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China’s Newly Rich Send Asian Auctions Soaring

Allaying fears that turmoil in financial spheres would prove contagious for the art market, a series of Asian art sales in New York (Sept. 18-21), which were weighted toward contemporary works, produced near-record results from a far-flung mix of buyers. The total for five sales at Sotheby’s was $61.9 million, including $38.4 million for an

NEW YORK—Allaying fears that turmoil in financial spheres would prove contagious for the art market, a series of Asian art sales in New York (Sept. 18-21), which were weighted toward contemporary works, produced near-record results from a far-flung mix of buyers.

The total for five sales at Sotheby’s was $61.9 million, including $38.4 million for an auction of Chinese, Korean and Japanese contemporary art. At Christie’s four sales fetched $44.3 million—led by one of Chinese ceramics, jades and works of art that totaled $17.3 million.

The top lot of the week was a painting by Zhang Xiaogang, Chapter of a New Century—Birth of the People’s Republic of China, 1992, which sold in the Sotheby’s contemporary Asian art sale for $3.1 million, above its $2.5 million high estimate, after a contest among at least five bidders. The price set an auction record for the artist, breaking one set just moments earlier by Zhang’s Bloodline Series: Comrade, 1995. That work, from the artist’s highly prized “Bloodline” series, had attained $2.5 million, more than four times its high estimate of $600,000. The Sotheby’s contemporary Asian art sale was 82 percent sold through by lot and also saw records fall—for Fang Lijun ($1.7 million), Liu Ye ($1.4 million) and Cai Guo-Qiang ($1.3 million), among others. The auction house noted that at least eight of the top ten lots had been won by private collectors from Asia.

Michael Goedhuis, owner of Goedhuis Contemporary, New York, London and Beijing, which specializes in Chinese contemporary art, says that prices have become “frustratingly strong,” noting that some dealers and longstanding Chinese art collectors are quickly finding themselves priced out of the market. Despite the already incredible run-up in prices in recent seasons, the rising number of millionaires in China continues to fuel ever-higher prices. “It was inevitable that the newly rich in China would gulp down contemporary culture. Demand from wealthy Chinese buyers will propel Chinese art to hitherto unimaginable prices,” Goedhuis told ARTnewsletter.

Goedhuis also predicts that several major museums will eventually realize they have “missed the boat” by not acquiring important contemporary Chinese works when they were less costly.

Sotheby’s sale of contemporary South Asian art—which featured works primarily from India but also from Pakistan—was 74 percent sold through and attained $3.2 million. Christie’s sale of modern and contemporary works from India and Pakistan was 78 percent sold through for a $10.1 million total.

Three Records for Atul Dodiya

In the course of the two sales, three auction records were set for Atul Dodiya, all more than doubling their high estimates. At Christie’s his Three Painters, 1996, in oil and acrylic on canvas, went to an Indian collector for $541,000 (high estimate: $200,000). At Sotheby’s his Father, 2002, won $601,000 (high estimate: $280,000) from a Chinese collector bidding by phone; and his Man from Kabul, 2001, took $313,000 (high estimate: $150,000).

The Sotheby’s sale also saw records set for Chintan Upadhyay, whose New Indians, 2007, made $529,000 (estimate: $400,000/500,000); Jyothi Basu, whose Untitled, 2000-02, earned $82,600 (estimate: $30,000/50,000); and Zarina Hashmi, whose Phool, 1989, took $73,000 (estimate: $15,000/20,000).

A painting by Pakistani artist Rashid Rana, The World Is Not Enough, 2006-07, sold for $91,000 at Sotheby’s; and his photocollage A Day in the Life of a Landscape, 2004, realized $133,000 at Christie’s.

The Christie’s South Asian sale further included works of “modern” Indian and Pakistani artists—those whose careers had flourished after their countries attained independence in 1947—while Sotheby’s assigned this category to a separate sale that also included a few Indian miniatures.

The top lot in this category was a Tyeb Mehta acrylic, Mahishashura, 1996, which fell within estimates at Christie’s to an Indian collector for $1.1 million.

Overall the Sotheby’s sale of modern Indian paintings and miniatures achieved $6.3 million, with 75 percent of the lots sold.

Arani Bose, co-owner of New York’s Bose-Pacia Gallery, which specializes in contemporary art from South Asia, notes that “the visibility of post-independence Indian artists is mostly within the Indian diaspora and India,” while younger Indian artists have begun to attract notice in the broader contemporary scene. However, he notes, non-Indians who have become interested in contemporary Indian art could move backwards into the post-Independence period.

Classical Art Sells Well

Influenced perhaps by increasing restrictions on the export of classical art from Asia, works of ancient art were less abundant in the latest week of Asian sales, yet those that were available sold well. Christie’s sale of Chinese works of art totaled $17.3 million, including $3.98 million for a single- owner collection of snuff bottles.

The top lot was a 12th-century, gilt-bronze figure of Acuoye Guanyin, from Yunnan in southwestern China, which fell for $1.94 million, more than triple its high estimate, to a European institution.

The Christie’s sale of Indian and Southeast Asian art, which included works from several well-known collections, achieved $11.6 million and was 81 percent sold through. The top lot there was an early Tibetan bronze Buddha that sold to an American collector for $657,000 (estimate: $80,000/100,000).

All but one of the top ten in both sales of classical art at Christie’s exceeded estimates, following bids from dealers and collectors from the U.S., Europe and Asia. At Sotheby’s, a pan-Asian sale based on the theme “Arts of the Buddha” achieved $6.3 million, with 63 percent of the lots sold.

Christie’s Japanese and Korean art sale totaled $5.3 million, with a 64 percent sell-through rate. The top lot in that Christie’s sale was an 18th-century painted screen by Maruyama Okyo that flew above it’s $400,000 high estimate to sell for $1.1 million to a European collector.

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