By the Numbers: A Breakdown of Results From Sotheby’s Hong Kong Evening Art Sales, October 2023

0
42

Disappointment is an understatement to describe the results of Sotheby’s Hong Kong autumn evening art sales on October 5. The flop of the single-owner sale of the collection of Long Museum founders, China’s billionaire couple Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei who have been known for paying exorbitant prices for trophy artworks—from the jaw-dropping $170 million for a Modigliani painting to the $36 million Liu swiped on his Amex card to acquire an exquisite 500-year-old chicken cup—caught the attention of market watchers even outside of the art world. But the real drama was the other two sales held on the same evening.

The six-hour sale marathon included the auction house’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale and Modern Art Evening Sale. The sale total after fees was already looking grim when compared with presale expectations—which do not include auction house fees. But it gets worse when we look at these sales figures alongside the comps for previous seasons in these two categories.

Both categories recorded their worst results in recent years, judging from the past records of evening sales during Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring and autumn marquee sales series. The contemporary sale total after fees on Thursday was down by 43 percent from autumn 2022‘s HK$535.5 million ($68 million), which had a sell-through rate of 94.3 percent. It looks even worse compared to the autumn sale total in 2020, the highest autumn sale total in five years, which achieved HK$684 million ($87 million).

As for the modern art evening sale, Thursday’s total was only 44 percent of autumn 2022’s HK$457 million ($58 million), which had a 92 percent sell-through rate. The autumn 2020 comp, also the highest fall total in five years, is HK$754 million ($96 million). One Asia-based art insider described the Long Museum founders’ collection sale as “bloodbath.” But hang on, this is the real bloodbath.

As for the Long Museum founders’ collection, it was a one-off single-owner sale, so there’s no direct comparison. But take the top lot, a Modigliani painting they acquired at Sotheby’s New York in 2015 for $42.8 million (about $55 million in today’s dollars). It sold for HK$273 million ($34.8 million) including fees on Thursday, an $8 million loss made even more insulting when you factor in inflation.

While Hong Kong is not generally regarded as a true barometer for the season ahead—it’s hard to parse the volatility of China’s economy from real signs of the wider macroeconomic situation—these results are worrisome as we head into London this week. They may prompt disrupt confidence in Asia’s art market, especially at the top level. It is also a test for auction houses on how they adapt to the unpredictable market environment, in particular when all the three major auction houses are moving to their new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong this and next year.

Suffice it to say, the current market is not looking favorable for sellers, who might be thinking twice about putting work up for sale this season if they can avoid it. Buyers, on the other hand, may be licking their lips at the prospect of snapping up a great work at a bargain.

Amedeo Modigliani, Paulette Jourdain (1919).

Amedeo Modigliani, Paulette Jourdain (1919).

Below, the story by the numbers:

A Long Journey: A Selection from the Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei Collection

Total Sales After Fees: HK$544.5 million ($69.5 million)

Lots Sold: 29

Lots on Offer Before Withdrawals: 40

Lots Withdrawn: 1

Lots Bought In: 10

Sell-through Rate Counting Withdrawals: 73 percent

Sell-through Rate Excluding Withdrawals: 74.4 percent

Hammer Total: HK$455 million ($58 million)

Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: HK$749 million ($95.6 million)

Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: HK$747 million ($95.4 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: –HK$294 million (–$37.6 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: –HK$292 million (–$37.4 million)

Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lot(s): HK$2 million ($255,400)

Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: HK$432.8 million ($55 million)

Lots with House Guarantees: 7

Lots with Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: 0

Top seller: (1919), one of Amedeo Modigliani’s last paintings, hammered at HK$235 million ($30 million) after a seven-minute bidding war among two phone bidders and “a lady in the room,” according to auctioneer Oliver Barker. The lady in the room, who turned out to be former Sotheby’s Asia chair Patti Wong, won the bid. The HK$274 million ($34.8 million) sale price factoring in fees was a nearly 20 percent discount from the price the Chinese billionaire collector couple paid when they acquired the work in November 2015 from the A. Alfred Taubman collection sale at Sotheby’s in New York. But bad news to Sotheby’s, which offered a house guarantee for the work, as the sale price, even after fees, was nowhere near the fees-free presale expectation “in the region of $45 million.”

Lasting Memory: While all eyes were on the sale of the Modigliani work and which premium lots went unsold, an amicable bidding war for Cheong Soo Pieng’s oil painting (1982) happened in between. The Singaporean artist was recognized as a pioneer of the Nanyang art style, and the painting, which Liu and Wang acquired in 2013 from a Christie’s Shanghai sale for CNY 4 million ($671,393), was painted the year before he passed away. Two anonymous phone bidders duked it out for several minutes in what Barker dubbed as “a battle of Singaporean bidders.” The guaranteed work eventually hammered at HK$3.3 million ($421,393) and sold for HK$4 million ($535,169) including fees, a dip from the 2013 price (CNY 4 million today equals $571,214 based on today’s exchange rate). “Michelle, I think you are taking it home,” Barker said to a beaming Michelle Yaw, deputy director and senior specialist at Sotheby’s Singapore, before he tapped the gavel.

Gerhard Richter, <i>Abstraktes Bild</i>. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (1994). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Contemporary Evening Auction

Total Sales After Fees: HK$352.7 million ($45 million)

Lots Sold: 18

Lots on Offer Before Withdrawals: 26

Lots Withdrawn: 3

Lots Bought In: 5

Sell-through Rate Counting Withdrawals: 69 percent

Sell-through Rate Excluding Withdrawals: 78 percent

Hammer Total: HK$289 million ($36.9 million)

Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: HK$437 million ($56.7 million)

Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: HK$407 million ($51.9 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: –HK$148 million ($19.8 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: –HK$118 million ($15 million)

Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lot(s): HK$40 million ($4.8 million)

Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: HK$180 million ($23 million)

Lots with House Guarantees and Irrevocable Bids: 3

Lots with Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: 0

Top seller: (1994) by Gerhard Richter, hammered at HK$71 million ($9 million), just surpassing the low presale estimate. It sold for HK$84.5 million ($10.8 million), including fees. The guaranteed premium lot last appeared at auction on February 14, 2012, at a Christie’s London sale. It sold for £9.9 million, an equivalent to $15.5 million according to the exchange rate at the time.

Lasting memory: The above numbers are pretty unforgettable.

Zao Wou-ki

Zao Wou-Ki, Sous un grand arbre d’été – 05.07.54 (1954). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Modern Evening Auction

Total Sales After Fees: HK$202 million ($25.8 million)

Lots Sold: 26

Lots on Offer Before Withdrawals: 39

Lots Withdrawn: 2

Lots Bought In: 11

Sell-through Rate Counting Withdrawals: 67 percent

Sell-through Rate Excluding Withdrawals: 70 percent

Hammer Total: HK$161 million ($20.7 million)

Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: HK$206 million ($26.3 million)

Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: HK$203 million ($25.9 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: –HK$45 million (–$5.6 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: –HK$42 million ($5.2 million)

Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lot(s): HK$3.2 million ($409,169)

Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: HK$12 million ($1.5 million)

Lots with House Guarantees: 1

Lots with Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: 0

Top seller:  (1954) is a painting that Chinese-French modern master Zao Wou-Ki created at the beginning of an artistic period known as Oracle Bone. The stunning red abstract work depicts an atmosphere under fiery sunlight. The work had a low estimate of HK$45 million ($5.4 million) but hammered at HK$36 million ($4.6 million). The sale price HK$44 million ($5.6 million) with fees did not surpass the low estimate either. But the result was at least 25 percent up from its previous auction sale price at HK$35 million ($4.6 million) when it appeared at a Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale on April 3, 2016, but selling under a different title, .

More Trending Stories:  

An Elderly Couple Sold a ‘Worthless’ African Mask for $157. Now They Are Suing the Buyer Who Auctioned It for $4.4 Million 

A Norwegian Man Stumbled Upon a Trove of Gold Dating to the Early Middle Ages, Including a Rare Pendant Depicting the Norse God Odin 

A Top Antiquities Sleuth Has Called Out the Manhattan D.A. For Continually Passing His Work Off As Its Own 

Emerging Artist Li Hei Di Calls Her London Studio a ‘Parallel Universe,’ Where Hong Kong’s Cinematic Heroines and Mystical Abstraction Meet 

After Its Team-Up With Pokémon, Scalpers Swarm the Van Gogh Museum to Snap Up Merch and ‘Pick the Gift Shop Clean’ 

An Enigmatic Still-Life Picasso, Made During His Now-Celebrated ‘Wonder Year’ of 1932, Will Hit the Auction Block This Fall 

Get a Closer Look at Lagos-Based Artist Nengi Omuku’s Intricate Textile Paintings—Made on Traditional Nigerian Cloth 

A Mexican Journalist Went Viral After He Presented ‘Alien Bodies’ to Congress. Now He Is Accused of Plundering Them From Ancient Sites 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here