Project for Extraterrestrials No. 7 by Cai Guo-Qiang (estimate: HK$6-8 million / US$769,200-1,025,600), a work featured in New York’s Guggenheim Museum retrospective, Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe, in 2008. Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009.

HONG KONG.- Christie’s Evening and Day sales of Asian Contemporary Art on May 24 and May 25 in Hong Kong will bring together the dynamic worlds of contemporary art from China, Japan, Korea and India, presenting a broad range of artists whose styles, techniques, and expressions represent the diverse cultures and aesthetic traditions from across the region. The sales will also present a range of younger artists new to the field who continue to push the boundaries, redefining the notion of contemporary art in Asia.

The dynamism with which post-communist China has propelled itself into the 21st century is a theme adopted by many Chinese artists who express their creative identities in the context of a rapidly changing society. In both an Evening Sale and a Day Sale, Christie’s will present collectors with pivotal works from the category’s most respected names.

Leading the Evening Sale is Rebuilding the Berlin Wall: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 7 by Cai Guo-Qiang (estimate: HK$6-8 million / US$769,200-1,025,600), a work featured in New York’s Guggenheim Museum retrospective, Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe, in 2008. Cai’s art practice is utterly unique, employing gunpowder to create carefully-calculated explosions on Japanese paper. His explosive art leaves behind magnificent and permanent burnt traces that elicit a near-spiritual feeling, and are visually enthralling in their abstraction, reminiscent of the subtle tonal variations in Chinese traditional ink paintings. His Project for Extraterrestrial Series, produced from 1989 – 1996, was conceived for an imagined extraterrestrial viewer. This work explores the 28 years of the Berlin Wall and the concept of division and unity. Placing the gunpowder and fuse where the wall stood and igniting it to create a firewall lasting 28 seconds, Cai comments on the arbitrary nature of this historical segregation by compressing its long history into a fleeting explosive.


Zeng Fanzhi, Untitled No. 10 (estimate: HK$6-8 million/ US$769,200 – 1,025,600). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009

There are few Chinese painters whose careers boast the breadth and complexity as that of Zeng Fanzhi. From the earliest stages of his career, Zeng’s paintings have been marked by their emotional directness, the artist’s intuitive psychological sense, and his carefully calibrated expressionistic technique. In Untitled No. 10 (estimate: HK$6-8 million/ US$769,200 – 1,025,600), a monumental painting from 2001, Zeng continues to depict his inherent humanism and sympathy towards the daily existence of those around him. Three dapper, nearly indistinguishable men stand side by side, distinct only in slight variations in posture, attitude and dress. Consistent with Zeng’s earliest works is his expressionistic treatment of hands. While the figures may strike coolly detached poses, their hands are inevitably bloated and raw with a haunting anxiety, or, tellingly, lie hidden defensively in their pockets, a contrast that reveals Zeng’s appraisal of the psychological disposition of his generation.


Liu Ye, Rising Sun (estimate: HK$800,000 – 1,200,000 / US$102,600 – 153,800). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009 

Among the important Chinese contemporary works offered in the May 25th Day Sale is Liu Ye’s Rising Sun (estimate: HK$800,000 – 1,200,000 / US$102,600 – 153,800), one of the highlights from an An Important Swiss Collection of Chinese Avant-garde Art , a collection of 18 contemporary works, including fine examples from Zhang Xiaogang and Fang Lijun in the Evening Sale. Like many of his contemporaries, Liu Ye reaches back into the history and experiences of his youth in order to understand the present. This work is exemplary in that it signals several important shifts in Liu’s career, including his focus on children subjects and the heightened attention to narrative. This deceptively innocuous and playful scene serves as a clever and insightful window into the uncertainty and anxiety felt surrounding the dubious priorities and politics of a new China. The animated pyramid of figures resembles those of Chinese propaganda images, with the sky and the sun a dramatic, rich red, which further references Cultural Revolution, but the romance of adventure is reduced to the folly of child’s play.

Japanese contemporary art embraces subcultures such as manga, anime, fantasy and the technology of the post-war period as high art. These works often address the fine balance between mass production, eroticism, science fiction, heritage and national identity. The fusion of these themes has resulted in provocative and innovative new art forms, captivating audiences around the world. The market for Japanese contemporary art has seen an incredible explosion of international interest, growing from a total of nearly HK$6 million in the Fall 2006 sale of Asian Contemporary Art to over HK$24 million in Christie’s recent Fall 2008 sale.


Yoshitomo Nara, Over the Topper (estimate: HK$2.5-3.5 million/ US$320,500 – 448,700). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009 

From Yoshitomo Nara comes Over the Topper (estimate: HK$2.5-3.5 million/ US$320,500 – 448,700), a unique work that finely bridges installation and sculpture and is a rare example of a work created specifically for museum exhibitions. Here, a young child perches at the end of a ladder peering out fearlessly at a height of over 4 metres, longing to explore the world beyond her four walls. Though the viewer yearns to see the full expression of Nara’s protagonist, the positioning of the figure limits this; only the ladder, the sweet red shoes left behind, and the white under garments can be seen from the viewer’s position far below. The expression on the child, which is nearly hidden from view, is adventurous and imaginative, reminiscent of the artist himself as a child, as well as fictional characters such as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and her dream of a world over the rainbow. An Evening Sale highlight, this important work was a centrepiece of past major museum shows at the Gunma Prefectural Museum of Art (1995); the Hiratsuka Museum of Art (1996) and the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art (1998).


Hiroyuki Matsuura, Zampa - Golden Zipangu (estimate: HK$500,000-700,000 / US$64,100 89,700). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009

As the digital era has blurred the boundaries between reality and the virtual realm, Japan's anime culture bridged the fantasy of the digital world and the culture of the real world, serving as a major source of artistic inspiration. Among the significant Japanese contemporary works offered in the Day Sale is Hiroyuki Matsuura’s Zampa - Golden Zipangu (estimate: HK$500,000-700,000 / US$64,100 89,700), a work that while firmly rooted in anime also evokes elements of Japanese classic art. The arrangement of bold colours in this overwhelming and fantastical imaginary universe conveys the action the protagonist, a heroic samurai riding a powerful wave rendered in Edo-period style, while the flatness associated with the classical art of Japan is seen in the raw black contours and the layering of hues to create the effect of shadows.

Artists from Korea are known for their exceptional technical abilities, a skill most clearly expressed in hyper-realism, and for their innovative experimentation with materials. Korea possesses a rich cultural history that has resulted in a unique approach to art that embraces revolutionary and contemporary practices while retaining a connection to traditional heritage. This market has been experiencing growing interest from collectors throughout Asia and beyond, and each season, Christie’s offers a series of the most cutting-edge works from the region.


Kang Hyung Koo, Pink Stare of Dali (estimate: HK$500,000 – 600,000 /US$64,100 – 76,900). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009   

Leading the Korean contemporary works in this season’s Evening Sale is Pink Stare of Dali by Kang Hyung Koo (estimate: HK$500,000 – 600,000 /US$64,100 – 76,900). The majestic scale of this hyper-realistic work immediately engulfs the audience with meticulous detailing, and like many of Kang's paintings, centres its focus on the eyes of the protagonist. Kang’s astute grasp of the power of colour is seen in the great precision in which he works with the monotone pink palette, while his magnified, exaggerated view of the facial features is a tool through which he exposes the inner soul of his subject.


Hong Kyoung Tack, Van Gogh and a Robin Carried by a Storm (estimate: HK$550,000-850,000 / US$70,500-109,000). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009

Hong Kyoung Tack’s Van Gogh and a Robin Carried by a Storm (estimate: HK$550,000-850,000 / US$70,500-109,000) leads a strong selection of Korean contemporary works offered in the Day Sale. This work is from the artist’s Funkchestra series, where he has used icons such as Madonna and John Lennon, and here paints Van Gogh surrounded by psychedelic patterns of bright colours. Van Gogh’s fame is legendary, but somewhere amidst the whimsical environment of Hong’s painting, Van Gogh becomes an almost mystical figure, lost among the hype created around him.

An overriding theme distinctive to today’s Indian contemporary artists is the urge to address national and philosophical concerns: social reality, political inequality, traditional gender roles, empowerment and relationships. Global interest in Indian Art has established the category as a mainstay of the contemporary scene in New York, London and Hong Kong. Since launching Modern and Contemporary Indian Art sales in New York 2000, worldwide sales in this category at Christie’s have grown from US$656,000 to over US$45 million in 2008.


Jitish Kallat, Universal Recipient 1(estimate: HK$700,000-900,000/US$89,700 – 115,400). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009 

Among the highlights of Indian contemporary artists presented in the May 24th Evening Sale is Universal Recipient 1 by Jitish Kallat (estimate: HK$700,000-900,000/US$89,700 – 115,400). The city of Mumbai and its teeming environs appear as both foreground and backdrop in a variety of Kallat’s post-millennial works, effectively serving as his muse as much as the stylised ‘Pop’-infused figures and subject matter he depicts. Here, Kallat sustains the sense of urban cacophony as a theme the artist developed in prior works, while also bringing to the forefront the poignancy of the human struggle for survival in this Darwinian environment. The security guard depicted in his full regalia is, in fact, representative of impoverished itinerant workers, coming from India’s villages with greater aspirations as they guard many of Mumbai’s wealthiest enclaves.


Anirban Mitra, High Tide, Low Tide, Tide Everywhere (estimate: HK$40,000-60,000 / US$5,100-7,700). Photo: Christie´s Images Ltd. 2009  

Incorporating images and motifs seen by the artist in his immediate surroundings, Anirban Mitra’s paintings weave together elements of folk and tribal art, religion, mass media and popular culture. Highlighting the many notable Indian contemporary works offered in the Day Sale is High Tide, Low Tide, Tide Everywhere (estimate: HK$40,000-60,000 / US$5,100-7,700). Consuming the entire canvas, sacrificing baseline and perspective for pattern and figuration, this work creates fantastical and dreamlike situations that border on the absurd. Here, Mitra touches on social issues, particularly consumerism in India, where the masses struggle with maintaining their own traditional Indian identities while embracing new technology and consumer products.