Zao Wou-Ki Dominates Hong Kong Auctions

Zao Wou-Ki's 04.01.79, 1979, on view at Phillips in Taipei

The paintings of the Chinese-French Modern master Zao Wou-Ki dominated the Modern and contemporary art sales at Christie’s and Phillip’s in Hong Kong’s this week, fueled in part by the opening today of his solo exhibition L’espace est Silence (until 6 January 2019) at Paris’s Musee d’Art Moderne.

At Phillip’s 20th century and contemporary art and design evening sale on 27 May, which realised HK$233.6m ($29.8m)—the company’s highest ever sale total in Asia—Zao’s two and a half meter high painting 04.01.79 (1979) made HK$69.8m ($8.9m). A strong price but, according to Artnet’s price database, still only the 14th highest at auction, the record being HK$202.6m ($25.9m) set by 29.01.64 at Christie’s Hong Kong last November.

Zao provided the top lots over at Christie’s the previous night as well. During its Asian 20th century and contemporary art evening sale and Contemporaries: Voices from East and West evening sale—which totaled HK$1bn ($133.2m)—Zao’s 14.12.59 made HK$176.7m ($22.6m), third highest price for the artist. The following day’s HK$127.6m ($16.3m) Asian 20th century art day sale was topped by Zao’s 04.03.63, going for HK$7.9m ($549,347).

Born in China in 1920, Zao Wou-Ki emigrated to France in the late 1940s, where he mingled with Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miro and developed a signature style combining Chinese ink art with Western abstraction.

Zao’s generation of 20th century Chinese, mostly emigrant, Modern painters continue to dominate the Hong Kong sales, though Zao commands the highest prices. At Christie’s this week, his fellow Chinese-French abstractionist Chu Teh-Chun’s Mille vies Se cachent dans le bois made HK$28.9m ($3.7m) and the artist’s No. 81 sold for HK$38.3m ($4.9m). Several works by Wu Guanzhong went for over a million US dollars, including By the Side of the Li River (I) for HK$10.6m ($1.3m) and The Sea of Potted Landscapes for HK$12.7m ($1.6m).

Yayoi Kusama also continues to be ubiquitous. Her Pumpkins (1982), a sculpture of two squashes on shelves, was the top lot at Christie’s 27 May Asian contemporary art day sale, at HK$7m ($904,086).

Kusama and her fellow Japanese pop artists Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara dot every catalogue, with the American artist Kaws also enjoying an expanded Asia profile since his 2017 blockbuster exhibition at Shanghai’s Yuz Museum. Sotheby’s, which along with Poly and Guardian held its Spring Hong Kong sales of Modern and contemporary art in late March and early April, will on 8 June hold a themed sale titled Turn It Up, largely featuring this popular group as well as George Condo and Keith Haring.


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