep green, red, and blue depths of underpainting that contrast with the expanses of yellow tracks on the right.

Richter discovered the squeegee in 1979 but only began using it as his sole painting tool in 1986; accordingly, Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) from 1984 reveals a plethora of painterly techniques  encompassing squeegee, brush and blade. Richter’s repeated process of layers and excavations result in fields of profound, vibrant colours.

Many of Richter's abstract paintings executed between 1984 and 1986 are held in public museums and prominent private collections, while works from this period follow a handful of solo exhibitions at prestigious institutions – including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1977); the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1979); and the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (1978, 1980).

Richter's squeegee technique 

Lot 18 | Yayoi Kusama | Infinity-Nets (OPRT), Acrylic on canvas

Created in 2004
193 x 193 cm

  • Robert Miller Gallery, New York
  • Collection of Ginny Williams, Denver
  • Christie's, New York, 12 May 2010, Lot 226
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Phillips, New York, 8 November 2015, Lot 1
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 25,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$18,500,000

Sold: HK$22,635,000 (around US$2.9 million)

The auctioneer started bidding at HK$10 million dollars, and the hammer was dropped at HK$18.5 million dollars. The winning bid was by Phillips’ Hong Kong team, for their client with paddle number 1073. In the end, the painting was sold at HK$22.6 million (around US$2.9 million) dollars, with buyer’s premium.

Painted in 2004, Infinity-Nets (OPRT) is an example from Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s ground-breaking series, Infinity Nets. Covered in a shimmering lattice of intricately applied loops, dots, and curls, the vibrant rose and pearl coloured canvas mesmerises with ethereal radiance that beckons us closer, enveloping the viewer in poetic splendour. The delicacies of the contours subtly unfold across the painting like billowing cotton-candy clouds, as Kusama melds the observable with the spiritual to erase the picture plane into boundlessness, epitomising the artist’s notion of the infinity.

Created almost 50 years after she began her renowned Infinity Nets body of works, Infinity-Nets (OPRT) exemplifies Kusama’s matured approach. Differing to her early oil paint iterations, the present work is rendered in glimmering sapphire-pink and white acrylic paint on canvas – owing to a pivotal shift of medium the artist undertook in the early 1980s. Whilst this transition nods to Kusama’s early nihonga water-based experimentations, the quicker drying time of acrylic reflects the artist’s relentless endurance to make sense of the world and herself, through her art, with remarkable ferocity. 

Lot 28 | Zao Wou-ki | 20.3.64, Oil on canvas

Created in 1964
88.8 x 115.8 cm

  • Private Collection
  • Christie's, New York, 20 February 1988, Lot 2
  • Private Collection
  • Galerie Frans Watchers
  • Private Collection, Belgium
  • Thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 – 30,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$18,000,000

Sold: HK$22,030,000 (around US$2.8 million)

The bidding started at HK$13 million dollars. After five bids, the hammer dropped at HK$18 million dollars below its low estimate. The winning bid was by Poly Auction Hong Kong's Head of Modern and Contemporary Art Department, Jamie Yu, for her client with paddle number 1568. In the end, the painting was sold at HK$22.03 million (around US$2.8 million) dollars, with buyer's premium.  

Zao Wou-ki is one of the most renowned Chinese modern artists in the world  enriched by his artistic encounters in both the East and West. Created in 1964, this present work stems from a highly sought-after decade of Zao’s practice known as his ’Hurricane Period’ (1959-1972) – referring to the flowing, central-axis aesthetic that characterised his works of this time.

Widely considered as the zenith of his career, Zao’s style reached a new level of technical maturity as he masterfully harmonised the virtues of Western painting with the essence of traditional Chinese ink landscapes from the Song (960-1279 CE) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties.

This painting is mainly depicted with vermillion red, which explodes across the canvas surface – coalescing with swathes of calligraphic, inky black from which bursts of radiant white, silvery light diffuses outwards in feathery strokes. The work is at once triumphant and imposing in its execution, evoking the power of elemental vigour and atmospheric charge.

Other highlight lots: 

Lot 15 | Matthew Wong | Far Away Eyes, Oil on canvas 

Created in 2017
66 x 147.5 cm

  • Private Collection
  • Fair Warning, Online, 27 August 2020
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$8,000,000 12,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$17,300,000

Sold: HK$21,183,000 (around US$2.7 million)

Lot 30 | Alexander Calder | Two Red Petals in the Air, Sheet metal, wire, and paint

Created in 1958
101.6 x 137.2 x 50.8 cm

  • Perls Galleries, New York
  • Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Hirsh, Beverly Hills
  • Newspace Gallery, Los Angeles
  • Collection of A. Alfred Taubman (acquired from the above in October 1977)
  • The Collection of A. Alfred Taubman: Masterworks, Sotheby's, New York, November 4, 2015, lot 3
  • Private Collection, UK
  • Phillips, New York, 18 May 2017, Lot 36
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$16,000,000 – 20,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$17,000,000

Sold: HK$20,820,000 (around US$2.6 million)

Lot 19 | Yayoi Kusama | Repetition, Sewn stuffed fabric, wood and paint, in 120 parts

Created in 1998
Each: 38 x 25.6 x 15 cm. Overall: 228 x 512 x 15 cm

  • New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Yayoi Kusama: Now, 11 June - 7 August 1998, pl. 10 (illustrated)
  • Miami, Bass Museum of Art, Yayoi Kusama, 4 December 2002 - 11 May 2003, no. 32, p.39 (illustrated, p. 19)
  • Miami, Moore Building, Pop Minimalism | Minimalist Pop, 4 - 9 December 2018, pp. 109-110 (illustrated)

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 20,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$15,500,000

Sold: HK$19,005,000 (around US$2.4 million)

New auction records: 

During the sale, seven artists set new auction records. 

Among them, it is the first time that Izumi Kato's artwork was sold at more than HK$10 million dollars. His triptych masterpiece, Untitled, was sold at HK$11.7 million (around US$1.5 million) dollars far exceeding expectations.

Lot 7 | Javier Calleja | 30 works: Untitled, Mixed media on paper and wall painting 

Created in 2017 
185 x 730 cm 

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 15,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$9,800,000 

Sold: HK$12,108,000 (around US$1.55 million)

Lot 41 | Izumi Kato | Untitled, Oil on canvas, triptych

Created in 2008 
Red: 227.3 x 162.1 cm, Blue: 194 x 130.3 cm, Green: 227.3 x 162.1 cm 

  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$4,500,000 7,500,000

Hammer Price: HK$9,500,000 

Sold: HK$11,745,000 (around US$1.50 million)

Lot 13 | Scott Kahn | Cadman Plaza, Oil on linen 

Created in 2002 
157.5 x 193 cm 

  • Harper's, USA
  • Private Collection
  • Private Collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 1,500,000

Hammer Price: HK$6,000,000

Sold: HK$7,510,000 (around US$960,000)

Lot 49 | Robert Nava | Angel Shark, Acrylic on canvas 

Created in 2020 
182.7 x 213.8 cm 

  • Sorry We're Closed, Brussels
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$1,200,000 1,800,000

Hammer Price: HK$3,500,000 

Sold: HK$4,410,000 (around US$560,000)

Lot 50 | Susumu Kamijo | Marching To The Sun, Flashe vinyl paint on canvas 

Created in 2020 
152.4 x 122 cm 

  • Jack Hanley Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$450,000  650,000 

Hammer Price: HK$1,700,000 

Sold: HK$2,142,000 (around US$270,000)

Lot 54 | Godwin Champs Namuyimba | The Connector, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas 

Created in 2021
200 x 148 cm 

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Estimate: HK$200,000  400,000 

Hammer Price: HK$1,050,000

Sold: HK$$1,323,000 (around US$170,000)

Lot 53 | Billie Zangewa | Cirque d'hiver, Embroidered silk

Created in 2007 
150.9 x 135.9 cm 

  • MAGNIN-A, Paris
  • Private Collection, London (acquired from the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$400,000  600,000 

Hammer Price: HK$450,000 

Sold: HK$567,000 (around US$71,800)

Auction Summary:

Auction Houses: Phillips and Poly Auction Hong Kong

Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Date: 30 November 2021

Number of lots: 52

Sold: 50 

Unsold: 2

Sale Rate: 96.1%

Sale Total: HK$454,566,200 (around US$58.3 million)