AS VIOLENCE escalated in Hong Kong over the weekend with protesters starting fires and throwing petrol bombs and police responding with tear gas, a roomful of Asia’s elite gathered to bid on art and wine.
The venue was the city’s convention center near where the protests took place, part of Sotheby’s five-day marathon, which continues through Tuesday. The sales include 20 live auctions and targets more than $336 million.
The highlight of Sunday’s contemporary art auction was a new world record for Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, whose painting of a cute but menacing cartoon girl — Knife Behind Back — sold for $24.9 million.
The jewels, wines, watches and fine art on offer this week — as well as the eye-watering prices — represented a jarring contrast to the events in the streets.
Video footage showed a bloodied taxi driver who was dragged out of his car and stomped by a group of protesters after the vehicle hit some of them. On Friday, a 14-year-old boy was shot and injured — the second such incidence of the week — during a scuffle between a plain-clothes police officer and demonstrators who had attacked his car.
The protests followed warnings from opposition leaders that Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s decision to invoke a colonial-era emergency law banning protesters from wearing face masks would only make matters worse.
Back at the auction, the Nara painting drew six bidders and sold in 10 minutes at a price that was five times the artist’s auction record, according to Sotheby’s. The seven-foot by seven-foot canvas was completed in 2000, when Nara returned to Japan after 12 years in Germany.
On Saturday, Sotheby’s sold a canvas by Chinese émigré artist Sanyu for $25.2 million, with four bidders pushing the painting of a nude female above its $19 million target. In the same sale, Zao Wou-Ki’s 21.04.59 sold for $13.3 million. — Bloomberg