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Asia Week, New York: Dealers and auction houses report strong sales

There were new buyers and more collectors from India and China, but the art fairs were quieter events

New York

New York’s Asia Week (22-28 March)—which includes major auctions and special exhibitions by dealers—reported strong sales and new buyers across the board. Auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s made almost $130m, 34% higher than last year’s combined total of $97m.

Sotheby’s made $89.77m, the highest amount for any Asia Week auction in New York. Christie’s made $39.57m (est $35m-$50m) from its Asian sale, also the second biggest total for Asia Week in New York to date. Both auction houses and many dealers remarked on the increased number of Indian and Chinese collectors compared with previous years.

“The high profile of Asia Week, with multiple fairs and auctions, has made New York a destination that proves irresistible to a growing number of private collectors and dealers,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s managing director for Asia, at the end of the week.

Sotheby’s sale of Chinese works of art achieved $35.3m (est $26m-$37m) while the Concordia House collection of jades (consigned by the Churchill family, of Moline, Illinois) brought in $5.14m (est $2m-$2.9m). Southeast Indian works of art made $8.98m (est $5.1m-$7m); the Indian miniatures and modern art auction reached $15.01m (est $9.3m-$12.8m) and Chinese contemporary art hit $25.35m (est $17.6m-$25.3m) on 21 March (see below). Indian and Southeast Asian sculpture with good provenances did particularly well, according to Mr Howard-Sneyd, although dealers and auctioneers did well in a number of other categories.

Christie’s total of $39.57m included two Japanese and Korean art sales which made $6.61m. Modern and contemporary Indian art brought in $8.59m; Indian and Southeast Asian art raised $7.48m and a sale of snuff bottles and Chinese works of art brought in $16.89m.

The total conceals disappointing results for Christie’s “Art for the Way of Tea” sale, an arguably esoteric sale of a collection of objects associated with the preparation of tea. Only 11 out of 40 lots (27.5%) were sold.

While records were set at the auctions, the art fairs during Asia Week were quieter events, although the Haughton International Asian Art Fair (23-28 March) and Caskey-Lees Arts of Pacific Fair (22-25 March) were well attended and some dealers reported good sales. Contemporary Chinese dealer Barry Friedman said he sold nearly 90% of his display, including a Wang Jin triptych Fighting the Flood—Red Flag Canal, 1994, for $150,000.

Sotheby’s

A Chola period granite figure of Shiva as Brahman, tenth to 11th century, (est $3m-$4m) was bought by London dealer John Eskenazi for $4.07m at Sotheby’s Indian and Southeast Asian sale on 23 March, acting on behalf of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The sculpture, which was deaccessioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York (see p76), set a record for traditional Indian art.

The Vijayanagar Period figure came from the collection of Thomas Treat Solley, the grandson of Evan Frost Lilly of the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, and a former director of the University of Indiana Art Museum. The previous record was set only the day before at Christie’s when a standing Indian bronze of Parvati, around 1400, was bought by a European trade buyer for $2.73m, well beyond its pre-sale estimate of $400,000-$600,000.

Christie’s

A massive Korean white porcelain jar, from the Choson period (18th century), sold for $1.27m (est $1.2m-$2m) at Christie’s Japanese and Korean art auction on 20 March. It was bought by an Asian private collector who was new to the auction house. The underbidder, a private US collector, has asked Christie’s to find a similar example for a private treaty sale. “The Chinese are more focused on Korean contemporary paintings whereas the Japanese and Koreans favour porcelain,” said Christie’s specialist Heakyum Kim. Overall, Korean, Japanese and American collectors bid heavily throughout the sale and such a broad geographic spread is new for this market. Most bidders were private collectors. According to Ms Kim: “Dealers were hardly participating as more collectors bid on their own now.”

Dealers

Song ceramics proved popular and London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi sold this glazed stoneware dish, 1127-1279, for over $1m to a Western buyer at the exhibition he held at PaceWildenstein. “The blue, grey, green glaze together with the intentional crackle made this dish a rarity,” says Philip Constantinidi, Eskenazi gallery director. Mr Eskenazi sold a total of 13 Song ceramics with 60% going to Americans, 30% to Europeans and the rest to buyers from the Far East at prices from $10,000 to $1m.

A major museum in the Midwest bought this Japanese folding screen by Katayama Bokuyo (1900-37) from the Kagedo Japanese Art gallery (Seattle), for around $90,000 at the Haughton International Asian Art Fair. It had been exhibited at London’s 1928 Imperial Art Exhibition. “This is the first year we have seen significant interest for this material from US curators and we are now talking to five American institutions,” said gallery owner Jeffrey Cline. “Almost no US institutions have works from the pre-war period as they have concentrated on earlier ‘classical’ material.” The purchase demonstrates a shift at the Haughton fair towards more decorative art.

A late 17th-century Tibetan bronze of Padmasambhava seated surrounded by his wives was sold by Rossi & Rossi at its Fuller Building exhibition for around $700,000 to an Asian collector. It is one of only two known examples in the world and is in pristine condition. Asian collectors now make up the largest group of buyers for the London firm. “With a greater interest in Buddhism in Asia, there is more appreciation of their heritage,” said gallery owner Fabio Rossi. Of the 14 bronzes sold, eight went to Taiwanese buyers, one to a Hong Kong collector and one each to Chinese, American and UK clients. Prices ranged from $75,000 to $700,000. Mr Rossi says he is also seeing more purchases by museums now under construction in China, representing a new market segment. With increased demand, prices have shot up by a third in the past five years, he says.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Dealers and auction houses report strong sales'