Big-ticket items failed to excite buyers at art auctions in Hong Kong this week, with many failing to reach their estimated values while others were left unsold or pulled from sale. At Christie’s 20th and 21st century art sales, which were held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on November 30 and December 1, seven of the top 10 works by price sold failed to meet their minimum estimated value at the hammer (before fees). At Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, held in association with mainland Chinese auction house Yongle, the three top works which sold for more than HK$10 million (US$1.28 million) all failed to reach their minimum presale estimates. Abstraktes Bild (774-1) (1992) by Gerhard Richter, considered one of Germany’s most important contemporary artists, which was being auctioned for the first time, sold at Phillips at a hammer price (before sale commission) of HK$75 million, shy of its low estimate of HK$80 million. And an absentee bidder snatched Nara’s Nachtwandern (1994) at a hammer price of HK$15.5 million, under its low estimate of HK$16 million. The top-selling piece in the Christie’s sale, Untitled (1966-67) by Joan Mitchell, an American female artist whose work was making its debut at Christie’s auctions in Asia, was sold at a hammer price of H$70 million, below its presale estimate of between HK$80 million and HK$120 million. At last year’s Art Basel in Hong Kong, a piece by Mitchell fetched close to US$20 million, a record for the artist’s work. The highest price paid at auction for one of her works was over US$16.6 million (after fees) at a 2018 Christie’s sale in New York. Other top sellers by Adrian Ghenie and Zeng Fanzhi also failed to reach their presale estimates. In a shock, a work by Chinese-French master painter Zao Wou-Ki failed to sell at all. His 10.01.68 (1968) had a presale estimate of between HK$68 million and HK$98 million. Christie’s sold another work by Zao, 12.05.83 (1983), for a hammer price of HK$30 million, well below its minimum presale estimate of HK$38 million. However, Potted Prunus, by an earlier Chinese-French painter, Sanyu, which featured prominently in auction advertising, and carried a presale estimate of between HK$85 million and HK$100 million, was withdrawn from sale after “consultation with the consignor”, according to a statement by Christie’s. On the other hand, at Christie’s Post-Millennial Evening Sale, Nicolas Party’s Blue Sunset (2018) set an auction record for the artist when it sold for HK$43 million (HK $52 million after fees). Art by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, whose work is the subject of an exhibition at Hong Kong’s M+ museum of visual culture, enjoyed mixed fortunes. Kusama’s Infinity Nets (TWHOQ) (2006) sold for HK$44 million, above the high estimate of HK$38 million, at Christie’s. However, another Kusama work, Infinity-Nets (GMBKA) (2013), went for HK$10.2 million at Phillips, just 85 per cent of its low presale estimate. And at Seoul Auction’s November 29 sale, her 2014 work A-Pumpkin (Otrssa) sold for 6.4 billion Korean won (US$4.9 million) – 7.6 billion won after fees – according to auction-tracking app LiveArt. The hammer price was only 80 per cent of its presale low estimate of 8 billion won. Another Kusama work with a presale estimate of 800 million-1.2 billion won was withdrawn from sale by Seoul Auction. High-profile works by Korean artists such as Ha Chong-hyun, Park Seo-bo, and Yun Hyong-keun were also passed up by buyers, according to Liveart. Seoul Auction said the price paid for A-Pumpkin (Otrssa) was a record for South Korean auction houses this year. According to LiveArt, the results of Seoul Auction’s sales this week in Hong Kong – its first in three years – were well short of expectations. The total value of the works sold was 41 per cent below their low estimates taken together, it showed, and Seoul Auction said 27 of the 84 works on offer went unsold. Phillips’ evening sale, where its 10 best performing lots were sold, brought in HK$262 million on the strength of some surprise performances. Five new artist auction records were set, such as for Raghav Babbar, whose work Off Duty (2020), which had a high estimate of HK$250,000, sold for a hammer price of HK$4 million. Combined sales across both auctions reached HK$350 million. At Christie’s 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale on November 30, where nine of the 10 highest value works were sold, total sales before fees were HK$556 million, 22 per cent below the combined low estimates for the works on offer, with a sell-through rate of 84 per cent, according to Liveart. However, the auction house dismissed concerns that this was indicative of a weakening Asian art market, or that the works had been overvalued. Indeed, taking the year as a whole, Christie’s sales of 20th and 21st century art in Asia have already reached HK$3.4 billion, the second highest total on record, with online sales from December 5-13 still to come. “There’s always surprises in our world,” said Francis Belin, president, Asia-Pacific, for Christie’s. “We believe very much in the objects we offer and we believe they are exceptional.” The auction house said 91 per cent of lots offered in its five contemporary art auctions this week sold, and for prices that reached 105 per cent of the low estimates for those lots overall.