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Friday, November 25, 2016, 00:24

Spotlight on classics of Western art at HK autumn auctions

By Chitralekha Basu
Spotlight on classics of Western art at HK autumn auctions
The huge canvas displaying Andy Warhol's fleet of Mercedez-Benzes is one of the highlights at Christie's autumn sales. (Provided to China Daily)

HONG KONG - Two major international auction houses are holding their autumn sales this week. Christie’s has lined up a mammoth show featuring over 3,500 lots, including works by some of the world’s giants of 20th century artistic achievement. Part of the Grand Hall at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre has been transformed into a gallery of classic must-sees created by the finest exponents of European and American art — Pablo Picasso’s Claude et Paloma from his Cubist phase, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Two Sisters, Vincent Van Gogh’s Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies, Andy Warhol’s portrait of Chairman Mao, among others.

Most of these priceless items belong to collectors in Asia who have put their prized possessions on the market or loaned them for the viewing pleasure of visitors from Nov 24 to 28. Listed under the title, The Loaded Brush, this segment of Christie’s autumn show is an exhibition-cum-sale that also raises its hat to the growing influence of the art collector from Asia, says Brett Gorvy, international head of post-war and contemporary art with the auction house. “It was very important for us to be able to demonstrate to the audience here exactly how powerful and important the buyers are in the region.”

The piece de resistance in this lot, arguably, is a 1986 giant canvas featuring 12 reproductions of a Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix racing car in psychedelic colors by Andy Warhol. While “loaded brush” could be taken literally, to mean the thick layering of paint that is the hallmark of artists like Van Gogh and Gerhard Richter, the term could also be used in the sense of reaching a creative high — a spontaneous cloudburst of artistic inspiration which finds expression in a monumental piece of work that becomes a reference point for future generations of artists. These artworks are meant to overwhelm the audience, at many levels. Warhol’s fleet of Mercedes-Benzes are both big in terms of size (13 by 15 feet) and influence, to say nothing of the fact that it is monstrously clever.

“Here’s an artist who is using the antithesis of the brush, i.e. the silkscreen, photographic images, overlaid with colors, using techniques that have the same power as you see in many of the paintings where the brush is used,” remarked Gorvy.

A lavish exuberance of color is also apparent at the preview of the lots that will be auctioned on Nov 27 at the Mandarin Oriental as part of Phillips’ maiden sale of 20th century and contemporary art and design in Asia. Be it Zao Wou-ki’s Bowl and Leaves with Red Background, or Shozo Shimamoto’s untitled acrylic and broken glass on canvas piece, or Kim Tae-ho’s textured layers of midnight blue paint, piled on and divided into a million tiny squares by red and yellow threads in the piece titled Internal Rhythm — much of the art on display are about a sensory overload. The huge concave violet-hued metallic disc designed by Anish Kapoor, for example, lives up to its name, Strange Attraction. It has a hypnotic pull that could be somewhat unsettling.

However, one of the top lots, Roy Lichtenstein’s, Landscape with Grass, 1996, estimated at HK$25 to HK$35 million, is completely disarming in a lot of ways. The painting references Chinese literati paintings, popular during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but does so by paring down the tropes of the tradition to their bare essentials. Massive mountains are represented by blue Ben Day dots, of varying densities and sizes. The debt to Chinese scroll paintings is acknowledged by putting a light yellow band along the right border. A tiny boatman and minuscule rising sun, both equally unnoticeable, also figure, subverting the idea of the awesome and grandiose that literati paintings were supposed to inspire.

“It’s a museum-quality painting,” said Jonathan Crockett, Phillips’ deputy chairman in Asia. “Of the 20 paintings in the series Lichtenstein painted one is in MOMA, New York and another in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We are very proud to bring work of this quality to Asia.”

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