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    Top Lots Shunned in Post-Lehman Art Sale at Sotheby's Hong Kong

    Date: 6 Oct 2008 | | Views: 3690

    Source: Bloomberg, by Le-Min Lim

    HONG KONG - Buyers shunned the priciest lots and chose cheaper paintings and sculptures at Sotheby's Hong Kong auction, Asia's biggest art sale since the credit crisis grew last month.

    Artworks by top names such as Zeng Fanzhi were among the 20 percent of lots that failed to sell. The Chinese contemporary-art sale totaled HK$90.3 million ($11.6 million), said the New York- based auction house. It followed a first session on Oct. 4 where 40 percent of items went unsold.

    "It's quite a down market," said Ivan Chin, a Singapore- based health-drink entrepreneur who paid HK$4.8 million for the third-priciest lot, Cai Guoqiang's gunpowder-and-ink on paper "Money Net -- Project for Royal Academy of Art." "People can't justify paying such huge prices at a time like this."

    The auction gives the first glimpse of art buyers' sentiment before sales by Sotheby's and Christie's International in London and New York, starting this month. Global stock markets had their worst month in a decade in September, after the Sept. 15 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., pushing the U.S. toward recession and threatening to slow growth in China.

    The most-expensive lot sold last night was a 1990-1991 oil- on-canvas by Yue Minjun: "Untitled," showing a laughing man with palms spread skyward squatting on Tiananmen Square, which fetched HK$6.6 million.

    Star Lot Fails

    Bidders passed on the star lot: Zeng's "Mask Series," a painting of a masked man shin-deep in water with a presale top estimate of HK$12 million. In May, Zeng's painting of Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution era sold for a record HK$75.4 million at Christie's auction. The two Zhang Xiaogang works, one for as little as HK$2.3 million, were unsold.

    Yesterday's sale was the latest of Sotheby's five-day auction of 1,700 items that it estimated would fetch about HK$2 billion.

    Sotheby's sale of 20th-century Chinese art yesterday morning took just HK$35 million, with two-thirds of the 110 lots, many by masters, unsold. The priciest piece sold that session was Zao Wou-Ki's abstract 1.95 meter-by-1.3 meter "7 Aout 2000," signed by the China-born, Paris-based artist, which fetched HK$4.2 million.

    Commenting on the Chinese contemporary-art sale, Sotheby's Asia deputy chairman Chin Yeow Quek, who doubled as one the session's two auctioneers, said he was "happy" with the results.

    "I thought it went quite well," said Quek, 49. Prices of Chinese contemporary art have risen sharply in a short time and were "leveling off," though still strong, he said.

    The sale was conducted in a packed auction room with more than 100 people standing; most just watched and took notes.

    Ink Paintings

    Sotheby's auction continues today with the sale of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian paintings and Chinese ink paintings.

    At Sotheby's Oct. 4 evening sale of choice Asian artworks, Indonesian artist I Nyoman Masriadi's 2 meter-by-3 meter acrylic- on-canvas, completed in August, "Sorry Hero, Saya Lupa," which features morose-looking Superman and Batman sitting on adjacent toilets fetched HK$4.8 million, eight times its presale top estimate. It's a record for Southeast Asian art.

    "Southeast Asian art is definitely a bright spark at this auction," said Beijing-based art dealer Tian Kai.

    Works by Indonesian Agus Suwage, Affandi and Handiwirman Saputra and Filipino Ronald Ventura also set artist records.

    Sotheby's charges sellers a flat fee of HK$6,000 for items that go under the hammer for less than HK$40,000, and 10 percent for any amount at or above HK$40,000. Buyers' commission is 25 percent of the hammer price for the first HK$400,000, 20 percent for the amount above HK$400,000 and up to HK$8 million, and 12 percent for that above HK$8 million.

    Auction prices include commission.

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