A 1960s oil painting of Balinese villagers by Indonesia’s Lee Man Fong fetched a record HK$25.3 million ($3.3 million) in Hong Kong, the top lot at an Asian art auction marked by signs of return to pre-credit-crisis prices.
Lee’s 2-meter-long “Bali Life,” depicting a rustic scene of the islanders at rest, became the most expensive Southeast Asian artwork at auction, host Sotheby’s said. Prices of top Chinese contemporary works, which dropped 70 percent during the global financial crisis from their early-2008 peak, are also rebounding at this sale. “Bright Road,” a painting by Liu Ye, fetched HK$19.1 million, three times the top estimate.
“Demand for the best Chinese contemporary artworks is back,” Eric Huang, a Taipei-based buyer and dealer, said in an interview at the auction. “Don’t be surprised to see prices match or even beat pre-crisis levels very soon.”
The record for Asian contemporary art was set in May 2008, before the U.S. credit crisis began, by Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi, whose painting of Red Guards sold for HK$75.4 million in Hong Kong. As recently as October, the most expensive lot at Christie’s International’s auction, a Zhang Xiaogang work, sold for only HK$7 million.
“The Chinese are bidding,” said Huang. “That’s driving prices up.”
Wang Wei, wife of millionaire stock-investor Liu Yiqian, was among the fiercest bidders for the top lots. She won a Zao Wou-ki painting for HK$15.2 million.
Asked if prices were rising too much, Wang said, “Not even if the sellers added another zero to the tag.”
The contemporary-art auction continues.