ARTnewsletter Archive

Asian Art Auctions Upbeat Despite Financial Crisis

Sales of Asian art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York Sept. 15–19 were healthy, despite a drop in overall volume to $77 million from over $100 million last fall (ANL, 10/16/07).

NEW YORK—Sales of Asian art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York Sept. 15–19 were healthy, despite a drop in overall volume to $77 million from over $100 million last fall (ANL, 10/16/07). Contemporary Asian art—particularly by artists from South Asia—continues to show strength.

Christie’s realized $51.14 million for eight sales, up from $44.43 million for four sales last year. The top-grossing sales at Christie’s were of Chinese ceramics and works of art, which took $13.2 million, and of South Asian modern and contemporary art, which followed closely with a total of $12.6 million.

Sotheby’s realized $26 million in four sales, the lion’s share of which was for contemporary art. Two sales—contemporary Asian art on Sept. 17 and modern and contemporary South Asian art on Sept. 18—took a combined $16.4 million, accounting for well over half of the total. However, Sotheby’s overall Asia week total was less than half the $61.9 million it took in last fall. Last summer, Sotheby’s announced that, starting in 2009, it would hold all of its contemporary Asian art auctions in Hong Kong, noting that that is where the house has achieved the highest prices for the category.

At Christie’s South Asian sale, 84 of the 126 lots on offer, or 67 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 78 percent sold. The top lot was Subodh Gupta’s Steal 2, which sold just above its $1 million high estimate for $1.2 million to an American collector, despite its having been executed just last year. Two other works by Gupta figured among the top lots: Miter, also dated 2007, an installation featuring the artist’s signature stainless steel pots, cleared its $600,000/800,000 estimate to sell for $1 million, and an untitled 2005 oil on canvas (estimate: $600,000/800,000) sold to an Indian dealer for $962,500.

Also breaking the $1 million mark was Maqbool Fida Husain’s painting Ritual, 1968, which surpassed its $600,000/800,000 estimate. An oil painting by Tyeb Mehta, Untitled (Yellow Heads), 1979, sold for $902,500. Three years ago, Mehta’s painting Mahisasura, 1997, was the first Indian painting to sell at over a million dollars when it fetched $1.6 million at Christie’s (ANL, 9/27/05).

Two works by Rameshwar Broota (b. 1941) sold well, with the oil painting Man, 1991, bringing $506,500 (estimate: $250,000/350,000) and The Same Old Story II, 1979, a painting depicting two large monkeys conversing arm-in-arm, taking in $662,500, more than triple the estimate of $150,000/200,000.

Six auction records were set for works by artists representing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, including Jyothi Basu, Riyas Komu, Chitra Ganesh, Mohammad Zeeshan and Zainul Abedin. Indian artist Manjit Bawa’s oil on canvas Untitled, 1992, fetched a record $362,500 (estimate: $200,000/300,000).

Asian Demand Fuels Sales

At Christie’s sale of Chinese ceramics and works of art and masterworks of ancient and Imperial China, the top lot was an early Ming dynasty tianbai-glazed anhua-decorated meiping (a vase inspired by the shape of a female body), Yongle period (1403–1425), which sold to Hong Kong dealer Chak’s Company Ltd. for a record $2.8 million, more than three times the high estimate of $800,000.

Tina Zonars, Christie’s international director, Chinese works of art, said the sales “illustrate the continuing strength of the market.” Zonars noted that “among the stronger collecting fields were snuff bottles, white jade carvings, imperial ceramics—all Chinese-taste categories.”

The second-highest lot was a rare Qing dynasty yellow-ground “Dragon” vase decorated with green enamel, Qianlong period (1736–1795), which was won by London dealer Eskenazi Ltd. for $1.76 million (estimate: $600,000/800,000).

Theow Tow, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas and Asia, noted “Asians in particular participated strongly in all collecting categories, both classical and contemporary,” in the sales.

Asian Contemporary Art Tops Sotheby’s Sales

At Sotheby’s “Contemporary Art Asia: China Korea Japan” session, Zeng Fanzhi’s Mask Series, 1997, was bought by a Japanese private collector for $1.1 million (estimate: $900,000/1.2 million). The second-highest lot was Kim Whanki’s Les Oiseaux Volants (Flying Birds), 1957, which an Asian dealer acquired for $434,500 (estimate: $200,000/300,000).

In all, the sale realized $8.5 million, with 137, or 65 percent, of the 211 works on offer finding buyers. The sold-by-value rate was also relatively modest, at just 64 percent.

Among the other top prices, Cai Guo-Qiang’s gunpowder-on-paper Two Eagles, 2005, sold within estimate for $422,500 (estimate: $380,000/550,000) and Zhang Huan’s Family Tree, 2000, sold for $386,500 (estimate: $120,000/180,000) to an American buyer.

Sotheby’s modern and contemporary South Asian art sale realized $7.8 million for 126 lots, of which 82, or 65 percent, found buyers. By value, the auction was 80 percent sold.

Work by many of the same artists, including Gupta, Mehta and Husain, dominated the top ten at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in this category. Mehta’s acrylic-on-canvas Falling Figure with Bird, 2003, sold for a high-estimate $1.5 million. Gupta’s oil painting One Cow, 2003, depicting a bicycle slung with containers of milk, sold for $866,500 (estimate: $600,000/800,000).

Works by Francis Newton Souza also figured prominently at Sotheby’s sale, including the painting Orange Head, 1963, which sold for $482,500 (estimate: $400,000/600,000); Christ on Palm Sunday, a 1956 oil on board, which sold for $266,500 (estimate: $220,000/320,000); and Death and the Maiden, 1966, which brought $182,500 (estimate: $100,000/150,000).

In the Chinese ceramics and works of art sale, which included Chinese and Japanese art from a private collection, a polychrome wood and gesso sculpture of the boddhisattva Guhyasadhana Avalokitesvara, Ming dynasty, Xuande period, sold for $1.2 million (estimate: $1.4 million/1.6 million).