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Sotheby's Hong Kong Contemporary Asian Art Autumn Sale to take place on 7 October
Liu Wei, Revolutionary Family Series – Invitation To Dinner (1992). Est. HK$ 12–15 Million / US$ 1.5–1.9 Million. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Asian Art Autumn Sale 2012 will take place on 7 October at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, presenting an important selection of museum-quality contemporary Chinese artworks. Leading the sale is Liu Wei’s Revolutionary Family Series – Invitation to Dinner from 1992. Featured at the 1993 Venice Biennale, the painting is of great art historical importance as it was a testament to the newly-acquired prominence of contemporary Chinese art in the international art arena. Another seminal work is Zhang Xiaogang’s Tiananmen No. 1 (1993), one of only three works on the same subject matter that powerfully recreates, with its valiant, multi-layered brushwork, the grave history behind Tiananmen Square. The sale will also bring forward specially-curated sections on contemporary Hong Kong art and Chinese abstract art, exploring their significance within the context of art history. Presenting 155 lots, the sale is estimated to achieve in excess of HK$130 million / US$16 million*. This season Sotheby’s will also present Cai Guo-qiang’s Marx’s Moustache for charity auction, from which all proceeds will go to Asian Cultural Council’s (ACC) Cai Fellowship Program.

Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Asian Art, said, “Our emphasis on quality, as opposed to quantity, has been recognized once and again by the collecting community. Thanks to the pleasing results achieved in the past seasons, this season we have been entrusted by influential collectors with important works rarely seen in the market, including Liu Wei’s Revolutionary Family Series – Invitation to Dinner which was previously exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1993. Continuing our devotion to expanding the market, we have also curated two special sections on abstract art in China as well as contemporary Hong Kong art, which we hope will bring a new perspective into the market and broaden the scope of collecting.”

Liu Wei (b. 1965) Revolutionary Family Series – Invitation to Dinner Oil on canvas 1992 183 x 163 cm
Est. HK$12 – 15 million / US$1.5 – 1.9 million

Liu Wei graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1989 and is a pioneering artist of the post-1989 Avant-Garde movement. His works have embellished the halls of many international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale of 1993 and 1995, signifying the power of contemporary Chinese art of the 1990s to seize the imagination of the Western audience. Produced only over a three-year period from 1990 to 1992, the intensely autobiographic Revolutionary Family Series, which features the artist’s father in military uniform as a key recurring figure, is rarely seen in the market. As a masterpiece in this significant series, the present work, with its intriguing composition and vibrant colours, was showcased in the special exhibition titled “Road to the East” as part of the 1993 Venice Biennale. Liu’s father is seen in this painting to be sharing a meal with the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, with Western food served alongside Chinese dishes and bottles of Red Star Erguotou (Chinese rice wine) seen against cans of Coca Cola – a reference to the country’s economic takeoff and zeitgeist of the 1990s. In terms of technique, Liu steers away from the standard Socialist Realism of the era, replacing it with his unique and unrestrained artistic flair that renders his characters inexplicable. Such blithe indifference encapsulates what renowned curator Li Xianting called the spirit of “Cynical Realism”, from which Liu has deviated towards a more painterly style since the mid-1990s. This painting is, therefore, considered to be a conclusive piece to Liu’s early artistic career as well as the pinnacle of the Cynical Realist movement. Fresh to the market, it is certainly a work of exceptional artistic virtuoso and prominence among the popular contemporary Chinese works that have fascinated the West in the 1990s.

Zhang Xiaogang (b.1958) Tiananmen No. 1 Oil on canvas 1993
98.6 x 128 cm Est. HK$15 – 25 million / US$1.9 – 3.2 million

Sotheby’s Hong Kong has presented important early works by Zhang Xiaogang with unrivalled success in recent years. Among them, the triptych Forever Lasting Love set an Auction Record for Contemporary Chinese Art (Sold for HK$ 79 million / US$ 10 million) in April 2011. Following the success of the past seasons, Sotheby’s Hong Kong will offer yet another important work by the artist - completed in 1993, Tiananmen No. 1 belongs to the only series of works by the artist to centre on the politically charged motif of Tiananmen Square. From the May Fourth movement of 1919 to the Tiananmen Incident in 1989, the Square has borne witness to many important events that mark the history of modern China. With its solemn brushstrokes, this work is movingly expressive of the agonizing history behind the Square. While the yellow gate tower is accompanied by grey skies and stone pavement, two parallel red lines can be seen running through the Square towards the centre, creating a robust contrast in colour and tone, and the red lines eventually became an iconic motif in the world-renowned Bloodline Series. Meanwhile, the yellow gate tower deviates from the red ones as seen in No. 2 and No. 3 of the same series, altogether heightening the significance of Tiananmen No. 1.

Zeng Fanzhi (b.1964) Fire Oil on canvas 2007 214.6 x 329.5 cm
Est. HK$7 – 9 million / US$900,000 - 1.2 million

Created in 2007, Fire is a rare and iconic work from the Landscape Series that features an intangible object as its main subject. Here, the viewer is drawn to a nightscape of wilderness, where a mysterious ball of fire burns behind the web of branches. The fire is bewildering, suggesting both a sign of destruction and a beacon of hope. The paradox stemmed from within is expressive of an unfamiliar and amazing enlightenment, or what the artist called the experience of “miao wu” (marvelous revelation). The painting also fully exemplifies Zeng’s experimental “wet-on-wet” technique, where the artist paints simultaneously with two brushes in one hand: as one brush creates, the other destroys. Such distinctive gestural brushwork places Zeng further away from the pre-existing art historical terminology of abstraction and representation, highlighting the artist’s artistic devotion and acute perceptiveness.

Yue Minjun (b.1962) Backyard Garden 2007 Oil on canvas
280 x 400 cm Est. HK$8 – 12 million / US$1 – 1.5 million

As a champion of “Cynical Realism”, Yue Minjun has always used his signature laughing figures to reflect the powerlessness and negative resistance of the Chinese people in the face of dire socio-political realities in the 1990s. Of impressive scale and detailed composition, Backyard Garden from 2007 depicts four classic scalded pink-skinned figures carousing by a Chinese-style pond. One of them, dressed in white, is seen running in the background; the other three are in black underwear, and as two of them assemble by the pond, the other one stands alone on a boulder, arms crossed with his toothy cackles. As Chinese tradition becomes threatened by the rapid economic growth, Yue’s laughing figure appears in the middle of a traditional Chinese-style pond, a cynical representation of the vulnerability of the Chinese zeitgeist in an era of change. Behind the exaggerated guffaw is a true, naked spirit, rendering this painting a masterpiece among Yue Minjun’s recent works.

Liu Ye (b.1964) The Pope Rescues a Small Pig Acrylic on canvas
101.6 x 101.6 cm Est. HK$5 – 7 million / US$640,000 – 900,000

Fresh to the market, The Pope Rescues a Small Pig remains the only work by Liu Ye to feature the Pope as its subject matter. The juxtaposition of a circular form against a square canvas is also rarely seen in the artist’s oeuvre. In the painting, Pope John Paul II sits on the papal throne in his red cape with a small pig in his hands, pensively gazing out at the viewer. Reminiscent of Liu’s artistic style, this work is imbued with amiable figural images. The contrast between the Pope and the small pig fashions an inexplicable sense of tension in line with Liu’s idiosyncratic surrealism. Religion has long been connected to the roots of European art history. Compared to contemporary Western artists who typically take inspiration from religion, Liu’s painting - though not intended as a scornful lampoon - is most amusing, if not mocking, with its exaggerated expressiveness and humorous style.

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)

With numerous dedicated large-scale exhibitions held in major museums and galleries worldwide, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is arguably one of the most influential figures in the largely Eurocentric world of modern and contemporary art. Channeling the energy of her hallucinatory visions as her artistic inspiration, Kusama has created polka dots and infinity nets which have become a timeless expression of contemporary art.

The two works offered this season are both characteristic of Kusama’s classic artistic concepts. In Venus Nets (R) and Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Nets (R) (Set of Two) (1998; Acrylic on canvas, Fibreglass; Painting: 227.3 x 145.4 cm / Statue: 215.9 x 68.6 x 60 cm; Est. HK$3.5 – 4.5 million / US$450,000 – 580,000), the Greek Goddess Venus is covered completely in Kusama’s signature infinity nets, submerged in the identically patterned canvas in the background. Similarly, Pumpkin (2000, Acrylic on canvas, 53.3 x 65.4 cm; Est. HK$700,000 – 900,000 / US$90,000 – 120,000) is an iconic motif used in many of Kusama’s works. Kusama’s fascination with the pumpkin dates back to her childhood. During the Second World War, an era of chronic food scarcity in Japan, Kusama’s family from the wholesaling business had a storehouse full of pumpkins, which ultimately contributes to Kusama’s peculiar sentimental attachment to these bulbous objects. For her, it embodies growth and fertility, which are both recurring motifs in her creations.

Further to the remarkable success of the sale of contemporary Hong Kong artworks, which was debuted at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Autumn Sales in 2009, this season, Sotheby’s is once again delighted to present the Contemporary Hong Kong Art section: Art and the City, which highlights outstanding works by important figures in the Hong Kong art scene such as the pioneering artist Lui Chun Kwong, Chow Chun Fai who draws inspiration from the Hong Kong cinema, the young and talented Sarah Lai , as well as Kum Chi-Keung who explores the topic of urban space in his work.

Lui Chun Kwong (b.1956) Landscape Series No. 0008
1999 Acrylic on canvas mounted on board 183 x 122 cm
Est. HK$100,000 - 150,000 / US$13,000 - 19,000

Complementing Western oil painting with Eastern philosophy, this work is expressive of Lui’s experiences in the Hong Kong countryside, simultaneously reflecting the artist’s natural, spiritual inner self.

This season, Sotheby’s also presents a specially curated section on abstract art in China, highlighting works by notable artists including Ding Yi who is instantly recognisable by his signature crosses, Jiang Dahai who fuses Western thoughts with Chinese instincts, as well as minimalist Qiu Shihua. These works showcase three radically distinct counterpoints to the figurative styles of Cynical Realism and Political Pop that have dominated contemporary Chinese paintings. Strongly expressed in the paintings, their abstract vistas suggest true alternatives to the global hegemony of Western narratives of modernism.

Ding Yi (b.1962) Appearance of Crosses 93-9 1993 Acrylic on canvas
140 x 158 cm Est. HK$1 – 1.5 million / US$130,000 - 190,000

Ding Yi’s signature crosses are uniformly and meticulously applied throughout the canvas to form a dazzling and lively fabric of compositional and tonal harmony.

Jiang Dahai (b.1949) Red Obscure No.2
2010 Oil on canvas 200 x 200 cm
Est. HK$300,000 – 400, 000 / US$38,000 – 51,000

This monumental painting marks a milestone in Jiang Dahai’s development of his artistic narrative. Though the canvas is covered with countless, meticulously layered dots in variable sizes, shapes and colours, the painting maintains a delicate balance and consistency in tone.

Qiu Shihua (b.1940) Untitled
Circa 1997 Oil on canvas 111.2 x 194 cm
Est. HK$120,000 – 180,000 / US$15,000 – 23,000

The thin, greyish-white pigment on the bare, almost unmodulated white canvas evokes the stretch of woods and grass extending into the faint horizon in the distance. This work is at once redolent of Minimalism and reminiscent of the essence of ink paintings.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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