A Georgette Chen Sold At Sotheby’s For $2 Million: What Does This Say About Women Artists?

Sotheby's Managing Director Southeast Asia Jasmine Prasetio dissects the rise in prominence of women artists
The prominence of women artists is on the rise, says Sotheby's Managing Director Southeast Asia Jasmine Prasetio
Sotheby’s 50th Anniversary in Asia exhibition and auction in Singapore at Marina Bay Sands. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Part of Sotheby’s 50th anniversary in Asia, the Modern & Contemporary Art auction held this July in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands achieved some impressive results: sales totalling $15.1 million; 93 percent of lots sold, more than half of which achieved prices exceeding their high estimates; and auction records for works by Kei Imazu, Liu Kang, and Rodel Tapaya. But it was the focus on and the spectacular success of women artists that stole the show: the cross-category sale shone a spotlight on Kei Imazu and Georgette Chen, whose fresh-to-the-market still life, Lychees and Peaches, was the top lot, achieving $2.02 million alone.

To Southeast Asian art specialist and Sotheby’s managing director for Southeast Asia Jasmine Prasetio, these results point to some significant trends in the Southeast Asian art market. Here, she shares more.

GRAZIA Singapore: How did the results of the recent Modern & Contemporary Art auction compare to those of 2022?
Jasmine Prasetio: Our auction’s strong performance, which includes setting three new artist records, has made it clear that the art market in Singapore and greater Southeast Asia is robust. Our focus this year was to celebrate women artists as well as engage with more collectors, not only for the auction, but on a more expansive level. We held talks and panel discussions as well as exhibitions for jewellery, sneakers and fine art that includes a debut by Korean female artist Je Yeoran.  

The prominence of women artists is on the rise, says Sotheby's Managing Director Southeast Asia Jasmine Prasetio
Sotheby’s managing director for Southeast Asia, Jasmine Prasetio

GRAZIA Singapore: What do trends imply about the art market and audiences in Singapore and the Southeast Asian region?
Jasmine Prasetio: The number of Southeast Asian participants in Sotheby’s global sales increased by almost 75 percent in the last five years. What stood out to us was how warm and welcoming the audience has been. New collectors participated in the auction, with some flying in to attend the event from all over Southeast Asia, Australia and greater Asia. The unanimous response has been that they are thrilled to have Sotheby’s holding auctions in Singapore. Our exhibition and auction drew clients we had not seen for many years as well as new collectors who are eager to start their collecting journey. The market is constantly growing and evolving and Sotheby’s would like to have our finger on the pulse of these changes and contribute in some way to nurture this growth.

GRAZIA Singapore: Why were these artists selected for this sale?
Jasmine Prasetio: We recognise that as our demographics have expanded to include a younger audience, they have a thirst for both blue-chip names as well as younger artists. In Singapore, we would always like to pay homage to the cultural fabric of Southeast Asia. In addition, our selections would also reflect the evolving tastes in the region that include artists practicing in the 20th and 21st century beyond Southeast Asia.

GRAZIA Singapore: Who are the up-and-coming artists to watch, and why?
Jasmine Prasetio: Some of the highlights in the auction are works by some great mid-career and young artists. They are all accomplished in their own right, with solid international exhibition history and awards under their belt: Kei Imazu, a Japanese artist living in Indonesia with exhibition history at international institutions; Jane Lee, Singaporean artist with a footprint in Hong Kong and New York; Rodel Tapaya, a Filipino artist well-loved across the region; and of course Christine Ay Tjoe, Indonesian artist with international patronage and institutional collections. These are artists who have embarked and continued on their creative journey for the past decade or more with a strong sense of conviction and identity.

The prominence of women artists is on the rise, says Sotheby's Managing Director Southeast Asia Jasmine Prasetio
Georgette Chen, Lychees and Peaches 
c. 1940-1945, oil on canvas, 65 x 50 cm 
Sold for $2.02 million
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

GRAZIA Singapore: Why was there a special focus on women artists, and why were these women artists selected for this auction?
Jasmine Prasetio: It is important to clarify that these artists are selected because they are great talents and one of the most recognised of their respective generations. It also happens that they are women.

Globally, more and more women artists are being recognised through blockbuster exhibitions both commercial and academic. The most recent one being Yayoi Kusama’s largest retrospective in Asia outside Japan at M+ Museum, Hong Kong, and Joan Mitchell’s Monet-Mitchell exhibit at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris.

Within Sotheby’s, we’ve featured auctions focused on women artists, such as in London, New York, and Hong Kong, and it was only natural to do so in Singapore, to celebrate evolution and growth in the market. We first selected Georgette Chen, who was a feisty figure and a great contributor to the Nanyang school and juxtaposed her work with a painting by Le Thi Luu—one of the quartet of modern Vietnamese pioneers—who worked in the same era as Georgette and also broke boundaries in her sphere. There are also other female artists who are actively working today: Jane Lee, Christine Ay Tjoe, Kei Imazu, Ayako Rokakku, Anna Park, and Yayoi Kusama.

Sotheby’s 50th Anniversary in Asia exhibition and auction in Singapore, featuring highlight work by Singapore artist Jane Lee. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Jane Lee, Melt VII
2017, acrylic and heavy gel on fiberglass, 180 by 150 cm
Est. $80,000–120,000
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

The thread that unites all of these artists across generations and geography is that all of them spoke in strong visual languages that are uniquely theirs. They are all trailblazers in their career, and they do so with heart, passion, and endurance. By bringing these talents into the spotlight, the audience who may have missed these artists under normal circumstances can pay attention to the fantastic work that they do.

GRAZIA Singapore: How has the knowledge of and interest in works by women artists changed in recent years?
Jasmine Prasetio: Contemporary women artists are gaining ground: there’s more art by Contemporary women artists that is breaking the US$1 million (S$1.37 million) barrier, with sales more than doubling from 2018 to 2022, growing from US$221.7 million to US$461.9 million. In 2022, 24.5 percent of artworks surpassing US$1 million were by Contemporary women artists, compared with just 11.8 percent in 2018.

Christine Ay Tjoe, The Team of Red
2013, oil on canvas, 150 x 125 cm
Est. $650,000–1,300,000
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Last year in “The Now” sale in Sotheby’s New York, for instance, women for the first time in history outnumbered their male counterparts in a Sotheby’s Evening Auction. The distinction was also evident at the Venice Biennale, where women accounted for more than 90 percent of the exhibits. And new records keep being set: Louise Bourgeois’ Spider IV became the most valuable sculpture ever sold in Asia during last season’s sales series in Hong Kong (US$16.5 million), while new benchmarks were set for Louise Bonnet, Anna Weyant and Tania Marmolejo, to name but a few.

GRAZIA Singapore: How does the Singapore market’s preferences and trends compare with regional neighbours’?
Jasmine Prasetio: Collectors support art from within the region. For example, Indonesian clients also actively collects Singaporean, Filipino, Vietnamese and Thai art, while Singaporean, Filipino and Vietnamese collectors collect Indonesian art. There is strong support and pride in art from the respective regions, which also transcends the Southeast Asian countries. What transpires in Singapore encapsulates the general sentiment in other regions as well.