A long list of notable modern and contemporary artwork will go under the hammer at Christie's autumn auctions this month, and as the art market has seen an impressive rebound this year, records are likely to be smashed.
Among the highlights, the evening sale on November 23 features Zeng Fanzhi's Hospital Triptych No 3 (1992). Zeng's constant exploration of new styles has seen his prices surge past those commanded by mainland artists of his generation. Last month, his Last Supper (2001) became the highest-priced Chinese contemporary artwork sold at auction. It fetched HK$180.4 million, including fees, at Sotheby's 40th anniversary sale.
"I think Hospital could set a new record. It marks the most important change in Zeng's style. It is equivalent to Picasso's Blue Period," says Eric Chang, international director of Asian 20th century and contemporary art for Christie's.
Unlike the first two pieces in Zeng's Hospital series, the grim crowd gathering for medical treatment in this third work is clothed identically and shares the same facial features - those of the artist himself. This departure from realism and the introduction of a universal protagonist would later mature into his highly acclaimed Mask series. The art auction business is filled with hyperbole, but Chang is not using the Picasso reference loosely.
He argues the best modern and contemporary Chinese painters are as significant and as valuable as the major names in Western art. A triptych by abstract painter Zao Wou-ki, who died in April, sold during Sotheby's October sales for HK$85.2 million - the highest price paid for his works.
"In the 1950s and 1960s, the likes of Zao and Chang Dai-chien began incorporating Western influences into their works while retaining the aesthetics of oriental art that cannot be replicated by Western artists," Chang says.
Chang's theory that Zao's works are underpriced will be put to the test when his early works from the '50s and '60s go on sale from November 23 to 24. Chinese-French painter Sanyu, another auction favourite, will have three works in the auctions. His Femme en Rouge is expected to sell for between HK$15 million and HK$20 million, excluding the buyer's premium.
Christie's is also boosting the number of Southeast Asian art pieces available this season, as buyers priced out in the Chinese category seek more affordable items. Works by Indonesia's Nyoman Masriadi and Filipino Fernando Zóbel will be featured, as will a coterie of Gauguin-esque European artists who were active in Bali during the '20s and '30s.
Singaporean artists continue their emergence from obscurity, and Christie's has included works by Georgette Chen and Cheong Soo Pieng in the sale.
Hong Kong art, sadly, remains as affordable as auctioned items can be. Chang says that Luis Chan, Ng Po-Wan and Yee Bon are a few of the local names included in the sales, which will take place from November 23-27 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Public previews begin on November 21.