'Execution' makes banker a killing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am

A politically charged Chinese contemporary art masterpiece sold for a record GBP2.93 million (HK$46.2 million) at a London auction, 185 times the price the owner bought it for in Hong Kong more than a decade ago.

Execution, by artist Yue Minjun, which adapts a 19th century Edouard Manet classic to echo the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, set a record for a Chinese contemporary artwork during Sotheby's auction on Friday.

The buyer, whose identity has not been released, placed his bid via telephone.

Yue is one of China's most important avant garde artists. Another of his works, The Pope, held the previous auction record for a contemporary Chinese artwork when it was bought for HK$33.9 million in June.

Execution was completed in 1995. Sotheby's billed it as 'among the most important paintings of the Chinese avant garde ever to appear at auction'.

The work, with a pre-sale estimate of between HK$23 million and HK$30 million, had never been exhibited until the auction.

Briton Trevor Simon, a retired investment banker, was in his mid-20s in 1996 when he used two-thirds of his annual salary to buy the masterpiece from late Hong Kong dealer Manfred Schoeni.

'It is a good price,' he said by phone last night from London of Friday's bid. 'I am not surprised by the price at all as contemporary Chinese art is as good as western art. Soon, you will see more Chinese artworks being sold at higher prices.'

Mr Simon will not get all the money from the sale. Shortly after he bought the painting, he gave away a half-share to buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend. They later split up, and he didn't get the ring back.

The auction started a series of high-profile contemporary art sales in London, which coincides with the four-day Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park, which ends today.