Under the hammer – Fab Four Auction Sales (March 2024)

Four remarkable lots that impressed bidders in recent auctions are featured in this month’s Look Section, including an amazing floral painting, a classy corvette, a rare buddhist sculpture and one of Jordan’s sneakers.

Super Six: Jordan’s sneakers win the game

Six of the most important pairs of basketball shoes sported during the illustrious career of Michael Jordan went for a whopping US$8 million (about HK$62.5 million) at a Sotheby’s sale in New York last month. The astonishing figure represents the global auction record for game-worn sneakers and the second- highest amount raised for items linked to the Chicago Bulls superstar.

Jordan wore these six individual pairs of Air Jordans when he was playing some of the most important games of his career – namely, the finals of his six-career National Basketball Association (NBA) championships from 1991-1993 and 1996-1998. Commenting on this remarkable six-piece lot – dubbed the Michael Jordan ‘Dynasty Collection’ by the auction house – Sotheby’s Head of Modern Collectables Brahm Wachter said: “A truly unparalleled moment and milestone in auction history, the sale of these six championship- clinching sneakers will likely never be replicated.”

The largest sum accumulated for an auction item from the basketball legend’s catalogue of used sportswear was US$10.1 million, which secured his No. 23 jersey from the 1998 NBA Finals of his ‘Last Dance’ season.

Tibetan King: Rare Buddhist sculpture wows followers

The last privately owned gilt copper alloy figure of Virupaksha, the Buddhist Guardian of the West, caused a stir at a recent auction held in Hong Kong by Bonhams. This early 15th-century figure from the Densatil Monastery in Tibet, measuring an impressive 73 centimetres high, eventually went for HK$37.9 million (about US$4.86 million).

This huge price attained for a figure of Virupaksha, regarded as one of the Four Heavenly Kings, partly reflected the fact that the other three similar sculptures are all now residing in world-class museums – the Capital Museum in Beijing, the Palace Museum in Taipei, and Paris’s Guimet Museum. It is thought the sculpture was crafted when the noble clan ruling central Tibet and officiating at Densatil were at the height of their regal powers.

Edward Wilkinson, Global Head of Himalayan, Indian and Southeast Asian Art at Bonhams said: “As the only guardian from Densatil in private hands, as well as the largest and most engaging sculpture from Densatil, this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure one of the greatest icons of Tibetan art. We are therefore thrilled, but not surprised, that it fetched the top price it deserves.”

Floral Fantasy: Kusama’s bold Flower blooms at auction

A floral painting by Yayoi Kusama, who is renowned for her deep affection for flowers as well as pumpkins and polka dots, delighted the Christie’s salesroom in Hong Kong so much that it garnered the second-highest auction price for the much-loved Japanese artist. The final sum for the 2014 work, called simply A Flower, topped HK$78 million (about US$10 million), a figure that is also greater than the HK$58.5 million attained for another floral work by the same artist at Christie’s the previous season.

Interestingly, Kusama’s life-long fascination with flowers began following a terrifying experience in childhood. She had a sudden, disturbing vision that she was surrounded by hundreds of flowers in a garden and they appeared to be chatting among themselves as if they had taken on human personas. This early moment of distress mushroomed into an illusory fantasy based around flowers and influenced her canon of work over several decades.

A vivid and bold piece with polka-dot motifs created when the artist was in her mid-80s, A Flower displays depth and appreciation of the subtle influence of changes of colour akin to the division and reproduction of cells in nature.

First & Last: Classy Corvette pair grabs headlines

The very first and the very last production Corvette L88 were offered together under one lot by Mecum Auctions at its recent sale in Kissimmee, Florida, resulting in much excitement and a mightily impressive winning bid of US$2.58 million (about HK$20.18 million). Equipped with muscular engines, the two classic Chevrolet ‘dream cars’ were used to turning heads when they hit the US racetracks in the late 1960s and winning awards thereafter.

The oldest model, a 1967 Convertible, is widely known as the very first production Corvette L88 and also has the distinction of being the only L88 Convertible to be painted Tuxedo Black. Its noteworthy racing career included being driven by Tony DeLorenzo and Jerry Thompson, and finishing second in the 1967 Daytona Beach SCCA runoffs. The accolades continued in later life, as it achieved Bloomington Gold certification, numerous NCRS (National Corvette Restorers Society) Top Flight wins and the NCRS Heritage award in 2013.

The last documented model of the line was manufactured on 4 December 1969. The 1969 Coupe was finished in the famous Corvette factory colour of Fathom Green.