Big Bang fans are prone to screaming fits in the presence of the South Korean boy band. So it was just as well that T.O.P., who is terribly easy on the eye and oh-so-talented, didn’t attend the October 3 evening art auction that he curated for Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. Fan hysteria and auction paddles would have been a dangerous combination.

‘Only here because of T.O.P.’ Hong Kong K-pop fans throng art auction

The 28-year-old rapper, real name Choi Seung-hyun, is The Sophisticated One in the five-member group and boasts a serious art collection. Big Bang’s 2015 revenue was estimated by Korean television station Total Variety Network to be a staggering 150 billion won (HK$1 billion), so Choi can afford to go after some of the biggest names in the art world – names he asked Sotheby’s to hunt down for a sale that reflected his tastes.

The sale had a trendy hashtag title, #TTTOP, and it must have received more attention than any auction ever held in Hong Kong simply because Choi kept posting updates to his 5.8 million Instagram followers. It was a strategic fit for Sotheby’s plan to go after the young, social-media-savvy generation.

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Sure enough, the star’s pulling power was sufficient to bring excited first-time visitors to the auction room, even if he was only there in spirit (he left Hong Kong a day earlier, causing havoc at the airport).

Gimmick aside, and for those who take an active interest in the art market, the T.O.P. sale was worth paying attention to simply because it is so rare for a Hong Kong auction to feature such a broad range of artwork. In the heavily siloed auction world, cross-department collaborations are still fairly new and works by top European and American names are normally reserved for the proven markets of New York and London. Yet here, we had works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Gerhard Richter. (Choi told Post Magazine in an earlier interview that he loves German post-war art).

 

The sale yielded HK$136 million in total, including buyers’ commissions to Sotheby’s, and a healthy 90 per cent sell-through rate. The results from the sale seem to say that there’s healthy, if not wildly enthusiastic demand for Western art in this part of the world. The Richter, the Haring and works by Rudolf Stingel, Tauba Auerbach and Jonas Wood all went to Asian private buyers. It was no great surprise that the hammer price for the Jean-Michel Basquiat work was at the top of the pre-sale estimates. In May, Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa paid US$57 million for one of his pieces at a Christie’s auction in New York. Wood’s Untitled (Red and Pink on Tan), an oil-on-linen work from 2009, also fetched a healthy HK$3 million – double the top estimate. But bids for works by George Condo, Warhol and Sigmar Polke failed to meet the reserve prices.

The sale also showed a slight cooling towards Korean contemporary art, which has enjoyed such demand in the past two years that the country’s auction houses now hold sales in Hong Kong every three or four months.

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A beautiful work by Park Seo-bo, called Ecriture No. 222-85 (1985), had a hammer price of HK$7 million, well below the lowest estimate of HK$8 million. That went to a buyer in the United States.

One can only read so much into the sale, since there were certainly aspects of it that were arguably a distortion of the true state of the market.

Several pieces were commissioned by Choi for the sale and an unspecified part of the total proceeds was donated to the Asian Cultural Council, so bidding could have been partially driven by charity as well as fans’ devotion.

Such factors were probably at play when a pillow by Takashi Murakami – which the catalogue made clear was T.O.P.’s personal pillow, as opposed to an impersonal one – was sold for a ham­mer price of HK$110,000. And when an Asian lady in the room bid HK$950,000 for the privilege of creating an artwork together with Choi and artist Kohei Nawa.

Are these collectables or art? True fans wouldn’t care. They are all “Fantastic Baby”!