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Thursday, April 7, 2016, 08:52

Bidding for variety

By Chitralekha Basu

Are all auction houses dishing out the same fare? Chitralekha Basu checks out the season’s favorites and finds diversity where it is least expected.

Bidding for variety
Liu Wei’s The Revolutionary Family Series triptych, a playful take on his life as a military man, is a major highlight of the spring auctions at Sotheby’s. (Photos provided to China Daily)

As the spring auction season in Hong Kong draws to a close (not counting Christie’s 30th anniversary mega show, due from May 27 to June 1 at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre), collectors, art aficionados and market watchers checking out the lots on offer might be forgiven if they feel a sense of déjà vu. The previews — featuring highlights from the artworks that will go under the hammer during the spring sales of Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York in May, as well as of those up for grabs here in Hong Kong — often feature the same artists across auction houses. Often the artworks on display are produced by artists during the same phase in their careers and hence look and feel rather similar.

This season both Sotheby’s and Christie’s feature Alexander Calder’s Joan Miro-inspired metal sculptures. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s project Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita’s reclining nudes as their season highlights. Liu Wei’s gigantic portraits playing up the inherent culpability and ridiculousness in human beings take the pride of place at both Christie’s ( Bathing Beauty ) and Sotheby’s ( The Revolutionary Family Series triptych). Painted in 1994, both artworks are marked by the same irreverence to authority and point toward the farcical nature of modern-day life experiences.

While a Pablo Picasso or a Qi Baishi would be hot property, perennially, irrespective of the season; for certain artists the buzz is more ephemeral. Japanese post-modernist painter and sculptor Yayoi Kusama has become the staple of Hong Kong auctions since the last couple of years. This year too Kusama’s acrylic on canvas painting titled Infinity-Nets is a big draw at the Sotheby’s preview, as indeed the artist is part of the season highlights at Christie’s. Art advisor and collector Jehan Chu of Vermillion Art Collections points to the disarming nature of Kusama’s spotted pumpkins which are likely to put the relatively un-initiated art buyer at ease.

“Yayoi Kusama has achieved a level of critical and popular success seen only by a select few contemporary artists in history. She is approaching the ubiquity of Andy Warhol, but with the family-friendliness of the Muppets,” says Chu, hastening to add, “Her market is a bit hot at the moment. It may experience a bit more steady growth before any serious correction is made.”

Although it’s difficult to put one’s finger on why an artist becomes the flavor of the season, it may not be such a good idea to invest in the current favorite just because everyone else is.

“Collectors should buy the artwork that they respond to first, and then they can consider what the market is saying,” says Chu. “While there is an instinctive safety when moving among the herd, the fact is, if everyone is offering the work for sale at auction, you’re probably too late to get in on the action.”

Bidding for variety
Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita’s reclining nudes figure among the season highlights both at Sotheby’s (above) and Christie’s.
Bidding for variety
Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita’s reclining nudes figure among the season highlights both at Sotheby’s and Christie’s (above).

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