The entire Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings Spring Sale 2010 totalled HK$69,292,000, comfortably surpassing the pre-sale high estimate (HK$34.5 million). Bidding of Bali Life opened at HK$4 million and the heated competition continued for a tension-filled ten minutes. After a total of 31 furious bids, Bali Life eventually sold for an astonishing HK$25.3 million (including buyer’s premium) to an Asian collector over the telephone, more than tripling the previous record for the artist. (The previous record for Lee Man Fong was also achieved by Sotheby’s Hong Kong when his Magnificent Horses sold for HK$8,180,000/ US$1,048,718 in October 2009.)
Discussing the sale, Mok Kim Chuan, Sotheby’s Head of Southeast Asian Paintings, said: “In today’s more mature market for Southeast Asian Art, collectors are selective and discerning, but eager to compete for quality works. The sale was characterised by several determined and protracted bidding battles for prized lots including Ronald Ventura’s Rebel’s Optics, which soared above its high estimate of HK$220,000 to achieve HK$1.58 million (US$202,564; lot 78), I Nyoman Masriadi’s I’m Still Lucky, which achieved the Second Highest Auction Price for the Artist when it brought HK$4.94 million (US$633,333; lot38) against a pre-sale estimate of HK$800,000-1.5 million, and Lee Man Fong’s Bali Life, which set a World Record for the Artist and for any Southeast Asian Painting at Auction when it sold for HK$25.3 million (US$3,243,590; lot 138). I was also pleased to see the enthusiastic response to new artists such as Nikki Luna whose Unmentionables brought HK$93,750 (US$12,019; lot 24) against a pre-sale estimate of HK$40,000-60,000.”
Bali Life is the only known piece in Lee’s acclaimed Balinese series executed on canvas as opposed to masonite board, rendering it even rarer. Executed circa 1960s, the apex of the artist’s career, Bali Life succeeds in revealing Lee’s sophisticated handling of the subject and exemplifies his mastery of the technique.
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