Auction Review: Phillips and Poly Auction’s Dual-Location Contemporary Art Sales

Liz Catalano
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This June, Phillips and Poly Auction continued their collaborative efforts with two days of contemporary art auctions. Held on June 7th and 8th, 2021, the events took place in both Hong Kong and Beijing. The auction houses achieved two ‘white glove’ sales with a 100% sell-through rate and netted a total of HKD 702 million (USD 90.4 million).

“The brand new format of these dual-location sales… confirm[s] the strength of Asian buyers in building global demand for the modern and contemporary art category,” said Jonathan Crockett, Phillips’ Asia Chairman, in a statement. “This season’s sales were one of our most diverse and we were pleased to achieve another season of impressive results with our offering of exceptional 20th and 21st century works of art.”

Left: Phillips auctioneer Jonathan Crockett sells Yoshitomo Nara’s Missing in Action in the Hong Kong auction room. Right: Poly Auction’s Beijing auction room. Images from Phillips and Poly Auction.
Left: Phillips auctioneer Jonathan Crockett sells Yoshitomo Nara’s Missing in Action in the Hong Kong auction room. Right: Poly Auction’s Beijing auction room. Images from Phillips and Poly Auction.

Phillips and Poly Auction first joined forces in November of 2020. Each company looked to expand its presence in foreign markets and increase brand visibility. Following the success of their inaugural joint sale in November, which brought in HKD 508 million (USD 66 million), the auction houses announced plans for a dual-location contemporary art event in the spring of 2021. 

Phillips auctioneers ran the sales from the company’s Hong Kong location, and collectors could also join through Poly Auction’s live feed in Beijing. More than 800 bidders from 45 countries participated, doubling the previous auction season’s rates. Yoshitomo Nara’s Missing in Action from 2000 was the leading lot. It sold for HKD 134.8 million (USD 15.9 million). This marks the artist’s second-highest price at auction. 

This collaboration also marked a step forward for cryptocurrency in the art market. In May, Phillips announced its plans to accept Bitcoin or Ether as payment for a non-digital work of art (Banksy’s Laugh Now Panel A, 2002). This decision set a precedent for major auction houses in Asia. Banksy’s signature spray paint piece sold for HKD 24.5 million (USD 3.2 million), though the buyer’s payment method has not yet been disclosed.

Yayoi Kusama, Nets Obsession, 2004. Image from Phillips and Poly Auction.
Yayoi Kusama, Nets Obsession, 2004. Image from Phillips and Poly Auction.

Each session saw particularly strong results for women artists. Yayoi Kusama’s Nets Obsession from 2004 nearly doubled its high estimate, selling for HKD 25.7 million (USD 3.3 million). It achieved the fourth-highest price of the events. The piece belongs to Kusama’s Infinity Net series. Delicate waves of blue and white challenge the boundaries of the canvas, suggesting infinite circles and negative spaces.

Works from rising women artists also stood out in the catalogs. Phillips and Poly Auction secured new auction records for Emily Mae Smith, Loie Hollowell, Jadé Fadojutimi, and Ayako Rokkaku, among others. Smith’s colorful Broom Life from 2014 sold for HKD 12.4 million (USD 1.6 million), more than 20 times its high estimate. This price also triples Smith’s previous auction record. Broom Life shows the artist’s iconic broomstick figure and references a controversial French fizzy beverage advertisement from the mid-2000s. The original showed a sexualized cactus posing on a block of melting ice. In her painting, Smith pokes fun at the ad while introducing a new narrative.

Emily Mae Smith, Broom Life, 2014. Image from Phillips and Poly Auction.
Emily Mae Smith, Broom Life, 2014. Image from Phillips and Poly Auction.

The modern and contemporary art sales yielded several other notable results. These include Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (940-7) (HKD 95.1 million / USD 12.3 million), Matthew Wong’s Figure in a Night Landscape (HKD 36.6 million / USD 4.7 million), Zhang Xiaogang’s Family Portrait No. 13 (HKD 10.5 million / USD 1.4 million), and Liu Ye’s The Second Story (HKD 13 million / USD 1.7 million). 

“These results are a testament to the winning success of this fruitful collaboration between two of the leading auction houses in the market,” stated Wang Wei, Managing Director of Beijing Poly International Auction Co. Ltd and Director of Poly Auction Hong Kong Limited. “We are looking forward to building on this success story and bringing more exceptional works to the art market in the future.”

Looking for more auction reviews? Check out Auction Daily’s coverage of South Asian Modern Art at Christie’s.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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