Rare pieces from Korea, Japan, China and India excite collectors for Asia Week
BY RENEE HARRISON DRAKE
Each Spring, collectors gather in New York for the sales at Sotheby's and Christie's, hoping to acquire the rarest examples of Asian art. At both houses, "Asia Week" affords buyers the opportunity to collect works of art and paintings spanning a large geographical area and time period. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Southeast Asian works of art and paintings are offered from top collectors and museums around the world, making it an international event in the auction world.
At Sotheby's this March, two Chinese works merit special attention for their extraordinary rarity, and both come directly from the Albright- Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y.. Each has clear lines of provenance, making them highly desirable to collectors and museums. The first, an important and rare massive limestone Chimera from the first half of the 6th century, is an early stone statue that would have been one of a pair of beasts marking a gateway to the tomb of a prince or king. The power of this great beast is undeniable and was conceived in one of the kingdoms of China between the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and Southern dynasties (420-589 A.D.).This monumental form is significant to the tradition of Chinese sculpture, because it is a secular piece that represents a very small historic window dominated by religious sculpture. The estimate for the Chimera is $1.5 to $2.5 million.
Equally exciting is the sale of an important and rare archaic bronze wine vessel and cover (Fangjia) from the late Shang Dynasty, 13th- 11th century B.C. There are only a handful of examples of this type of Chinese wine vessel known in the world. This one appears to be unique, as it is the only documented vessel decorated with owls. It is estimated to sell for $2 to $3 million. According to Joe- Hynn Yang, Head of Sotheby's Chinese Works of Art Department, "Archaic bronzes were the first technological innovations introduced by the Chinese, making them extremely rare today. As for the Chimera, I will never again in my career have the opportunity to sell another figure of its type and caliber. This is the only one ever to come up at auction, and I can't conceive of one ever coming up again. My fondest wish for both of these extraordinary pieces would be that they go back into a public institution, where they can be used to enlighten as broad an audience as possible." With the rise of a wealthy class of entrepreneurs in Asia and India, collecting classical objects, modern pieces and contemporary art has steadily risen. One area of collecting that has seen tremendous growth is the semi-annual auction sales of contemporary and modern Indian paintings and sculpture, which used to be a part of the Southeast Asian sales but is now its own collecting field due to an increase in prices. In 2000, sales in this collecting field achieved a little over $600,000, yet this past fall the sale at Christie's achieved over $18 million. This has made contemporary and modern Indian the fastest growing collecting fields to date. Vasudeo S. Gaitonde became one of the first artists to break the million-dollar barrier in March last year; Untitled, 1975 achieved $1,472,000, the world record. The following September, Tyeb Mehta's Mahisasura achieved $1,584,000: a new world record. It was also the world auction record for an Indian painting. In that same sale, Francis Newton Souza's Man and Woman achieved $1,360,000, and another work by Tyeb Mehta, Untitled (Figures with Bull Head), achieved $1,136,000. This proved the continued strength of the market and the confidence of top collectors. The upcoming sale at Christie's includes many of these now legendary painters as well as a host of the "next" generation of Indian artists, such as Ravinder Reddy and Lakshmi Devi. The sale at Christie's will take place on March 21st.
In the Korean collecting field, a superb single-owner collection of white ceramics - collected over four decades - is one of the most exciting highlights of Christie's March 20th Japanese and Korean Art sale. Comprised of 30 lots, the collection includes scholarly objects. Brush pots and ritual objects like the magnificent full moon Choson period vase - pale in color and in excellent condition - will surely spark competitive bidding among top collectors. For a more complete listing of Asia week art sales at both auction houses, collectors can log on to www.sothebys.com or www.christies. com