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Apr. 9, 2009 

Sotheby’s Hong Kong did a total of $89 million in four days of auctions, Apr. 5-8, 2009, including the firm’s first single-owner wine sale in Asia, which totaled $6.4 million and was 100 percent sold. A new auction record was set for "monochrome porcelain" when a Celadon-glazed reticulated vase from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) sold for HK$47.7 million ($6.1 million), double its presale high estimate.

Other categories -- "fine Chinese paintings," 20th-century Chinese art, modern and contemporary Southeast Asian paintings -- all sold for totals above the presale high estimates. The high prices in 20th-century Chinese art on Apr. 6, which included new auction records for Lin Fegmian ($2,091,030) and Zhu Yuanzhi ($770,379), have already been identified by Artnet Magazine writer Charlie Finch as signs of new capital flooding into tangible goods [see "The Coming Art Boom," Apr. 7, 2009].

The contemporary Asian art sale, also held on Apr. 6, totaled HK$66.4 million ($8.5 million), with 114 of 154 lots finding buyers, or 74 percent -- certainly a respectable proportion in the middle of a global recession. The top ten included Chinese art-market stalwarts: Zhang Xiaogang ($621,871), Yue Minjun ($590,906), Zeng Fanzhi ($463,251) and Cai Guo Qiang ($463,251). All the buyers are listed as "Asian private."

The top ten even included three examples of one of Art Market Watch’s favorite indicators -- new auction records. Huang Yongping’s Sixty-Year Cycle Chariot (1999-2000), a wooden four-wheeled vehicle carrying the statue of a wise man, sold for $432,539, more than double the presale high estimate and a new auction record. And Sui Jianguo’s Legacy Mantle (2005), a partially rusted cast-iron sculpture (in an edition of six) of a classic Mao jacket, sold for $401,826, just below its presale high estimate.

Sculpture seems to be in demand. The one Japanese artist in the top ten was Yayoi Kusama, whose almost brand new Pumpkin, dating from 2007, sold for $348,078, within its presale estimate but a new auction record for a sculpture by the artist. Almost four feet tall, the work has a machine-made look and is unique; it was originally shown at Ota Fina Arts in Tokyo.

One photographer in the sale is Cao Fei, whose work is included in "Younger than Jesus" at the New Museum. Apparently you can be younger than Jesus but richer than Croesus (or almost). Two of her vertical diptych photos from 2004 (in an edition of ten) each sold for $17,740, above the high presale estimate. The price isn’t an auction record, however; that is $21,890, set at China Guardian Auctions in 2007.

For complete, illustrated results -- and a quick primer in the depth and breadth of Asian contemporary art at play in the auction market -- see Artnet’s signature Fine Arts Auction Report.

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