December’s Hong Kong Sales Showed Unflagging Demand for Western and Asian Stars

At the top of the market, records were set for Huang Yuxing, Yayoi Kusama and solid gains realized for Sanyu

The Hong Kong sales for Christie’s and Phillips brought in a total of HKD2.68 billion ($344.4 million) across 490 lots. That works out to an average lot value of HKD $5.4 million or $702,866, a very robust number, especially considering the number of emerging artists who appeared in these sales. 

Both Christie’s and Phillips were able to post 96% sell-through rates, another indicator of the incredibly strong demand seen in the Modern and Contemporary art markets right now. To push the point even further, 55% of the sold lots went for prices above the estimate range. The overall hammer ratio was 1.29 a strong but not “off-the-charts” indicator of demand. Another way to say this would be that although the bidding was quite strong, the auction houses were estimating their lots well and managing the sales to minimize bought-in works. 

A third of the lots sold for prices within the estimates. Under 12% of the lots were mis-priced to the extent that consignors had to accept a compromise price below the low estimate. Only 20 lots failed to find buyers. 

The final statistic from the combined sales is the value of the top 1% of lots which was a strong HKD 570,825,000 or $73.2 million. That figure represents 21.25% of the overall sale value. Which means the Hong Kong sales are a venue for lots of significant 8-figure value. 


Among the top lots in the sale were Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Donut Revenge, a work with a long auction history dating back to the artist’s lifetime. It sold for the second time publicly in May of 1995 for $90,000. A Gerhard Richter abstract painting from 1991. This large, deep red work had been sold in February 2007 for $5.5 million just around the time of the first run-up in prices for Richter’s abstract works. In Hong Kong, it made the equivalent of $18 million. A second, earlier Richter abstract, Kerzenschein (Candle-light) sold for $13 million, its first public sale. 

Sanyu’s Vase of Lilies with Red Ground sold for $12.9 million. It was the cover lot of a 2010 Hong Kong sale in which it made HKD 25 million or $3.2 million. The work has quadrupled in value in a decade. 

Quadrupling in value isn’t very impressive next to Huang Yuxing’s results. The artist’s previous record was set in May at $1.19 million following up a similar price from the year before. (His market continues to rise as he gains more geographic distribution.) In Hong Kong this month, Seven Treasure Pines from 2019 sold for $8.3 million which is either a huge step up in the artist’s market or a composite value of the individual panels in the seven-canvas work

Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin (LPASG) from 2013 sets a new record price for the prolific and wildly popular artist. But the $8 million price was comfortably within the estimate range. A three-dimensional pumpkin also in the sale reached a similar price at $7.1 million. That result was significantly above the estimates and the third highest price paid for the artist. These results suggest we will continue to see rising records for the nonagenarian artist.



The market for Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie’s work gets far less attention these days. That doesn’t mean demand from collectors has slacked off. Charles Darwin at the Age of 75 from 2014 sold for a healthy $7.44 million which is a price slightly above the estimates and currently his third highest auction result. 

Hong Kong sales are often dominated in value by the work of Zao Wou-ki. This season the artist was represented by nine works. Eight of those sold for a combined value of HKD 135 million or a little more than $17 million. His untitled work from 1952 made a solid result of $6.9 million, placing it among the top ten lots of the sales cycle. The state of the Zao market is such that it was the only lot among the 8 sold to achieve a price above the estimate range. Five other works were well estimated and two had to be sacrificed by consignors for prices below the low estimate. 

The last work in the top ten is the only Modern work by a Western artist on the list, Pablo Picasso’s Homme au chapeau. This late work from 1964 had never been on the auction market before having been a gift from the artist to a family member who sold it in the 1980s to a collector. 

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