On Thursday, Phillips’s joint venture with Poly Auction in Hong Kong led the London-based house to its highest historic total for a 20th century and contemporary art sale in the region, with 29 lots selling for HKD 388 million ($50 million). Only one lot was withdrawn, and two were unsold. The sale had been estimated to fetch around $40 million. (Sale prices include the buyer’s premium; estimates do not).
Phillips is a relative newcomer in Hong Kong, as it only began staging 20th century and contemporary art sales there in November 2016. The Phillips sale followed a strong turnout in Hong Kong at Christie’s the day prior, where the house sold Sanyu’s Goldfish for $22 million. Overall, Christie’s brought in $119.3 million during its hybrid auction, which spanned its Hong Kong and New York locations. That sale also realized records for contemporary artists Amoako Boafo, Nicolas Party, and Dana Schutz.
At Phillips, in his second appearance at auction, New York–based painter Salman Toor was represented by Group Dance (2012), an outdoor scene of dancing figures. Toor is one of the fastest-rising emerging artists currently, with his figurative paintings currently the subject of a Whitney Museum show in New York. At least nine bidders competed for the work until it sold to a client vying for it through Phillips’ watch department head in Asia, Thomas Perazzi, for ten times its estimate, at HKD $4 million ($520,000).
Also making a splash was another painting by an emerging artist, the late Matthew Wong, whose vividly colored River at Dusk (2018) attracted multiple bidders jumping in at unpredictable increments. Ultimately, it sold to Phillips’ General Manager of Asia, Nick Wilson, for triple its estimate, netting HK$37.8 million ($4.9 million)—just a shade above Wong’s previous record of $4.5 million set in October.
Other records were set for Bernard Frize ($276,300) and Lucas Arruda ($487,600). And, during the early section of the sale, multiple estimate prices were paid for works by Emily Mae Smith, which saw bidding from Taiwan, Korea, California, and Singapore before selling for HKD 1.1 million ($141,900). Meanwhile, a Titus Kaphar saw a bidder from Taiwan fending off competition from California and Singapore; the buyer took home the work for HKD 3.4 million ($438,650).
Japanese art is always a strong suit in Hong Kong, and this sale was led by Yoshitomo Nara’s classic painting Hothouse Doll (1995). On Thursday, at least seven bidders went for it before it sold to the same phone buyer that won the Wong for HKD 103 million ($13.3 million). The work made double its estimate, setting the second-highest price for the artist at auction ever. Satisfyingly for Phillips, that price was also far above the one realized by the best Nara offered by Christie’s on Wednesday.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1984 painting Ancient Scientist, from a European collection, went for HKD 58 million ($7.5 million). A 1988 Gerhard Richter abstraction from a European collection found a new buyer for HKD 32.3 million ($4.2 million). Both Basquiat and Richter sold to the same phone bidder. Richter abstractions were all the rage not so long ago, though the competition around them seems to have cooled, even if they are still profitable. The Richter had been bought by a “distinguished European,” according to the house, at its London salesroom three years ago.
Elsewhere in the sale, a whirling Zao Wou-Ki abstraction from 1964, last sold in 2007, saw a reasonable return when it sold above estimate for HKD 13.5 million ($1.74 million). A 2005 gunpowder painting by Cai Guo-Qiang, which was bought from the Estella collection at Sotheby’s in 2007, sold within its estimate for HKD 4.4 million ($567,700).