Art News & Views

[Market Monitor]


Asia Week at New York

It is significant what the news agency AFP predicted before the recently concluded Asia Week art sales in New York, between March 17 and March 24. “New York art dealers might need to pull out marker pens and add zeros to their price tags during Asia Week sales starting this week in auction houses and galleries across the city. Once a backwater of the international market, Asian art -- particularly Chinese -- has boomed in popularity.”

AFP wasn't proved wrong, and the majority of sales, both on auction floors as well as private galleries were dominated by Chinese antiques and classical art. In second position, though far behind in terms of sales was, as you have guessed right, Indiaand there too, as far as statistics go, one saw the predominance of classical art and antiquities finding favour among buyers over modernists or contemporaries.

However, the potential of Pakistan and Bangladesh was seen with a lot of interest and it was clear that western galleries are eyeing these two almost nascent markets in South-East Asia as their next rendezvous'.

The AFP report said, “And the next artistic goldmine in Asia?

Pakistan is only just beginning to stir, says Deepanjana Klein, at Christie's.

“In Southeast Asia it's not yet that cool to be an artist, in Pakistan especially. In India, it's taken off, but in Pakistan it's still in its nascent phase,” she said.

Then there's Bangladesh. The country “is having its first international art show next month (sicit has already happened in April), which is a huge step,” Klein said.

Yes, records were made as usual. Among Indian modernists, everyone had expected Raza's 1958 Village with Church, better known as the 'Rockefeller Raza' to be the stellar performer of the sales. However, the person who proved to be the actual star was Tyeb Mehta, whose Untitled (Figures with Bull's Head) again broke the million dollar mark. The India Real Time blog of The Wall Street Journal went as far as to say that the deceased Mehta, whose works are limited in numbers and never really appreciated during his lifetime, may as well prove to be the King of the million-dollar club, with his increasingly consistent performance at international auctions. Mehta's Untitled (Figures with Bull's Head) sold at Christie's auction for over $1.7 million, in line with estimates. It sold to an anonymous buyer and was the auction's top sale.

The IRT-WSJ wrote, “We're getting used to Mehta's paintings commanding some of the highest prices in the Indian art market. Sales of his works in auctions over the past year have helped draw global attention to the art scene in the subcontinent.

A turning point was when, in March last year, his diptych Bulls, sold for $2.8 million at another Christie's auction. This was almost nine times the price it sold for in 2002. (That same year his Celebration had sold for $317,500  then the highest sum ever paid for an Indian painting at an auction.)

Since the sale of Bulls, Mehta's works have frequently been auction highlights. In June 2011, his oil canvas showing a figure reclining on a rickshaw, also dated 1984, sold for $3.24 million. This was the second-highest auction sale for a work of modern Indian art after S.H. Raza's Saurashtra, a painting that went under the hammer for $3.5 million a year earlier.”

Interestingly, the highlight among the Indian moderniststhe Rockefeller Raza, as we had mentioned earlier, which was expected to bring in $2.5 million at Bonham'sfailed to sell and had to be bought in.

Indian classical art and antiquities did very well though, with a record setting $302, 500 going for a previously unrecorded painting by the 18th century master Indian artist Bagta at Bonham's Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art auction. This remarkable work and cover lot to the sale sold for six times the high estimate. The entire auction realized $3,203,225.

In the area of antiquities too, India did very well. ArtMedia agency reported, “An Indian antiquities and Southeast Asian art auction, organised on 21 March 2012, totaled $3,804,726 (fees included). 113 lots out of 156 found takers, or a rate of 72.4% (73.8% in value). Among the best sales were: A sitting Vishnu, Nepal, 12th century approximately, estimated between € 200,000 and € 300,000, sold for $590,500; Uma, now Cambodia, Baphuon period (11th century), estimated between $80,000 and $120,000, sold for $530,500; Sambandar, South India, Chola period (11th century), estimated between $150,000 and $200,000, sold for $158,500; stele depiction of Chamunda, East India, Pala period (8th / 12th century), estimated between $40,000 and $60,000, sold for $158,5000.

Buyers came from across the globe. Anuradha Ghosh Mazumdar, head of the Indian and South Asian art department welcomed the results, confirming the good health and stability of this sector. The two best results were recorded by objects presented for the first time at auction, which could explain their good results.”

However, the cherry was reserved for the Chinese and according to some, they took the cake too. A day before the Art Asia Week ended, on March 23, Artinfo reported, “New York's Asia Week sales wrap up tonight with Christie's big Chinese ceramics sale, but by now the basic market trends seem pretty clear, as evidenced by the last few days of crowded salesroom action at Christie's, Sotheby's, Bonhams, and Doyle (and at Freeman's, as well, which made its share of headlines despite being in Philadelphia). The results have skewed positive, but there have been a few stumbles along the way, particularly in the non-Chinese categories, proving that "Asian art" is in fact made up of many different, rather complicated, markets. Prices for traditional Chinese art continue to climb higher, and it was not rare to see objects sell for 10 times (or more) the high estimate. However, the interest in Indian and Southeast Asian art (traditional, modern, and contemporary) was more subdued, with quite a few high-profile buy-ins, while Christie's Japanese and Korean works of art sale was only a third sold by value.

The highlights from the week include an enormous Ming dynasty gilt-bronze and cloisonné jar sold for $1.5 million at Freeman's, two brushpots bearing the Qianlong imperial seal that sold for $3.5 million at Sotheby's, and the entirety of Sotheby's $35.2 million classic Chinese painting auction, which more than doubled its estimate. On the other hand, the much-hyped "Rockefeller Raza" was bought-in at Sotheby's Indian modern sale, and Christie's Japanese and Korean works of art auction didn't realize anything close to the low estimate.”

That observation was almost apocalyptic, and it doesn't fare well for the art of any other south-east Asian countries, other than China. However, Chinese dominance at the Asia week can be attributed to a large presence of wealthy Chinese for whom owning a part of the imperial history of the country has now become the symbol of 'arrival'. Auction Central News quoted Henry Howard-Sneyd, the Chairman of Asia Week New York 2012, as saying, classical Chinese paintings have returned as a leading element of the Asian art market after more than 10 years' absence.

However, according to private galleries participating in the Asia Week, the dominance of Chinese art was not just because of the Chinese buyers. James Lally of J. J. Lally & Co. said, “Chinese art is currently enjoying a 'boom', with many new collectors and dealers coming from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China. Chinese art of every kind and every period is more popular around the world now than ever before in history. We sold items to American, Japanese, European and Chinese buyers, with American buyers making the most purchases by a wide margin.”

In fact, private galleries in some cases reversed the overall trend of Asia Week, with Japan, Korea and Nepalese art selling side by side with their more popular Chinese counterparts.

“The overall exuberance and acquisitive atmosphere were reminiscent of Asia Weeks of the late 1990s,” said Joan Mirviss, who reported that the response from collectors and enthusiasts to her exhibition Approaching the Horizon: Important Japanese Prints from the Collection of Brewster Hanson was exhilarating. “By the close of Asia Week's openhouse weekend, we had sold nearly 60% of the exhibition (which included sixty-eight prints). In terms of attendance and participation, this year's Asia Week was tremendous and far exceeded those in recent memory.”

“Our Portraits & Pantheons exhibition of 20 Korean paintings garnered an energetic and positive response,” said Ji-young Koo of KooNewYork. “A number of these rare works are now officially 'on reserve' for museums but I also have a wait list of other curators for pieces. What surprised me the most was the great interest in two particular scroll portraits of scholars-one dated 1924 and the other from the Annexation Period (1910-1945) -even more than the paintings dated earlier. This may reflect the long-sighted vision of various curators relooking at the tumultuous period of the turn of the 19th/20th century with a fresh eye now that we're in the 21st century. Additionally, these paintings help to shed historical light on the birth of Modern and Contemporary Korean Art that is in the spotlight these days.”

“We are overjoyed by the positive response to our Asia Week exhibition,” said Carlton Rochell, who specializes in Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art. “It has been one of the most successful shows for us to date, with over 30 top-quality works of art selling to at least four American and international museums, as well as to private collectors from around the world. We have seen unprecedented numbers of people here at the gallery, many of whom we have met for the first time. Asia Week New York continues to be the premier destination for museums, collectors, and dealers worldwide and we were thrilled to be a part of it.”

Such exuberance from private gallery owners continue to pour in even a month after the Asia Week ended. However, the trends are very clear. The demand for antiquities and classical art of South-East Asia as a whole is extremely strong. However, other than the Chinese, the same cannot be said for the rest of the countries of this region when it comes to contemporaries and moderns.

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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.