An abstract oil painting by Chinese-French master Zao Wou-Ki changed hands for HKD 510.4 million ($65.2 million) at Sotheby’s on Sunday, more than 28 times its previous purchase price and setting a new record for any Asian work of art sold at auction.
Taiwanese businessman Chang Qiu Dun, whose company P&F Brother Industrial Corp. makes treadmills and power tools, paid $2.3 million in May 2005 for ‘Juin-Octobre 1985,’ a 10-metre (33 foot) triptych he had kept at a purpose-built space adjoining his factory in the industrial city of Taichung.
The new high watermark shows how Asian artists are closing the price gap with their Western counterparts, as well as the growing importance of the region in the global art scene as a source of both consignors and buyers.
“At $65 million, Zao Wou-Ki joins the ranks of his post-war American contemporaries like de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman," Pascal de Sarthe, a Hong Kong-based dealer who has been selling Zao’s works for 35 years, said after the sale.
Sotheby’s declined to identify the buyer, who placed the winning bid by phone through Sebastian Fahey, the auction house’s managing director of business in Asia. The sale was over in just a few minutes, handing Chang a 2,735 per cent return on his investment versus a gain of about 150 per cent for the S&P 500 over the same period.
Zao, who died in Switzerland in 2013 aged 93, painted the work in 1985 at the behest of his close friend and fellow Chinese emigre, architect I.M. Pei. He spent most of the last 65 years of his life in France, drawing on both Chinese and European academic traditions and fusing them into his own distinctive abstract expressionist style.
The previous record for any Asian work of art sold at auction was in 2010 in Beijing, when a hand scroll sold at Poly International Auction Co. for $64 million.