Hong Kong Auction Highlights: Phillips' Deputy Chairman Jonathan Crockett on Top Lots and Trends

We spoke to Jonathan Crockett, Deputy Chairman, Asia, about trends and highlights ahead of this month's 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

  • Jonathan Crockett, Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, and Deputy Chairman, Asia

    Jonathan Crockett, Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, and Deputy Chairman, Asia

Artsy: Jonathan, can you start by highlighting some of your favorite pieces in the 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening sale?

Jonathan Crockett: That’s a tough question to answer considering the overall high quality and broad spectrum of works that this sale brings together. We open the Fall season in Hong Kong with a carefully selected group of works by an array of the world’s most sought-after artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yayoi Kusama, Roy Lichtenstein, Liu Wei, Yoshitomo Nara, Richard Prince, Ronald Ventura, and more.

One of my favourite pieces is Nurse Kathy by Richard Prince (estimate: HKD 31,000,000 ‐ 41,000,000). The artist is a highly influential figure of American 20th century and contemporary art. Challenging contemporary notions of authorship and authenticity throughout his work, Prince’s famous series of ‘Nurse’ paintings re‐appropriates the visual lexicon of advertising and popular culture.

We are especially pleased to bring Universe of Water Particles (estimate: HKD 650,000 - 950,000), a work by the Japanese artist group teamLab to the international auction market for the very first time. Also on offer is Roy Lichtenstein’s Landscape with Poet (Study) from the artist’s ‘Landscapes in Chinese Style’ series, a product of a half-century long love affair the artist had with classical Chinese art (estimate: HKD 4,500,000 - 6,500,000).

As well as many important artworks the sale also includes some fantastic design objects, including an extremely rare ‘Dolphin’ armchair by the renowned Danish Modernist Hans J. Wegner (estimate: HKD 750,000 - 1,200,000). We are confident that the upcoming auction reflects both our distinct approach to curating sales and growing presence within the Asian market.

A: Could you tell us a bit more about teamLab’s Universe of Particles? Why did you choose to include it in the Hong Kong sale specifically?

JC: We are constantly on the lookout for new ideas in contemporary art, and look to highlight artists and artworks that we believe resonate with our client base. As we advance into the digital age, it is exciting to be the first auction house to debut a work by the Japanese artist group teamLab on the international auction market. We believe it appropriate to offer this piece in Hong Kong as this sensational and breath-taking installation continues the ancient East Asian scholarly tradition of landscape painting. The work transforms this revered subject matter into a contemporary narrative using modern-day technology.

A: What would you say is the main difference between the New York, London, and Hong Kong editions of the 20th Century and Contemporary Art sale? Do you follow a specific curation process?

JC: Phillips offers a unique proposition in Hong Kong; reflecting global taste, our sales of contemporary art also include Design, Photographs, and Editions. One of the biggest transformations we have seen in the past few years is the rapid globalisation of the art world and a significant change in the buying habits of Asian collectors. Collectors are no longer restricted to buying in one art category or in one location. As a team that works collaboratively and internationally, our primary focus is to make sure that any artwork offered in our sales is offered in the location where it is most likely to achieve the strongest possible result. Artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, and Richard Prince are resonating louder and louder with collectors from across Asia, and this is something that we are increasingly factoring into any sale recommendation.

A: The Auction has a mix of established Asian artists (more specific to the region – Qiu Yacai), internationally renowned Asian artists (Kusama, Nara), and international superstars (Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein). In your experience, who collects what in HK?

JC: Global interest is focused on works that represent the highest quality of any artist’s oeuvre, and that certainly applies to collectors across Asia. We see engagement from Asian collectors from each of our sale sites and beyond in every sale category and this interest has not been restricted by period, geography, category, medium or other criteria. The demographic in Hong Kong is varied from seasoned collectors who have been collecting blue chip works for decades through to emerging collectors in their 20s and 30s. Collecting is very personal and interests are varied, from emerging Chinese artists, to established international names: they are buying art from across the entire spectrum.

A: How have you witnessed the growth and impact of online bidding in the region and among local collectors? How is Phillips responding to these new collecting patterns?

JC: At Phillips, we have taken broad and industry-leading steps to make bidding and buying easier. It is about seamlessly connecting our clients to our live sales and enabling them to manage their bidding through their mobiles and the web. After developing an extremely successful iOS app, we paid special attention to our Asian clients by adding an Android app as Asia has a healthy proportion of Android phones and tablets.

We also work with partners to increase our reach in the market, and Artsy has been a strong partner for us. For instance, Naked Lunch by George Condo was sold for HKD 2,480,000 to an Artsy online bidder in our May sale in Hong Kong. Increasing numbers of our collectors are buying online, and sale results are climbing higher as a result.

  • Auctioneer Henry Highley at the podium during the May 2017 Evening Sale in Hong Kong as a new world auction record was established for Southeast Asian artist Christine Ay Tjoe

    Auctioneer Henry Highley at the podium during the May 2017 Evening Sale in Hong Kong as a new world auction record was established for Southeast Asian artist Christine Ay Tjoe

A: Looking forward, how do you see this sale and its audience evolving over time?

JC: The international response to our unique proposition of sales has been overwhelmingly positive. The market for contemporary art in Asia will continue to evolve, and we expect to see collectors becoming increasingly sophisticated in their buying habits, as well as an increasing number of new collectors entering the market. We will continue to innovate and bring new ideas to our offerings in Hong Kong.

We have had great success with debuting young art stars and offering works that are fresh to the auction market, including Christine Ay Tjoe's Small Flies and Other Wings, which set a new auction record for a Southeast Asian artist in May, and Wolfgang Tillmans' record-breaking Freischwimmer #84, which sold in London in June. We look forward to bringing this momentum forward into 2018.

Explore Phillips: 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale on Artsy, and place max bids on more than 70 artworks. Live bidding opens Sunday, November 26th, at 5:00pm HKT (4:00am ET).