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Posted by: Frederik Balfour on December 01, 2008
It may have taken Hollywood film maker Oliver Stone six weeks to recap the $25 million it cost studios spent making the President Bush biopic “W.”, but he fared far better at an otherwise decidedly lackluster auction at Christie’s in Hong Kong on Sunday. Stone managed to unload three works by contemporary Chinese painters at the evening auction, grossing about $4.4 million. While about 20% of that includes Christie’s commission, or “buyers premium” as it’s known in the art world, Stone still came away with a very tidy profit on works he picked up on the cheap in the 1990s in Hong Kong long about a decade before Chinese art became hot.
One can only wonder if the works also carried at “Stone” premium as well. Imagine the bragging rights the new owners will have when asked about the provenance of the paintings. One anecdote that Stone told a group of us a few hours before the paintings went under the hammer was about a work by cynical realist painter Liu Wei done in 1994 which depicts Mao Tse-tung cavorting in the water with a naked woman. Apparently the work was considered too graphic by his wife at the time, who insisted it be hidden from view by a bamboo screen in the dining room whenever his children were around. The new buyer paid $593,000 for the work entitled “Swimmers ’94.” Stone also parted ways with one of the finest works by red-hot contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang, entitled “Bloodline: Big Family, No. 2”, fetching a cool $3.424 million. A third work owned by Stone, also by Liu Wei, sold for $375,000.
To get a sense of how slack the Asian art market has gone in the past six months, consider this: Stone’s haul accounted for more than half the $8.4 million sold during the first half of the evening devoted to Asian Contemporary Art in which only 56% of the lots sold. The second evening sale devoted to 20th Century Chinese Art fared even worse, with less than half the works selling.
When freelance blogger Thomas Crampton and I interviewed Stone briefly at the funky new W Hotel in Hong Kong after an “off the record” talk he gave on art and film along with Chinese multi-media artist Zhou Yi on Sunday, he told us that he felt it was time to pass the art along to someone else. For more on Stone’s views about art, film and why he decided to sell his contemporary Chinese works, I am hoping to have a short video interview we did with him posted on Tuesday.
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.