First Sotheby’s Singapore auction in 15 years a success –

In its first sale in Singapore in 15 years, Sotheby’s fetched S$24 million ($17.5 million) on Sunday, surpassing the pre-sale auction estimate of S$18 million ($10 million).

The much-anticipated auction features modern and contemporary artworks, with a strong emphasis on modern art by artists from Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. Dealers and collectors from across Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and mainland China flocked to the auction.

Leo Hsu, senior director at the David Zwirner Gallery in Hong Kong, had flown in for the auction. Speaking with ARTnewshe observes a positive atmosphere in the hall, where he notices fellow representatives of international galleries present.

“It was surprising to meet a number of collectors from mainland China. From my interactions and observations at the event, I found that some collectors have recently moved to Singapore and are starting their collections there,” he added.

William Gerard Hofker, Melis, a composition featuring Ni Dablig with Ni Gemblong with a boy behind the gender musical instrument1939

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The movement of families, entrepreneurs and businesses from Hong Kong and mainland China to Singapore due to the city’s relaxed Covid restrictions has certainly boosted international interest in the country as a global player in the art market. This makes it a natural choice as a sales venue in Asia for Sotheby’s.

However, Jasmine Prasetio, Sotheby’s managing director for Southeast Asia, said the decision to host the auction in Singapore was not intended to offer the city as an alternative to Hong Kong. Instead, the house wanted to increase its presence in the region.

“We also recently held a non-sale exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, which was an educational endeavor to reconnect the Vietnamese community with their rich heritage,” she said.

Despite strong results from the sale of the 50 lots in the block yesterday afternoon, only three paintings fetched more than S$2 million ($1.43 million). After intense bidding by telephone buyers with Felix Kwok, Sotheby’s director and head of modern art, and Prasetio, William Gerard Hofker Melis, a composition featuring Ni Dablig with Ni Gemblong with a boy behind the gender musical instrument (1939) sold for S$2.27 million ($1.63 million) to Prasetio’s client, doubling its pre-sale high estimate. Meanwhile, Walter Spies’ oil painting Tierfabel (animal fable), 1928, sold for S$4.03 million ($2.89 million). Both artworks were painted by European artists while in Indonesia.

Works by artists from Southeast Asia were also impressive. The oil painting Boats and shops (1963–65), is by the pioneering Singaporean artist Georgette Chen; its sale at this auction for S$2.02 million ($1.44 million) broke the late artist’s previous record. After enthusiastic bidding, the oil painting went to a buyer over the phone with Prasetio as the auction room erupted in applause.

The only female artist associated with a Singaporean art movement known as the Nanyang School, Chen has enjoyed a recent revival. Last December, Christie’s Hong Kong auctioned Chen’s Still life, Mid-Autumn Festival (1960s) for S$1.8 million, more than double the high estimate, setting an auction record for the artist. Sunday’s sale marked the second time Chen’s record has been re-set within 12 months.

Drawing boats on a winding canal.

Georgette Chen, Boats and shops1963–65.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s Asia Deputy Director Rishika Asomul described Chen as “an integral female artist who carved a unique identity in the male-dominated art arena of the 20th century”, and her iconic artwork as “a rare, market-fresh painting, celebrating Singapore’s history as a trading port and a convergence of cultures.’

The recent remarkable sales associated with the late Singaporean artist are perhaps not surprising as her paintings have long had an international appeal. Some are owned by the collections of the Long Museum in China, the Fukuoka Museum of Asian Art in Japan, and the Center Pompidou in France, among others.

In a trend potentially indicative of new and changing market appetites, Vietnamese modern art appeared to generate quite a bit of interest during Sunday’s sale, with 11 paintings fetching prices above their high estimates.

And to Pho Flowers went to an in-room bidder at SG$226,800 ($162,500), more than twice the lowest estimate, and by the same artist The washing machines it went for SG$201,600 ($144,500), about two and a half times the high estimate. There was strong bidding both online and in the room for Mai Trung Thu’s ink and gouache on silk A gust of wind (1956), which eventually sold for SG$138,600 ($99,400), nearly SG$50,000 over the high estimate.

Picture of a poised woman sitting in a high-backed chair with her arms folded.

and Pho, Vietnamese lady1938

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Le Pho is a familiar artist to some in Southeast Asia and beyond, having studied at the esteemed École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1920s, and this may explain the success of his works at this auction. But even his influence could not help Vietnamese lady (1938), which comes from a private American collection. The painting fell short of the SG$1 million high estimate, fetching SG$781,200 ($560,000).

However, dealers in attendance remained upbeat about the sale and the larger regional market. “This auction and the upcoming ART SG in January are definitely positive signals for the Southeast Asian art market, whose energy and synergy have gained prominence especially during and after the pandemic,” Xu said.

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