Yoshitomo Nara painting fetches US$25 million in Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction


There may be a global trade war happening, and the streets of Hong Kong might be crowded with rioters – but art remains a touchstone. Last week’s Contemporary Art sale held by Sotheby’s Hong Kong, has been dubbed the “highest totalling series of contemporary art sales ever staged in Asia.” The series total was US$105 million.

The series was made up of three different auctions – ‘Moutarderie Nationale: The Gillion Crowet Collection’ (total sales: US$17,692,227/ HK$138,817,000), ‘Contemporary Evening sale’ (US$68,594,610/ HK$538,208,000) and ‘Contemporary Day sale’ (US$18,745,346/ HK$147,080,000).

Highlights of the sale include Japanese neo-pop artist Yoshitomo Nara’s Knife Behind Back (2000), which sold for US$25 million after a 10-minute bidding battle between six collectors. The painting features Nara’s well-known motif of a young girl on what is his largest canvas to appear at auction (234 x 208 cm). It was sold to an unknown buyer, setting a new auction record for the artist.

Knife Behind Back, Yoshitomo Nara. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Artist Liu Ye’s Smoke (US$6.6 million/ HK$52 million) was also successful in surpassing the artist’s previous 2013 record of HK $43 million. Smoke was the top lot in The Gillion Crowet Collection, which comprised 30 works of Chinese contemporary art.

This auction exceeded its total high estimate to achieve US$17.7 million (HK$139 million). The collection comprised works by Liu Ye, Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun and Zeng Fanzhi and had an overall 97% sell-through rate.

Yuki Terase, Sotheby’s head of Contemporary Art, Asia, said: “Collectors not just from Asia but all across the world were out in force, driving strong prices and new records across genres. We were thrilled to see buyers eagerly pursue contemporary Chinese art from the prestigious Gillion Crowet collection.”