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Contemporary Art Resonates at $129M Asian Sales

Sales of Asian art in New York, from March 19-23, realized $89.76 million at Sotheby’s and $39.56 million at Christie’s, for a total of $129.3 million—compared with $51.6 million and $46.2 million, respectively, a year ago (ANL, 4/25/06), totaling $97.8 million. Among the lots: fine Chinese ceramics and works of art, and contemporary Asian, Indian

NEW YORK—Sales of Asian art in New York, from March 19-23, realized $89.76 million at Sotheby’s and $39.56 million at Christie’s, for a total of $129.3 million—compared with $51.6 million and $46.2 million, respectively, a year ago (ANL, 4/25/06), totaling $97.8 million. Among the lots: fine Chinese ceramics and works of art, and contemporary Asian, Indian and southeast Asian art—a category that included modern paintings and miniatures. Contemporary Asian art continues to be a major force behind the growth of sales in recent seasons.

Hailing the auctions as a landmark week for Sotheby’s, Henry Howard-Sneyd, deputy chairman, Europe and Asia, noted, “We saw strength across all categories, with modern and contemporary markets—both Chinese and Indian—having begun to mature and now in periods of steady growth.” Howard-Sneyd further pointed out that Sotheby’s sale totals successively have hit new records each season since 2004.

The sale of Chinese ceramics and works of art (including property of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y.) fetched $35.29 million at Sotheby’s, more than double the $15.7 million made a year-ago March. British dealer Roger Keverne bought a rare archaic bronze wine vessel and cover (Fangjia), late Shang dynasty (13th-11th century B.C.), for $8.1 million (estimate: $2/3 million), on behalf of Compton Verney, a museum outside Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The price was a record for Chinese art at Sotheby’s.

Second in the top ten was a rare, massive limestone chimera, bought by an Asian private buyer after intense competition among at least six bidders, for $5.47 million (estimate: $1.5/2.5 million), setting a record for a Chinese stone sculpture. Another major sale was a rare, limestone seated figure of a “pensive” Maitreya, Northern Wei dynasty (early 6th century), acquired by Eskenazi Ltd., London, for $1.36 million (estimate: $300,000/500,000).

Said Joe-Hynn Yang, who heads Sotheby’s Chinese artworks department: The market “responded selectively, but with feverish and often vocal bidding, for the diverse works on offer.”

Records Set for Chinese Artists

Sotheby’s second sale of “Contemporary Art Asia”—including Chinese, Japanese and Korean art—earned $25.35 million, flying past last year’s total of $13.22 million. Several records were achieved for works by Chinese artists, including: Yue Minjun’s Goldfish, 1993, which went to an anonymous buyer for $1.38 million (estimate: $500,000/700,000); and Leng Jun’s Five-Pointed Star, 1999, which fell to a Chinese collector for $1.22 million (estimate: $350,000/450,000).

Of the top ten in this category, works by Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang, one of China’s top figurative painters (ANL, 4/25/06, pp. 2-3), accounted for five. His Bloodline: Three Comrades, 1994, was won by a European collector for $2.11 million (estimate: $1.5/2 million).

Noting “the highest total to date for a dedicated sale of contemporary Asian art,” Xiaoming Zhang, a specialist in Sotheby’s Chinese contemporary art department in New York, said the market “has reached a state of steady growth, and great works are achieving great prices. We have witnessed two major strengths in this sale: demand for post-1989 works, particularly for the early, rare and historically important—and for works of Chinese realism, which have proven desirable to both Western and Chinese collectors.”

Some art experts, though, are wary of the soaring prices for these works. In an interview with the London Telegraph last month, Simon Groom, director of exhibitions at the Tate Gallery Liverpool, suggested that the market may have produced “China fatigue” by spurring artists to produce works that satisfy market demands instead of turning out “genuinely good, creatively interesting art.”

Conspicuously absent from an exhibition on “The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China” that opened at Tate Liverpool March 30 and runs through June 10, were works by Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun. The show’s cocurator Karen Smith told the Telegraph, “We selected artists whose agenda has not been tainted by commercial incentives.”

Art of India Fetches $15M

Sotheby’s sale of Indian art (including miniatures and modern paintings) totaled $15 million, with Indian artist Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled, 1987, selling to an Asian collector for $1.16 million (estimate: $800,000/1 million). Rameshwar Broota’s painting Captives, 1989, took $779,200 (estimate: $350,000/450,000) from an unidentified buyer.

Zara Porter Hill, head of Sotheby’s Indian art department, reports that “the high percentages sold by lot (87.6 percent) and by value (94.4 percent) indicate a solid and maturing market, with an increasingly discerning collector base focusing on quality works by senior artists.” She notes “the presence of many new collectors, including new European and American clients successfully competing for high-value works of art.” Nine of the top ten lots were sold, for the most part at prices generously above the high estimates.

Sales of Indian and southeast Asian works of art, including Buddhas and other representational figures, totaled $8.97 million. London gallery John Eskenazi Ltd. acquired the top lot from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery—a Shiva as Brahma, in granite, southern India, Chola period (tenth century)—for $4.07 million (estimate: $3/4 million), on behalf of a private collector.

An American dealer bought the head of a Bodhisattva, schist, ancient region of Gandhara, Kushan period (second century) for $600,000 (estimate: $250,000/350,000). A female torso, sandstone, Khmer, Baphuon style (11th century), made $504,000, more than five times the high estimate of $90,000.

Choson Jar Takes $1.27M at Christie’s

At the Christie’s auction of Japanese and Korean art, a Choson period (18th century) full-moon jar realized $1.27 million, setting a record for white porcelain from that period. Korean artist Lee Daiwon’s work—Columbia Road (Washington, D.C.), I, 1959, sold for $102,000, more than eight times the high estimate of $12,000, setting a record for the artist.

Sales of modern and contemporary Indian art totaled $8.59 million. In the lead was Vasudeo S. Gaitonde’s abstract Untitled, 1968, from the collection of Mme. Krishna Riboud, which was acquired by a U.S. buyer for $768,000 (estimate: $500,000/700,000). Others who figured among the top ten were Progressive movement artists Syed Haider Raza, whose Untitled, 1982, earned $480,000 (estimate: $250/350,000); and Francis Newton Souza, whose Untitled, Black Nude, 1965, brought $420,000 (estimate: $350,000/500,000).

Says Yamini Mehta, head of Christie’s modern and contemporary Indian art department: “The sale reflected the continued strength and breadth of this collecting field, with Indian artists Ravinder Reddy, Atul and Anju Dodiya, Sudarshan Shetty and Chitra Ganesh performing strongly.”

Sales of Indian and southeast Asian art at Christie’s totaled $7.47 million (87 percent by value, 70 percent by lot). A large bronze of Parvati (south India, Vijayanagar period, 1400) set a world auction record for an Indian work of art when it fetched $2.72 million (estimate: $400,000/600,000) from a European trade buyer. And a large, 12th-century gilt bronze of Buddha Akshobya, Tibet, was picked up by an Asian private buyer for $712,000 (estimate: $350/500,000).

Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian art, reports that “many of the star lots performed significantly above their presale estimates, reflecting an informed market willing to honor quality and provenance.”