Western Artists Dominate Asian Market, Claiming All Top Three Spots in Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Art Evening Auction

Touted by Sotheby’s as a series of sales that carry the highest estimate for any auction series ever staged in Asia, tonight’s marquee Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong was indeed a tremendous success.

Driving the night were mainly artworks executed by Western artists, including all top three lots that each crossed the HK$100m (US$12.9m) mark: Clyfford Still’s abstract painting PH-568, Gerhard Richter’s 1985 oil on canvas Schwefel (Sulphur), and Roy Lichtenstein’s Reflections on Thud!


Auctioneer Ian McGinlay brought the hammer down for the night’s top lot, Clyfood Still’s PH-568 at HK$108m


With only one work withdrawn towards the end of the sale, all 45 lots found their new owners. The white-glove sale tallied nearly HK$952m (US$122.5m) and a sizable portion of that amount was sured up by the 14 lots guaranteed by irrevocable bids ahead of the sale, to ensure they would sell.


Lot 1124 | Clyfford Still, PH-568

Oil on canvas

Signed, dated 1965 and numbered PH-568 on the reverse; dated 1965 and numbered PH-568 on the overlap

Dimensions: 285.1 x 226.7 cm


  • The Artist
  • Marlborough Gallery, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1969)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$105,000,000 - 145,000,000

Hammer price: HK$108,000,000

Price realized: HK$126,158,000


Guaranteed with an irrevocable bid ahead of the sale, American painter Clyfford Still’s PH-568 was opened at HK$98m and four initial bids took it to HK$104m, which was still below the estimate. While there was a lack of action from both Hong Kong and London teams, the HK$108m offer relayed from New York became the winning bid.

It was Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman of the Fine Art division, who won the work for her client with the paddle number 84, possibly the guarantor of the work.


Amy Cappellazzo won the present lot for her client


Clyfford Still was among one of the foremost figures of American Abstract Expressionism. He began his explorations into Surrealist-tinged abstraction of the late 1930s to early 1940s.

Having spent his youth between Bow Island, Canada and Washington, the US, Still moved to New York in 1944 but eventually withdrew from the city’s over-commercialized art scene in pursuit of a more individualized practice in 1951 and relocated to a quaint town in Maryland in 1961.


Clyfford Still (1904-1980)


That explains why Still’s artworks are among the rarest finds in the market, in comparison to his contemporaries. When the artist passed away in 1980, there were some 2,400 never-before-seen works in his estate that were sealed off from public view. That was until the establishment of the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, which houses 95% of his oeuvre, bequeathed by Still’s second wife, Patricia.


Installation view of the present lot, PH-568 at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery of New York, 1969


The present work, measuring 285.1 by 226.7 cm, was one of the late paintings by Still exhibited at the landmark exhibition at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery in 1969 - the only occasion in Still’s lifetime that his works entered the commercial market following his dissociation with his gallerists in 1951.  

Still’s current record was set by an abstract work titled 1949-A-NO.1, which was sold for US$61.7m at a Sotheby’s New York evening sale.


Clyfford Still, 1949-A-NO.1, sold for US$61.7m at Sotheby’s New York, November 2011

Lot 1127 | Gerhard Richter, Schwefel (Sulphur)

Oil on canvas

Signed, dated 1985 and numbered 573-1 on the reverse

Dimensions: 200.3 x 300.5 cm


  • Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
  • Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, New York
  • Private Collection, New York
  • Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco / Schönewald Fine Arts, Xanten
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby's, New York, November 14, 2018, lot 37
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$80,000,000 - 100,000,000

Hammer price: HK$101,000,000

Price realized: HK$118,115,000


The second top-grossing lot of the sale was German contemporary master Gerhard Richter’s abstract, titled Schwefel (Sulphur). The proceeding began at HK$65m and the biddings were solely among the specialists in the Hong Kong saleroom.

The three-way bidding battle was among interested bidders with Yuki Terase (Head of Contemporary Art, Asia), Carrie Li (Senior Specialist, Chinese Works of Art), and Jen Hua (Deputy Chairman, Asia) respectively, until Li prevailed. The hammer was down at HK$101m, scraping past the lot’s presale high estimate to realize HK$118m (US$15.2m).

The painting last went to the auction block in November 2018, when it was sold for US$12.5m at a Sotheby’s New York sale. Tonight’s result netted the consignor US$2.7m return on investment in less than two and a half years. 


(Center) Carrie Li, Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art

Gerhard Richter (b.1932)


The massive painting was created in 1985, over a period of several months. It marks the genesis of the artist’s iconic Abstrakte Bilder series. The painting bursts with exuberant color, gestural dynamism and compositional complexity.

Richter's entirely abstract vernacular first emerged in 1977, building upon the artist’s earlier photo-realist works produced in the previous decade.

Lot 1112 | Roy Lichtenstein, Reflections on Thud!

Oil and magna on canvas

Painted in 1990

Dimensions: 139.7 x 244 cm


  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York 
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990

Estimate: HK$78,000,000 - 108,000,000

Hammer price: HK$94,000,000

Price realized: HK$110,072,000


The second runner-up of the sale came from one of the leading figures of the Pop Art movement, Roy Lichtenstein. The present lot carried a presale estimate of HK$78m to HK$108m and was backed by an irrevocable bid prior to the sale.

Auctioneer Ian McGinlay started the bidding at HK$70m and offered three consecutive bids from his end until HK$76m. After holding at the still below-estimate mark for quite a while, Yuki Terase, Head of Contemporary Art, Asia, came in to the rescue and offered her victorious bid of HK$94m and claimed the work for her client with the paddle number 124.


Represented by Terase, a client with the paddle number 124 took home the present Lichtenstein work


With an irrevocable bid, an interested buyer essentially places a bid for certain work in advance and the amount is usually close to the presale estimate. Yet depending on the undisclosed financial arrangements between the auction house and the guarantor, the agreed bid may vary.


Close look at Reflections on Thud!


Reflections on Thud! is one of the works from Lichtenstein’s important series of Reflections Paintings, which he began in 1988 and completed in 1993. The oil and magna on canvas work is rendered in immaculate striations of the artist’s signature Ben-Day dots, which mimics comic strips to denote gradients and texture.

The subject matter T-rex is interrupted by the visual effect of a reflective glass. It also compels viewers to the disrupted image while also keeping them at bay, heightening the intriguing viewing experience. 


Roy Lichtenstein with the present work, 1990

Lot 1133 | Yoshitomo Nara, Frog Girl

Acrylic on canvas

Signed, titled and dated 98 on the reverse

Dimensions: 120 x 111 cm


  • Galerie Zink & Gegner, Munich
  • Private Collection
  • Kunsthaus Lempertz, December 2, 2004, lot 453
  • Private Collection
  • Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, November 11, 2005, lot 309
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's, New York, May 12, 2010, lot 441
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$40,000,000 - 80,000,000 HKD

Hammer price: HK$82,000,000

Price realized: HK$96,284,000


Immediately after the auctioneer opened the lot at HK$28m, the first half of the bidding was dominated by the team based in New York, up until the bid reached its HK$70m mark. Hong Kong’s Jen Hua chimed in and the cross-continental bidding war lasted not long after, before she was joined by Kevin Ching, CEO, Asia.

Ching took the bid to HK$81m, when it looked like the auctioneer was ready to bring his gavel down. Hua tried to offer HK$81.5m three times, all rejected by the auctioneer who insisted that the next bid would be HK$82m. The dubious bid of HK$82m finally came, when Ching’s client decided not to offer higher bids. The was eventually sold to the client with the paddle number 53, presented by Hua, who is usually based in mainland China.

Jen Hua (upper right) edged out Kevin Ching (lower right), and won the work for her client


Frog Girl, which depicts the unmistakable chubby-cheeked character by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara was executed in 1998. It highly resembles the coveted and substantially larger work - Knife Behind Back, which was sold for a record-smashing HK$195.7m (US$24.9m) in 2019.

Yoshitomo Nara, Knife Behind Back | 234 x 208 cm
sold for HK$195.7m (US$24.9m) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, October 2019

Yoshitomo Nara (b.1959)


Nara is best known for his paintings of children that appear adorable but at the same time, a little sinister. Behind the intense gaze from the girl’s wide doe-eyes, one can almost sense the subtle melancholic expression and her loneliness.

As the youngest child of working parents, the artist spent much of his time in solitude with little to do but explore the depths of his imagination. The signature style in his oeuvre was first developed during his lonesome years in Germany, which reminded him of his childhood. The sensation captured slowly manifested itself from the ‘90s, into the character’s signature bob cut, pudgy cheeks, and almond-eyes.

Before the audience was dismissed, Sotheby's made an exciting announcement that the auction house will soon collaborate with Taiwanese megastar and the "King of Mandopop" Jay Chou in two months. 

Auction Summary:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sale: Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Date: April 19, 2021 | 7pm

Lots offered: 45

Sold: 45

Sale by rate: 100%

Sale total: HK$951,854,000 (US$122,500,000)