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Seoul Auction to offer outstanding 20th Century & Contemporary works from East and West
Tomato and Abstraction by Roy Lichtenstein. Est. on Request.

HONG KONG.- Seoul Auction, Korea’s leading art auction house, will hold its Modern & Contemporary Art sale on Sunday, 24 November, 2013 at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, presenting a total of 60 outstanding works by leading Western, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Pakistani artists with a total estimate of over HK$85 million/US$10.5 million.

Ms Soyoung Lee, Managing Director of Seoul Auction Hong Kong, said, “In 2008 Seoul Auction became the first auction house to offer Western contemporary art in Hong Kong at our inaugural sale here. Since then, the market has matured and the taste of Asian collectors has broadened to encompass a wide range of international art. We therefore continue to present major Western art works, as well as by works by both established and cutting-edge artists from Korea, Japan, China and Pakistan, to an increasingly sophisticated Asian audience.”

The top lot of the sale is the glass sculpture Mound of Flowers by leading American artist Jeff Koons (b. 1955) (Estimate: HK$17,000,000–25,500,000/US$2,200,000–3,300,000). This work is part of his “Made in Heaven” series of 1989-1991, the year in which he married Italian star “La Cicciolina”. Koons has spoken of flowers in his art many times, stating that for him they symbolize the process of life and are a way of expressing sexual desire. There are masculine flowers and feminine flowers, which sometimes appear together.

As always, Koons creates a work of art that appeals to multiple senses: the piece delights the viewer with its contrasting rich colours, mirror-like reflections and strongly tactile nature. The surface of Mound of Flowers is shiny and glossy, as if inviting the viewer to touch it. In this artwork, Koons perfectly expresses desire based on the contrast between its beauty and grotesqueness. Unlike the air-filled flower that Koons created later, the flowers in Mound of Flowers will not wilt; they will forever maintain their shape. The piece thus encapsulates the themes of desire and eternity seen in Koons’ earlier works.

Koons’ works have twice set world auction records for a work by a living artist. The largest sum paid for a work by Koons is Tulips which was sold for US$33,682,500 (£21,219,975) at Christie's New York in November 2012.

Another highlight is the painting Tomato and Abstraction by the American artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) (Estimate on request) who became a leading figure in the new art movement of the 1960s, along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and James Rosenquist. Lichtenstein’s early work was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, but in 1961 he changed his focus to comic art, becoming the most representative New York pop artist. His hard-edge, precise compositions were influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style.

Tomato and Abstraction is actually two works side by side on one canvas: on the left is a still-life painting of a tomato on a plate, while the composition on the right is influenced by 1960s expressionism. The two works seem to go together, yet also create the illusion of being separate entities. Lichtenstein began creating artworks like this after he moved his studio from Southampton to Manhattan; the juxtaposition of the still life and brushstrokes is not random, but a fun reinterpretation of the still life genre.

Other top lots include Fleurs Rouges à la Fenêtre by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) (Estimate: HK$2,300,000–3,000,000/ US$300,000–390,000), dating from 1935-1936. Chagall is one of the most beloved artists of 20th century modernism today thanks to his use of vivid colours, fantastic themes and poetic metaphors. Raised in Russia in a devout Jewish family, Chagall moved to Paris in 1910 where he met many artists, yet always retained his own distinctive style. Chagall’s love for his wife Bella, whom he married in 1915, became the most prominent theme of his work. Fleurs Rouges à la Fenêtre (Red Flowers at the Window) expresses his love through certain elements – a flying violin player, a window, flowers – that he painted throughout his life. The violin player is a symbol both of music and Jewish marriage, while flowers always symbolized the love between Chagall and Bella and continued to feature in his art as the most important subject.

Amongst the contemporary Western works is Prada III by the leading German artist Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) (Estimate: HK$4,000,000-5,000,000/US$520,000–650,000). Since the mid-1990s, Gursky’s focus has been on capturing the standardized and conformist aspects of modern society. He is most famous for vast, sharp, and cold photographs, often taken from a high angle. His medium of choice is often a huge canvas which transports the viewer into the scene and moment in which the photograph was taken. Since the late 1990s, Gursky has been actively using digital technology to enhance the vivid and real-life effects of his images.

Prada III effectively sums up his minimalist aesthetic. Capturing a scene from an actual Prada shop, the work shows arrays of neatly folded and sorted black sweaters on wide shelves, whose luxury is accentuated by the lighting emanating from inside the shelf panel. The perfect horizontal and vertical balance of the simple structure and palette of colours conveys a surreal atmosphere.

Leading the Chinese paintings in the sale is Pink Rose in a White Vase by Sanyu (Chang Yu) (1901-1966) (Estimate: HK$9,000,000–13,000,000/US$1,160,000–1,680,000). One of the most influential artists of modern Chinese art, Sanyu went first to Japan in 1919 to study painting, and then to Paris in 1921 where he created his own artistic style by uniting Eastern philosophy and Western technique. Sanyu, who mostly used solid colours, is sometimes called “the Matisse of the East”.

Sanyu’s favourite theme was flowers, which represented the artist’s longing for his homeland in Sichuan as well as his views on the nobility of life and eternity. He began drawing flowers with lively brushwork and a restrained colour palette in the 1930s. The flowers in Pink Rose in a White Vase are simple yet lively. The light pink is soft and mild, while the grey gives an impression of comfort and safety. Nostalgia for one’s homeland is an inner emotion that is difficult to express in the simple language of painting, but in this painting Sanyu succeeds in expressing his loneliness and sadness in a poetic manner.

Mask Series No. 15 by Zeng Fanzhi (b. 1964) (Estimate: HK$7,000,000–10,000,000/US$910,000–1,300,000) is a highlight among the contemporary Chinese paintings. The ‘Mask’ series well represents human psychology, and was particularly inspired by the artist’s own state of mind when he first arrived in Beijing and encountered the variety of people who live there. In this series, Zeng Fanzhi focuses mainly on the face and hands. The desire of modern people to hide their inner thoughts behind an elegant appearance is embodied by the image of a person wearing a mask. The excessively enlarged bloody hands express the greed of the modern human being who has lost his identity amidst rapid industrialization and urbanization, and constantly tries to gain wealth and consume at an ever-increasing rate.

Another important Chinese painting lot is Day of Spring Rain by Li Keran (1907-1989) (Estimate: HK$3,500,000–4,500,000/ US$450,000–580,000). Regarded as one of the most prominent artists of 20th century Chinese painting, Li Keran studied the techniques of both traditional Chinese ink painting and Western oil painting to create his own unique technique. In the 1950s he began travelling throughout China, directly observing and experiencing the different landscapes of each region.

Li Keran’s later works are drawn in a much freer and more natural way than earlier ones, as in old age he came to rely increasingly on his memory, imagination and artistic sensibility. Day of Spring Rain shows a tranquil landscape wet with the spring rain, allowing the viewer to surmise the emotional state of the artist in his later years. The painting shows the artist’s exceptional ability to create a variety of atmospheres by adjusting the concentration of ink and water. The composition, with almost no sky and the mountain placed in the centre, is typical of Li Keran’s work. The pink flowers in full bloom remind the viewer of the fragrance of spring. It is a masterpiece that reflects the skill and experience of a master artist.

Seoul Auction will present a group of superb works by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929). Highlights include Bird (Estimate: HK$870,000–1,000,000/US$110,000–130,000) and Pumpkin (Estimate: HK$ 650,000–850,000/US$84,000–110,000).

Kusama has become a legend in Japanese contemporary art and she is one of the most influential and widely collected Japanese artists today. Having experienced hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts since childhood, she sees everything as if covered by a field of dots, or ‘infinity nets’, giving rise to the name of the series which the artist began in the late 1950s.

Kusama commands some of the highest auction prices for a living female artist and international acclaim for her work has grown, with leading museums in Madrid, Paris, London and New York having hosted major retrospective exhibitions of her work from a 60-year career in the past 3 years.

The top lot among the Korean paintings is Children Jumping Rope by Park SooKeun (1914-1965) (Estimate: HK$1,800,000–2,500,000 / US$232,000–323,000). Park SooKeun was an extremely thorough artist and although it seems simple, the canvas is composed of a structural density in which each line and shape has its place. For him, the child was a particularly endearing subject who could express the trials of adult life while also portraying peace away from the throes of reality. The child perhaps represents the artist’s pity for a harsh world in which children do not have the luxury of being childlike.

The girl in the centre of the painting is typical of Park SooKeun’s children, with her hair cut straight and both arms outstretched. The painting has a stability of structure, yet also displays an unadorned naturalness. While the girls on both sides turn the rope, the girl in the centre jumps up, giving a rhythmic vitality to the painting. Though the setting is poor, the clothing of the girls is bright and colourful. The painting also shows Park’s signature texture, the background made up of several layers pasted together, creating rich nuances and a subtle mood.

Another highlight is Water Drops No. L1 by Kim TschangYeul (b.1929) (Estimate: HK$2,000,000–3,000,000/US$260,000–390,000), a leading artist of the Korean monochrome painting movement. After moving to Paris in the 1970s, he started depicting crystal-clear water droplets on the canvas using the technique of photographic realism. This intriguing motif has since become a major theme of his works in the past 40 years. Through the water drop, Kim attempted to convey a method of expression that was restrained and cautious rather than excessive. The most prominent feature of the water drop is the temporality of its existence. The realistic water drops look as if they will soon drip down or be absorbed into the canvas, creating a sense of tension for the viewer.

Among contemporary Korean works is Pens 7 by Hong KyoungTack (b. 1968) (Estimate: HK$700,000–1,500,000/US$90,000–190,000). The defining characteristic of his work, from his earliest to his most recent work, is its patterned design. Hong’s ‘Pencil’ series, which he began in 1995, is deemed his most representative work and shows a paranoid and nervous state of mind. This series was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2013 for HK$6,630,000. Pens 7, with its exaggerated size and colours, smoothly packaged surface and texture, and absence of margins, expresses beauty as well as the paranoid tendencies of modern society.

Also of interest is Resonance 4 – Thinking Woman 1 by Yun WeeDong (b. 1982) (Estimate: HK$110,000–200,000/US$14,000–26,000). By scrutinizing and creating detailed depictions of the human body, Yun WeeDong aims to express the human psychological condition through the act of drawing. The parts of the body, other than the face, that are capable of expressing emotion, such as the hands and feet, are painted in a strictly realistic style that excludes all trace of feeling. However, the artist succeeds in conveying the internal pain present in all human beings. This detailed watercolour painting conveys human anxiety and pain and embodies Yun’s attempt to explore the human condition.

The sale also features Untitled (Reclining Nude), by leading Pakistani artist Jamil Naqsh (b. 1938) (Estimate: HK$870,000–1,200,000/US$112,000–160,000). Naqsh is inspired by memories of his childhood in his native Kairana, India. In the 1950s he studied miniature painting at the National College of Arts and added the fine and elegant composition of miniature art to his modern style and technique. The subject in Untitled (Reclining Nude) is his long-time companion and muse Najma Sura, her portrayal influenced by the more curved female forms seen in the Temple of Khajuraho. Women in Naqsh’s works are often surrounded by pigeons, another important motif for the artist. The pigeon, which is used as a symbol in miniature art, reminds Naqsh of his sad childhood, as well as being a carrier of love letters. Painted in 1997, this romantic painting is the largest of Naqsh’s artworks on a single panel canvas.

Today's News

November 12, 2013

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Exhibition at Tate Britain focuses on the recent work of five contemporary artists

MFA, Boston, celebrates contemporary Japanese decorative arts with exhibition of ceramics and bamboo

Seoul Auction to offer outstanding 20th Century & Contemporary works from East and West

First joint exhibition of work by Marianna Uutinen and Anselm Reyle on view at Salon Dahlmann

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Bonhams to offer two 1790 newspaper clippings documenting George Washington's visit to synagogue

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