2018.10.02 Tue, by
Zao Wou-Ki vs. Hao Liang at Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Get ready players! Auction Fortnight has begun and there’s only one winner!

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Hong Kong, September 30
Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale, Hong Kong, September 30

At Sotheby’s Hong Kong Evening Sale four works stood out, by Zao Wou-Ki, Liu Ye, Xu Zhen and yeah, um Hao Liang. Let’s have a chat about that, with an anonymous but curious collector.

Read on Reader! Going Down!…>>

Zao Wou-Ki Sothebys 2018-10-02 at 12.15.50

Anonymous: What do you think of the Zao Wou-ki sold 65 million dollars when in 2005 at Christies it made USD 2.5 million?

Chris: Intellectually this work is wildly overvalued! It’s very pretty but is this in the same league as Barnett Newman, Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning—come on, no way! But its auction price reflects market scarcity, audience conservatism and even nationalism, and maybe also that Mainland people are looking for safe-harbor moveable assets to put money into. And it’s pretty. Obviously at least two people think it’s USD-60 million pretty! 

No, you’re wrong about the Zao Wou-Ki. That size!… It’s the Lilies of China, not abstract-expressionism! And respectable provenance too. Always important with Chinese collectors.

Of course, yes, and Zao’s big show at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris will have helped too. Institutional imprimatur always soothingly rubs the bellies of picky collectors…

…like this one


Enough already! Let’s move on.

Hao Liang Sothebys 2018-10-02 at 12.11.31

What do you think of Hao Liang ’s USD 1.5 million price?

Chris: Absolutely NUTS ! He was born literally yesterday, in 1983!!! The work itself is basically extremely similar to thousands of other works, some of which are hundreds of years old. This feels like a speculator is boosting prices. We cannot know. Maybe this collector just really really really likes Hao Liang. Like really, massively, likes his stuff a lot. But let’s pretend it’s speculation. Say the speculator owns ten works by Hao Liang and then buys the 11th work at an outlandish price of say USD 1.5 million, then KABOOM!! Suddenly they have ELEVEN very expensive works. If they are sold on…  Of course, if their bluff is called, then it can be very damaging for an artist’s career, not to mention the “investment”. But hey, I’m not impressed by Hao Liang anyway. Seriously, it’s 2018 – the 21st Century! – and this is where we’re at ??

Xu Zhen Sothebys 2018-10-02 at 12.14.37

And Xu Zhen’s Supermarket was sold too, a Conceptual Idea!

Chris: Ooh, I feel wobbly with emotion. But seriously, this work led Sotheby’s marketing campaign for the sale and it reached slightly above the high estimate. For a work that is complicated to display (a shop, a shop fit-out, lots of specially emptied consumer goods packages, plus staff) and cannot be hung on a Hong Kong condominium wall, this is a great result for the artist… and also for sales of conceptual works in traditionally risk-averse and conservative Hong Kong. For comparison though, think of it this way: Xuzhen Supermarket—one of the most important artworks produced in China in the past 20 years—is basically the same price as one of Xu Zhen’s big Under Heaven cake-icing paintings. Looking at this way, it was a total bargain.

Liu Ye Sothebys 2018-10-02 at 12.12.18

What about Liu Ye?

Chris: USD 2.7 million is impressive. In recent years a lot of artists from 1990s China have seen their reputations—and prices—decline in the West and even in China, including Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun. A couple of artists have managed to avoid this. Zeng Fanzhi is one and Liu Ye another. Liu Ye’s prices continue to be solidly reliable. It helps that the figurative works are so cute of course, though recent still-lifes of books are much harder for civilians to unpack, so it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to them in years to come.

Liu Ye does his own thing. The paintings are not huge and he doesn’t need a massive studio and huge team of helpers to make his art. Watch out for his show at Prada Rong Zhai in Shanghai next month.