Art Market

A Zao Wou-Ki painting sold for $65 million, breaking records for a work by an Asian artist.

Nate Freeman
Oct 1, 2018 3:46PM, via press release

A viewer inspects Zao Wou-Ki’s Juin-Octobre 1985 (1985). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Zao Wou-Ki ascended to the price range of Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Francis Bacon yesterday, when the late Chinese-French artist’s almost 33-foot-long abstract triptych, Juin-Octobre 1985 (1985), sold for HK$510.4 million ($65.2 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. The price is a new record for an Asian oil painter, the most expensive work of art ever sold in Hong Kong, and contributed to a HK$1.56 billion ($200 million) sale, making it the city’s highest total for an evening sale.

Key context:

  • The work was consigned by the Taiwanese businessman Chang Qiu Dun, who bought it in 2005 for $2.3 million, marking a 2,735 percent return on his investment. The gigantic mural had been commissioned by Wou-Ki’s close friend, the architect I.M. Pei, and hung at Pei’s Raffles City complex in Singapore for nearly two decades.
  • His works have spiked in value since his death in 2013, as Artsy recently analyzed. Five years ago, paintings were selling for $1 million to $2 million, but in 2017 his works brought in a total of $156 million at auction. With the sale of Juin-Octobre 1985 and other Wou-Ki paintings in Sunday’s sale, the haul for 2018 has already topped $225 million, with more consignments in other Hong Kong sales this week.
  • While New York auction houses and their clients have yet to embrace Wou-Ki—the last appearance of one on his paintings at auction in New York was 2008, when his work brought in just $157,000—his profile is rising stateside. In January 2017, Lévy Gorvy staged a show where it paired Wou-Ki with de Kooning, presenting the two as equals. Or, as Dominique Lévy put it to T Magazine, “a combat between two giants.”

“With so many new benchmarks set here tonight, it is evident that Asian appetite for great examples of modern and contemporary art—be they Asian or Western—is voracious,” Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said in a statement.

Nate Freeman
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