A single buyer snapped up two Zao Wou-Ki artworks for HK$100m at Phillips HK$200-million sale

A single floor bidder scooped up two Zao Wou-Ki abstracts, the priciest paintings at Phillips Hong Kong 20th Century & Contemporary Art sale last night.

The 22-lot auction raised nearly HK$200 million with just two lots unsold, a near 10 percent increase from the result last year.

Two of Zao’s abstracts that led the sale 22.6.63 and 24.10.63 – realised a combined total of HK$100 million, accounting for half of the total sales.

24.10.63 (Left) and 22.6.63

The paintings, both executed in 1963, are prime examples completed at the peak of Zao's artistic career known as his Hurricane Period, which is marked by a central-axis composition integrated with Chinese cursive calligraphy informed by Western abstract expressionism.

Bids for the crimson-hued 22.6.63 started at HK$26m and was pursued by two bidders on the floor against an opponent over the phone via Delissa Handoko, head of day sale at Phillips.

Once the bid reached HK$32m, it slowed down to a HK$1m increment. It took 14 bids to propel the 146-cm-tall Zao Wou-Ki to HK$46m hammer price. After a fierce eight-minute bidding war, the lot finally went to a lady on the floor for HK$54.3m with fees.

Zao’s another abstract 24.10.63, however, received less attentions despite its larger size that measures 194 by 97 cm.

Starting at HK$28m, the lot climbed to HK$32m after just two bids. Then it came down to a battle between two rivals, an online bidder from Taiwan against the same floor bidder who secured the 22.6.63. The latter won the painting, again, for HK$39m hammer price, or HK$46.4m with fees.

Provided by The Kootz Gallery, both paintings had changed hands only three times since its completion in 1963, and had remained unseen over the past 57 long years.

Meanwhile, Liu Ye's Choir of Angels (Red), guaranteed by third party, sold to a telephone bidder aided by Phillips’ head of watches Jill Chen for HK23m hammer price, or HK$27.7m with fees, after a battle against an online rival from California. The 1999 painting is part of Liu's iconic “red curtain” series that nods to the methodical compositions of René Magritte and Georgio de Chirico.

Choir of Angels (Red) (1999) by Liu Ye, 169.1 x 199.2 cm

The Wisdom Tooth Fever, 1999 by revered Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara also sold firmly within its presale estimate of HK$10m to HK$15m, for a hammer price of HK$10.5m, or HK$12.7m with fees.

Starting at HK$7m, the painting received seven bids in HK$500,000 increment before being sold to a telephone bidder via Lihua Tung, senior specialist and senior director at Phillips.

Wisdom Tooth Fever, 1999 by Yoshitomo Nara, 110 x 120.2 cm

The first lot of the evening, a 2017 painting by the late Matthew Wong, titled Warmth, also drew frenzied bidding at the sale.

Some 23 bidders vied for the lot. Starting at HK$4m, the bidding reached HK$10m after 12 bids in HK50,000 increment. It was hammered down at HK2.1m, five times its HK$600,000 high estimate. The lot realised a total of HK$2.6m with fees. Wong, who took his own life at a young age of 35, has been setting personal records this auction season. The sizeable The Realm of Appearances (2018), for instance, fetched a record US$1.82m (HK$14.1m) at a New York sale last week.

Top five lots:

Lot 8 | 22.6.63 (1963) by Zao Wou-Ki
oil on canvas, 146 x 89 cm


  • Karma Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection, Paris
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$38,000,000 – 58,000,000
Sold for: HK$54,310,000

Lot 9 | 24.10.63 (1963) by Zao Wou-Ki
oil on canvas, 194 x 97 cm


  • Kootz Gallery, New York
  • Collection of Walter R. Beardsley, United States (acquired from the above)
  • Corporate Collection, United States (acquired from the above circa 1978)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

Estimate: HK$45,000,000 - 65,000,000
Sold for: HK$46,365,000

Lot 7 | Choir of Angels (Red) (1999) by Liu Ye
oil on canvas, 169.1 x 199.2 cm


  • Gallery Pilsner, Paris
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 40,000,000
Sold for: HK$27,750,000

Lot 14 | Wisdom Tooth Fever, 1999 by Yoshitomo Nara
acrylic on canvas, 110 x 120.2 cm


  • Galerie Zink, Regensburg
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000
Sold for: HK$12,750,000

Lot 1 | Warmth (1999) by Matthew Wong
acrylic on canvas, 110 x 120.2 cm


  • Galerie Zink, Regensburg
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000
Sold for:  HK$12,750,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Phillips Hong Kong
Sale: Phillips Hong Kong 20th Century & Contemporary Evening Art Sale
Sale date: 8 July, 2020
Lots offered: 22
Sold: 20
Sold by lots: 91%
Sale total: HK$199,485,000