Millennials snapped up $28m (R400m at current exchange rates) worth of art inspired by the Simpsons television show, along with skateboarding shoes and cans of spray paint at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong as a new generation of collectors comes of age.
“The auction room suddenly got a lot hipper, with all these cool millennial buyers in hoodies,” said Edie Hu, art advisory specialist at Citi Private Bank in Hong Kong. “Their tastes are very different from their parents, and Sotheby’s is tapping into that.”
The highlight of the 33-lot auction of items belonging to Japanese fashion designer Nigo was a painting by Brooklyn street artist KAWS based on the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album but populated with Simpsons characters. It sold to an unidentified buyer for $14.8m including fees, a record for the artist and about 15 times the estimate.
A young Chinese buyer with a short back and sides haircut, who was wearing a green army camouflage jacket, shelled out $2.6m for another KAWS piece called “UNTITLED (KIMPSONS #3).” The work depicts the Simpson family sprawled unconscious on their couch, with the artist’s signature crosses for eyes.
“I am not surprised by the demand, but I am surprised by the final number,” said Max Dolgicer, a New York collector who’s been buying the artist’s work for seven years. “It’s a very fast-moving market.”
In November, another painting by KAWS, whose real name is Brian Donnelly, sold for a then-record $3.5m. Last week, a 37-meter-long inflatable version of his signature character, called Companion, floated on its back in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor during the Art Basel Hong Kong art fair.
Other items at the auction included two pairs of sneakers designed by KAWS for Nigo’s A Bathing Ape (Bape) line of clothing that fetched $16 000, and an 18.5-inch high KAWS figure based on the Japanese manga character Astro Boy, which sold for $303 000.