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Sotheby's to Hold Contemporary Asian Art Spring Sale in April
Cai Guo-qiang’s "A Certain Lunar-Eclipse - Project for Humankind No. 2" (in 7 panels). Est. HK$9-15 million / US$1.16-1.94 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold its Contemporary Asian Art Spring Sale 2010 on 5 April at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. This season’s sale will offer a series of early works by established Chinese artists that are rarely seen on the market, as well as seminal works from prominent Japanese and Korean artists. There will be over 170 extraordinary pieces, with a total estimate in excess of HK$94 million / US$12 million.

Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Asian Art, said, “Last year, our Contemporary Asian Art Autumn sale in Hong Kong achieved very encouraging results amidst a progressively recovering global market, having reached a sale total almost 80% higher than that of our 2009 Spring sale. Riding on this success, coupled with the robust performance of contemporary Asian art in our sales in New York and London, we are confident that the market is buoyed up once again. In the coming Spring sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong is particularly pleased to offer a series of early works by blue-chip contemporary Chinese artists including Cai Guoqiang, Liu Ye, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun. Offering a glimpse of the artistic vocabularies and styles pioneered during the earlier stages of contemporary Chinese art development, these magnificent pieces are rare gems of great significance. On the Japanese and Korean fronts, we will continue to introduce to collectors a kaleidoscopic range of works by iconic artists, whose oeuvres are exemplary in their respective art scenes. Continually striving to raise the bar with our meticulous selection of offerings, we believe this season’s sale will draw significant interest from collectors and art aficionados.”

Contemporary Chinese Art
Early Works of Blue-Chip Artists (created in or before 1995):

Sotheby’s will present early works by blue-chip contemporary Chinese artists, namely Cai Guo-qiang, Liu Ye, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun. These extraordinary works provide a glimpse into the early musings of these creative minds that would go on to represent Chinese art of our era.

Cai Guo-qiang (b. 1957) is known for his spectacular fireworks and explosion projects. Taking centre-stage in this season’s sale is A Certain Lunar-Eclipse – Project for Humankind No.2 (in 7 panels) (est. HK$9-15 million / US$1,150,000-1,920,000), one of his early works rarely seen on the market. With an impressive size of 200 by 560 cm, this screen was a result of gunpowder burns on Japanese paper and the visual effect is steeped in the essence and aesthetics of Chinese ink painting. Consistent with the governing concept behind the artist’s entire creative practice, the piece is a lasting art form as well as a record or alternative expression of his explosion projects. The premise for A Certain Lunar Eclipse – Project for Humankind No.2 (in 7 panels) is to place gunpowder fuses on the moon in a line resembling the shape of the Great Wall of China, and ignite it when the face of the moon is temporarily darkened during a total eclipse. This symbolises the utter dependence of humanity upon an increasingly fragile planet, and a call for all humankind to make an effort to transcend the Earth to understand our position in the universe. A Certain Lunar-Eclipse – Project for Humankind No.2 (in 7 panels) was created for Cai’s 1991 solo exhibition, Primeval Fireball: The Project for Projects, at the P3 Art and Environment Gallery in Tokyo. It was subsequently featured in numerous important solo exhibitions, such as Cai Guoqiang: I Want to Believe at the Guggenheim Museums in both New York and Bilbao – the first ever solo retrospective for a Chinese artist held by the museum.

Also on offer in the sale is another screen by Cai, Movement Cultivates Vitality (in 5 panels) (est. HK$4.2-5.2 million / US$545,000-670,000) – another example of Cai’s extraordinary mastery of the unusual medium of gunpowder.

Further highlights include Zeng Fanzhi’s (b.1964) The Mask Series No.8 (est. HK$4-6 million / US$515,000-775,000). Created in 1994, this painting is one of the earliest pieces of Zeng that are highly sought after by collectors worldwide. Considered the signature of Zeng Fanzhi’s diverse oeuvre, The Mask Series was an endeavour that began in the mid and late 1990s, when the artist was struggling to adjust to a different way of life in a big city after moving to Beijing from his hometown of Wuhan. The series is a reflection of his inner disquiet as a result of the anxiety and isolation he experienced while living among strangers and adapting to a new social circle. Compared to Zeng’s later works, the early pieces in the Mask Series derive a unique power from their subtlety and ambiguity, epitomized by the present piece on offer. They exhibit a quest for simplicity: detached from a tangible context, the sole subject stands alone in a grey void, against which the drama of individual existence quietly unfolds. With its subdued yet complex expression, this is a truly moving and captivating masterpiece.

The laughing figures in Yue Minjun’s (b.1962) works have been recognised as an icon of contemporary Chinese art in China and beyond, and the artist himself has become one of the best-known names in the art world. Created in 1994, On the Lake (est. HK$7-10 million / US$905,000-1,290,000) is one of Yue’s rare early works that is expected to stir intense bidding.

Conceptual Art:
Sotheby’s Hong Kong first introduced conceptual art in the Contemporary Asian Art Spring Sale 2009, which was met with keen response. This season, Sotheby’s will continue to offer a series of remarkable conceptual art including Table with Two Legs (est. HK$500,000-700,000 / US$64,500-90,500) created in 2005 by Ai Weiwei (b.1957). One of the creative minds behind the design of the Beijing Olympic Stadium, or Bird’s Nest, Ai Weiwei boasts a strong presence in the cultural scene in China and beyond. As an antique connoisseur, Ai is intrigued by innovative possibilities of the time-honoured aesthetics of antiques and classical objects. This table is a producer of the disassembly of a fine classical table from the Qing dynasty, followed with its reassembly using highly sophisticated joinery techniques – the result is a form that is no longer functional. Transformed from its original pragmatic role into an arresting and purely aesthetic object, the Table with Two Legs compels viewers to contemplate the nature as well as the potential of art.

Works of Overseas Chinese Artists:
Influenced by foreign cultures, overseas Chinese artists as a group display noticeable diversion from their China-based counterparts in their visions, ideas and style. Their unique artistic qualities therefore appeal to many collectors. Residing in France since the mid 1980s, Yan Peiming (b.1960) is one of the most illustrious members of the Chinese diaspora. Renowned for his signature rough brushstrokes, monochrome compositions and single-figure portraits, Yan captures emotions brilliantly, as exemplified by Self Portrait as a Hooligan (est. HK$3-4 million / US$387,000-515,000). In this piece, the artist stares out of the painting at himself, apparently lost in thought. His thoroughly apathetic grimace suggests an attempt to create a self-portrait different from the routine, expected format, culminating in a raw expression of his psychological condition. In 2003, Yan started to create a series of experimental portraits by placing himself in various imagined situations. Painted in that very year, this piece marks the beginning of the artist’s creative introspection.

Contemporary Japanese Art
Deeply influenced by the cultural phenomenon of the otaku – or geeks with an obsessive interest in anime, manga and video games – that took shape in the 20th and 21st century Japanese society, Mr. (b. 1969) is known for his use of the visual language that draws inspiration from this unique popular culture. In his works, the social sentiments of contemporary Japan are portrayed through largely undifferentiated teenage cartoon characters – who represent the latent sexual desire of his generation – placed against backdrops of equally undifferentiated and unglamorous Japanese cityscapes, as exemplified by the current lot The Boy who came to Ikebukuro (est. HK$400,000-500,000 / US$51,500-64,500) executed in 2006. By depicting characters that seem to be detached from a real social situation, his works are a blatant display of the urge to escape from reality, a desire shared by many of his generation. As art critics have pointed out, Mr.’s works are seemingly sweet and childlike but actually imbued with a certain unsettling quality. Addressing the desolate outlook of the nation, suffocating atmosphere of the society and hidden desires of its people, Mr.’s works become a timely reflection of contemporary Japan.

Known for his bold approach to controversial subjects such as the post-war Japanese identity, Aida Makoto (b. 1965) has emerged as one of the most versatile Japanese contemporary artists today. To provide a comprehensive view of Aida Makoto’s varied oeuvre, Sotheby’s is delighted to offer this season three of his distinct works created in 1991 and 1992, led by the renowned piece The Giant Member Fuji VS King Gidora (est. HK$250,000-350,000 / US$32,200-45,100) – this lot is an esquisse (final draft) of the larger 310 by 410 cm piece, which is currently in the private collection of renowned art collector Mr. Ryutaro Takahashi. The picture portrays Akiko Fuji - a heroine in the hugely popular sci-fi TV-series Ultraman - ravaged by King Gidora, the three-headed archenemy of Godzilla. As prominent as the reference to these two instantly recognizable icons of Japanese sci-fi television series is its allusion to ukiyo-e (‘the art of the floating world’), another popular art form at the heart of modern Japan. The composition of the painting instantly reminds one of an exemplary piece of ukiyo-e, titled Girl Diver and Two Octopi that portrays a woman sexually engaged with two sea creatures.

The two other pieces by the artist on offer in the sale are Edible Artificial Girls, Mi Mi Chan Series: Mi-Mi on the Chopping Board (est. HK$70,000-90,000 / US$9,100-11,600) and Gate Ball (War Picture Returns) (est. HK$350,000-450,000 / US$45,100-58,100), both excellent illustrations of the diversity of his oeuvre.

A designer-turned fine artist, Keiichi Tanaami (b.1963) stands at the forefront of the avant-garde art scene in Japan. Inspired by Chinese myths, his striking painting Red Kannon (est. HK$280,000-380,000 / US$36,100-49,000) pays homage to the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and portrays the intriguing happenings in a utopia hidden within a tiny peapod – a marvellous representation of the boundless wonders that can be found in the most insignificant things.

Contemporary Korean Art
A magnificent work of deception created in 2007, Translation—Vase (est. HK$180,000-220,000 / US$23,200-28,400) is not Chinese porcelain but a close replica crafted out of soap by Korean sculptor Shin Meekyoung (b. 1967). The artist’s celebrated Translation series comprises sculptures inspired by archaic objects from some of the greatest classical civilizations of the world, such as statues of Greek gods, Goryeo ceramics from the Chosun Dynasty and Imperial Chinese porcelain. Shin creates soap ‘translations', or reinterpretations, of these magnificent icons of civilizations by shaping the melted soap in silicone moulds, then refining the sculptures by various techniques. The pieces are finished with veneering and a final layer of soap - all intriguing demonstrations of innovative method and ingenious use of material. By presenting soap replicas of ancient relics that have withstood the test of time, Shin not only transcends and questions cultural boundaries, but also invites viewers to contemplate the fragility and transience of worldly existence.

Sotheby's | Contemporary Asian Art | Evelyn Lin |

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