Of all art markets, none is more of a roller-coaster ride than that of Islamic art. Perhaps the only thing consistent about it is that great peaks are followed by deep troughs. In the last year or two, the market in Islamic art has been on the up following a dip, but I doubt anyone anticipated the new heights it would scale at London’s Islamic Week in April.
Susan Moore, Wednesday, 1st June 2011
China, that other booming market, also provided handsome returns for consignors to Sotheby’s spring auction season in Hong Kong, the most successful in the firm’s history, totalling a colossal HK$3.49bn ($447m). Revealingly, four major single-owner collections were consigned from Europe or the US. ‘The Ullens Collection: the Nascence of Avant-Garde China’ proved a ‘white glove’ sale, meaning that all 105 lots sold, realising three times the pre-sale estimate on 3 April.
Unsurprisingly, there was huge competition for Zhāng Xiăogāng’s epic Forever Lasting Love (Triptych) of 1988. This work was exhibited at the now legendary ‘China/Avant-Garde’ show at the National Gallery in Beijing in 1989, where one panel was sold. That appeared at auction in 2007, after which it was reunited with the other two canvases. It is a deliberately primitivist, lyrical work which finds the artist musing on life and death, and drawing in influences from Eastern and Western philosophy as well as Surrealism to express the universal condition of humanity. It realised HK$79m (just over $10m), a new record for contemporary Chinese art.
By contrast, the 7 April sale of the Meiyintang Collection, another European offering and billed as the sale of the century, seemed misjudged. It is indeed one of the finest private collections of Imperial Chinese porcelain but the reserves, if not the estimates, were over-egged, which lead to the two top lots failing to sell at auction but selling after the sale within their auction estimates. The Qing dynasty Falangcai ‘Pheasant’ vase sold for HK$200m and the Ming Chengua Palace Bowl for HK$90. Those after-sales brought the total closer to its pre-sale low estimate of HK$710m.
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