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Sales success at second Ullens Collection auction at Sotheby's in Hong Kong
Auction Scene featuring Zeng Fanzhi's The Mask Series, 1998 No.26. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s saw spirited bidding for top-quality works today at the second installment of the Ullens Collection auctions in Hong Kong. Holding the sale in a packed house populated by dozens of mainland Chinese, alongside local buyers and dealers, Sotheby’s saw opening bids for some lots open far beyond their low estimates due to the sheer amount of bidders. At times, Jing Daily observed bid increments skyrocket from HK$2.2 million to HK$3.5 million to HK$4.5 million, generally for rare pieces like Ding Yi’s “Appearance of Crosses 2001.8 (triptych),” which eventually sold for HK$5.4 million (US$693,000), nearly four times its low estimate.

With phone bidding noticeably more energetic than at other recent auctions, buyers at the second Ullens auction were highly competitive for the renowned Belgian collector’s blue-chip works. While this auction had more second-tier works than the first installment, bidding for top artists like Liu Ye, Zeng Fanzhi and Wang Keping was at times ferocious. Liu Ye’s “Portrait of Qi Baishi” from 1996, estimated between HK$7-9 million, eventually sold for HK$12 million (US$1.5 million), while Yu Youhan’s “Chairman Mao Celebrating His Birthday” sold for an impressive HK$4.6 million, well above its pre-sale high estimate of HK$1.5 million.

In addition to top quality sculptures and canvases, video art was notably successful at this auction. One work by Lin Yilin sold for HK$280,000, over a high estimate of HK$120,000, while another by Qiu Zhijie sold for HK$380,000 — a new record for his video art. In all, all four video art pieces on sale this weekend found new homes, indicating greater interest in this genre among newer Chinese collectors.

In terms of the top five lots, Zeng Fanzhi’s 1998 oil on canvas, “Mask Series 1998 No.26″ headed up the pack, achieving HK$20.3 million (US$2.6 million), followed up by Liu Ye’s “Portrait of Qi Baishi,” Yu Youhan’s “Circle 1986-8″ (more than doubling its high estimate to sell for HK$7.2 million (US$931,236), Sui Jianguo’s “The Shadow of the Century (Set of 10)” (HK$5.8 million (US$745,504), and Ding Yi’s “Appearance of Crosses 2001.8 (triptych).”

Bidding for other top Chinese artists showed greater professionalism and insight at this weekend’s auction. This helped artists like Wang Guangyi, whose three works at the auction all sold after healthy bidding, Wang Keping, whose “Scream” went for HK$620,000 (over a HK$200,000 high estimate), and Sui Jianguo, three works up for auction also sold out. Though high estimates were completely disregarded for the highest-quality, rarest pieces by blue-chip artists, bidders showed greater discretion when bidding for less well-known works, indicating a desire for more long-term holdings rather than quick-turnaround speculation.

Tomorrow, keep an eye out for Sotheby’s much-anticipated Contemporary Asian Art auction in Hong Kong. As Jing Daily noted in our recent “Top 10 Lots to Watch,” look for buyers — particularly mainland Chinese collectors — to home in on top names, while final sale prices for newer or second-tier artists should stay closer to high estimates.

Sothebys | Ullens Collection | Ding Yi |

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