[NEWS] $20m Joan Mitchell Leads Sales at Art Basel in Hong Kong

May 25, 2021  

Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. Photo courtesy Art Basel Hong Kong

On Wednesday, Art Basel’s latest iteration in Hong Kong opened to VIP fair-goers, and despite being halved in size as a result of travel restrictions, megawatt purchases are already taking place at the fair. Lévy Gorvy sold Joan Mitchell's three-metre-tall abstract painting 12 Hawks at 3 O'Clock (circa 1962) for around US $20 million at Art Basel in Hong Kong. The sale signals the Asian art market’s enduring strength, even as the pandemic rages on.


Visitors to the 2021 Art Basel Hong Kong. Photo courtesy Art Basel Hong Kong.  

Unlike the 220 exhibitors of its 2019 edition, this year’s Art Basel in Hong Kong had 104 participating galleries; it shared its venue, the sprawling Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre, with the concurrent Art Central fair. Due to travel restrictions, fewer international collectors are in town, and most galleries without spaces in Hong Kong are participating via the fair's Online Viewing Rooms and satellite booths — less kindly described by some as zombie booths — attended by staff appointed by Art Basel. Despite these limitations, Hauser & Wirth's Iwan Wirth described an 'electric atmosphere' at the fair.

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Joan Mitchell, 12 Hawks at 3 O’Clock, circa 1962. Oil on canvas, 116 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches (295.275 x 200.025 cm). © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

12 Hawks at 3 O’Clock was one of the star lots offered just three years ago in November 2018. . The piece last sold in November 2018, when Christie's auctioned it in New York for US$14.6 million, including the buyer's premium.


In an interview, Brett Gorvy, cofounder of Lévy Gorvy, said the decision to approach the American collector to consign the Mitchell painting for the Hong Kong fair, which had a $19.5 million asking price, was driven by bullish demand in the region for masterpiece-level paintings. To tap that excitement, the gallery has been mounting one-work exhibitions in cities like Hong Kong as part of a broader strategy to reel in potential buyers. “There’s a strong interest in Mitchell in Asia,” he said. “It is a territory where you’ve got incredibly hungry avid collectors, who have been collecting in other fields and now who have been moving very quickly into major Western art.”


Lévy Gorvy booth installation at Art Basel Hong Kong, May 2021. COURTESY LÉVY GORVY 

David Zwirner's Leo Xu was more circumspect about the voltage of the fair's atmosphere, saying, 'there are certainly not as many visitors this year as before, but there was still a surging crowd on the first day.' He said this year's Art Basel in Hong Kong 'attracted many local collectors, whether they tend to collect contemporary, modern or traditional Chinese art.'


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