Asian art records tumble at Christie's HK auction

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A work by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi sold for $9.5 million on Saturday, a new auction record for an Asian contemporary artwork, at auctioneer Christie’s first evening sale of such art in Hong Kong.

Other records also fell as the auction brought a dash of black-tie glamour to the former British colony’s art market, considered the world’s third most important auction hub after New York and London.

Affluent Asian collectors were served champagne and canapes before bidding in a packed auction hall. The results suggested the Chinese art market remains resilient despite financial market jitters.

“There is a worldwide enthusiasm,” said Jonathan Stone, Christie’s International Business Director for Asian Art.

“If you look at the list of buyers in the top ten there were Asian private buyers, European private buyers, there was a very international flavor to the sale,” he told Reuters.

The highlight of the evening was Zeng Fanzhi’s large-scale 2-by-3.6 meter work entitled “Mask Series 1996 No. 6”, which sold for almost triple its pre-sale estimate.

Several telephone bidders helped push the price to HK$75.37 million including the buyer’s premium, making it the most expensive Asian contemporary artwork sold at auction, Christie’s said.

Zeng’s diptych of eight masked youths with red scarves linking arms, hints at Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Guards” who wreaked havoc across China during its tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

The work, not previously offered at auction, is considered a highlight of Zeng’s “Mask” series of ambiguous Chinese figures contending with life under communist rule.

The previous record for an Asian contemporary artwork was for a set of 14 “gunpowder” drawings by Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang which sold for HK$74.25 million last November.

Other notable results included Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun’s “Gweong-Gweong”, sold for HK$54.1 million ($6.85 million), a new auction record for the artist.

Zeng and Yue are among a group of red-hot Chinese contemporary artists, also including Cai Guoqiang and Zhang Xiaogang, whose works have sold for $6 million or more. A remarkable surge in demand for Chinese art in recent years has been spurred partly by newly affluent Chinese collectors.

Auction records also fell for individual artists from across Asia, including Indonesia, South Korea and India. New Delhi-based Subodh Gupta was the sole non-Chinese artist to break into the top ten Asian contemporary works sold, with his “Saat Samundar Paar (10)” (Across the Seven Seas) fetching $1.2 million.

Reporting by James Pomfret; editing by Andrew Roche