10 artists set new records at Sotheby's indicating a booming contemporary art market in Asia

The contemporary art sales at Sotheby's yesterday reached $102m -- the highest totalling series of contemporary art in Asia. Moreover, 10 artists broke their own auction records including KAWS, Yayoi Kusama and Hao Liang. The excellent performance of the sales at Sotheby's indicates that Asian collectors' preference for art is shifting from traditional Chinese paintings and ceramics to contemporary art.

One of the highlights yesterday is the contemporary art evening sales with a total sale of $56.2m, a 10% increase from last year. Top lots of the evening sale includes Kusama Yayoi's Interminable Net #4, which sold for $8m. The sale set new records for the artist herself at auction as well as for a work by a female artist sold at auction in Asia. Moreover, An Anecdote from the Grove (2011) by Hao Liang, the rising star of Chinese contemporary art, hammered down for $1.93m, breaking the artist's personal record.


▲Kusama Yayoi'sInterminable Net #4sold for $8m at Sotheby's contemporary evening sales. Courtesy of Sotheby's

During the evening sales, we also see the strong performance of western artists. Led by Julie Mehretu's auction debut in Asia, her Black Ground (Deep Light) sold for $5.6 million, breaking her own record at auction. Additionally, Untitled (Yellow White Butterfly) by Mark Grotjahn, who is also new to the Asian auction, achieved $3.4 million. Meanwhile, the contemporary art day sale also reached $18m, with 89% lots sold.

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▲Julie Mehretu's Black Ground (Deep Light)sold for $5.6 million.Courtesy of Sotheby's

However, the true hero of the contemporary art sale at Sotheby's this spring is KAWS. In the NIGOLDENEYE® VOL. 1, an auction that sells millennial cultural icon's prized personal goods from Japanese artist NIGO®, The KAWS album, which is inspired by the Simpsons television show set a new record for the artist at $14.8m. The NIGO® auction itself is a white glove sale with $28m. Millennials are the major buys in this auction sale. Edie Hu, art advisory specialist at Citi Private Bank described the scene at auction to Bloomberg: "The auction room suddenly got a lot hipper, with all these cool millennial buyers in hoodies."

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▲KAWS,The KAWS album,Courtesy of Sotheby's

The spring sales at Sotheby's is an obvious sign of Chinese shifting interests. However, it is not the first time the market in Asia, especially in China shows its preference for contemporary art. The 2018 China Auction Report by China Association of Auctioneers (CCA) wrote that 30 contemporary art auction sales were held in China in 2018. The total turnover reached over 2b yuan (about $320m), a 34.22% increase from the previous year. Moreover, contemporary artworks that reach one million yuan (about $140,000) is 58.80% higher than in 2017. A few contemporary artists break their personal record. On the other hand, the total sales of traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphies fell 35.1% in 2018.

Felix Guo, the Sotheby's deputy director Asia said: "The Asian art market used to prefer traditional Chinese paintings and ceramics. However, the trend is changing now. We see a new market (modern and contemporary) is getting stronger. We believe this trend will continue this year. "