By NBF News

Zao Wou-ki showed he is Asia's top-selling living artist at auction when all 17 of his canvases offered at a Hong Kong sale beat estimates, while works by other major painters sold at a fraction of pre-credit-crisis prices.

The abstract paintings by China-born, Paris-based Zao sparked a frenzy of bidding each time they came on the block, often pushing prices to several times estimates at Christie's International's auction of modern and contemporary Asian art. Zao's works fetched a combined HK$332.3m ($43m) during the marathon two-day sale of about 1,000 lots, part of a larger six-day series comprising 2,000 lots.

'Zao is a blue-chip artist,' said Kate Malin, Christie's Hong Kong-based spokeswoman. 'His works sell so well.'

Paintings by other Chinese masters such as Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) and Chu Teh-chun also beat estimates. Still, there was less evidence of a rebound in Chinese contemporary art prices such as that seen at Sotheby's April auction, said dealers. Paintings by top artists such as Zhang Xiaogang, Xu Bing, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Mingjun rarely sold for more than HK$3m. At the peak of contemporary art prices in May 2008, Zeng's oil painting of Red Guards fetched HK$75.4m, while large-scale works averaged HK$5m or more.

'Contemporary Asian art prices are slowly coming back,' said Eli Zagury, a London-based curator and dealer. 'Wang Guangyi's works are rising again. Buyers are more selective and are only choosing the top works by the best artists.'

Important works still fetched prices above estimates. Zhou Chunya's trademark painting of a green dog fetched HK$1.1m, against presale top estimate of HK$600,000. A 2005 portrait of American pop artist, Andy Warhol, by Zeng sold for HK$5m against a top estimate of HK$1.5m.

Of the 33 works offered by Emmy-winning director. Lawrence Schiller, and his wife, Kathy, 29 sold, netting HK$31.7m.

Buyers are also putting their money on younger artists that are still affordable, in the hope of betting on rising stars. Akira Yamaguchi of Japan set an artist record of HK$2.1m with a painting of celestial creatures, as did Ryozo Kato with his 2006 landscape painted using stone pigment, which fetched HK$312,500 against a presale estimate of HK$80,000.

Sunday's auction, which ended past midnight after 14 hours, fetched a combined HK$261m. The sale continued on Monday with the auction of Chinese ceramics and antiques.

Christie's aims to tally $192m from its six-day sale of antiques, paintings and gems in Hong Kong.

Culled from Bloomberg