A Downtown Flavor for New York’s First and Largest Asian Show
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY — Arts of Pacific Asia is the first and largest of New York’s Asian art showcases, offering an eclectic, high-quality range of South and East Asian art and antiques in a setting that is decidedly less formal than that of its uptown neighbor, the International Asian Art Fair
With the Asia Week auctions well underway but the International show not yet open, Art of Pacific Asia premiered at the Lexington Avenue Armory at 26th Street at noon on Thursday, March 27, seeing steady traffic through the close of the show on Sunday.
Organizers Caskey-Lees of California in conjunction with Shador of Maryland have created a handsome and varied fair supplemented by a cafe and a frond-filled tea garden complete with colorful finches in bamboo cages. Naturally, even the birds splash about in blue and white china baths.
While German dealer Erik Thomsen offered Japanese tea wares at the International show, his wife Cornelia arrayed bamboo baskets, bronzes, scrolls paintings and a colorful six-panel Edo period screen, $69,000, at Arts of Pacific Asia. Melbourne, Australia, dealer Lesley Kehoe meanwhile offered contemporary lacquer ware uptown and a pair of Eighteenth Century Japanese Kano School screens downtown.
Attendance at the four-day show peaked on Thursday and Friday, but dropped over the weekend for an overall decline of nine percent versus a year ago. Organizers attributed the loss at the gate to travel fears exacerbated by SARS, the respiratory virus of Chinese origin; war in Iraq; and economic uncertainty.
Both venues noted especially robust trade in Chinese Tang dynasty figures.
“Don’t break them. They’re sold,” a colleague called to Vallin Galleries’ Peter Rosen-berg, who only moments before had transacted the sale of a large pair of unglazed prancing horses. The Wilton, Conn., dealer, who also featured a large blue and white fish bowl with the emperor’s reign mark and two very early Buddhist paintings, sold a second pair of horses before Arts of Pacific Asia concluded.
More Tang horses sold at Marc Richards of Los Angeles and Alberto Manuel Chang of New York City. The latter had considerable interest in a Liao dynasty unglazed pottery soldier. Several feet high, the figure dated to AD 907-1125.
At Art & Antiques Bachmann Echenstein of Basel, Switzerland, a pair of Tang pottery earth spirits was $17,800. The dealers also featured a Japanese Heian period carved torso, $53,000, and a two-fold Edo period screen decorated with pine and plovers on a field of gold, $24,500.
Chinese porcelain was notably scarce at both shows, perhaps because top international dealers are choosing instead to exhibit at the Winter Antique Show, the New York Ceramics Fair or the Palm Beach International Show. Even so, a blanc de chine vase of circa 1640 was snapped up at Nicholas S. Pitcher Oriental Art of London.
Japanese art was good and plentiful. Akanezumiya’s sumptuous display featured a six-panel Edo period screen depicting “Taishokan (The Great Woven Cap).” One of three signed examples known, it was $35,000. Large carved wood Edo period figures of a Buddhist lion and a dog were $8,500.
L’Asie Exotique sales included a pair of red lacquer and gilt-decorated leather saddle covers. The New York dealers offered the decorative pieces with a pair of doll-like Takeda Ningyo of the Soga brothers, circa 1800, 26 inches high, $7,500. The costumed figures depict the fight scene on the Gojo Bridge.
Shibui Japanese Antiques of Pasadena, Calif., sold bronze, silver and bamboo. Brandt Oriental Art of London, specialists in Meiji bronze and lacquer, were deep in negotiations for the sale of a large figure of the goddess Benzaiten, enshrined in an Eighteenth Century lacquer ware traveling case with gilt copper mounts.
Japanese print dealer Robin Kennedy described the show as “surprisingly solid” and remarked on the amount of impulse buying. The Richmond, UK, dealer offered a circa 1804 print, $4,250, from Kitagawa Utamaro’s series, “Summer Outfits for Today’s Beauties.”
Colorado dealer Martin Kay devoted a shelf to Sumida Gawa pottery, a little known and still inexpensive Japanese export ware that bears some resemblance to American art pottery. A small jug was $650; a large vase heavily encrusted with applied flowers, $9,800.
Sri Lankan and Laotian art made a rare appearance at Jazmin Asian Arts of Singapore. Dealer Grace Parama-spry featured bible boxes made of for the Dutch trade, circa 1650, of ebony calamander; a trio of Eighteenth Century Laotian Buddhas in the “Calling For Rain” pose; and a carved ebony Eighteenth Century Sri Lankan manuscript box, $22,000, inlaid with ivory, copper and silver.
The large, disembodied hands of an Eighteenth Century Burmese Buddha floated in midair at Tony Cammaert’s Kyoto Gallery of Brussels.
At Eleanor Abraham, a Tenth to Eleventh Century pink sandstone head of a Madhya Pradesh, Indian deity, gazed beneficently at passersby.
Great sculpture was the litmus test for quality. Among the most impressive pieces on the floor of Art of Pacific Asia was the voluptuous carving “Brama and Consort,” $65,000, a Twelfth Century western Indian relic at Jeremy Knowles of London.
A Eighth Century carved buff sandstone stele, 22 inches high, anchored New York dealer Michael Cohn’s display, and ancient Chinese bronzes attracted a polyglot crowd at T.K. Asian Antiquities of Williamsburg, Va.
London dealers Nader Rasti and Chris Hampton unveiled a Thai Ayutthya carved sandstone bust, $25,000, dating from the late Fifteenth to Early Sixteenth Century. Most soothing of all was the serene portrait bust of a bodhisattva, $12,000, at Angelo Attilio Attili of Parma, Italy. Sales included two Tibetan wooden figures at Soo Tze Oriental Antiques of Melbourne, Australia.
Textiles were another show strength. Vichai and Lee Chinalai of Chinalai Tribal Antiquities, Shoreham, N.Y., mounted embroidered bridal blankets made by the Maonan people of Guangxi Province in China. The lovingly stitched trousseau treasures are intricately patterned with symbols from nature, traditional Chinese mythology, Taoism and Buddhism. Dating from the late Nineteenth Century, the blankets ranged from $800 to $10,000.
The rarest rdf_Description in a booth shared by Clive Rogers and Tanoti Textiles, both of the UK, was a Thirteenth to Fourteenth Century fragment of a gold-shot silk Mongolian garment, $6,500.
The most unusual carpet, a late Ching Chinese imperial silk weaving with raised and recessed motifs, was $22,000 at Galerie Arabesque and Michael Craycraft of Stuttgart, Germany.
New York dealer Moke Mokotoff arrayed Tibetan scroll paintings, or thangka, dating from the Eighteenth Century. Most masterful was “Paradise of the Dalai Lama,” $25,000.
“I’ve owned it for 15 years. I’ve never had it on the market, and I’ll never own another one,” Cynthia Shaver, a Belvedere, Calif., dealer in Japanese textiles, said of a kesa, or Buddhist priest’s robe, dating from the late Eighteenth Century that was $56,000 in her stand.
During the preview, Jon Eric Riis of Atlanta sold a Manchu lady’s crown made of kingfisher feathers. Riis said that his sales far exceeded his expectations. Minnesota dealer Ron Hort’s vibrant display of Central Asian garments resulted in 40 sales, including antique children’s clothing.
The show’s few jade and ivory dealers were also pleased. Stuart Hilbert of the Jade Dragon, Ann Arbor, Mich., said his sales had increased by more than 30 percent from the year before.
Contemporary craft is only a minor presence at New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show. Nevertheless, it is a specialty shown with flair by London dealer Katie Jones, who combines traditional antiques and cutting-edge craft in mixed-media displays at both shows and in her Notting Hill gallery.
“I’ve been mixing the two for four or five years,” explains Jones, who buys directly from Japanese artists. “It has taken time to form relationships with the artists, but I find American collectors are very receptive to the work.” Her most striking pieces were abstract mixed-metal vessels in powdered gold, copper, tin and lacquer by Toru Kaneko. A large vase, $2,500, sold as the doors opened.
The Tolman Gallery, long known for contemporary limited edition Japanese prints, was celebrating the 90th birthday of master printmaker Toko Shineda. Dealer Allison Tolman said her father had flown to Tokyo for an exhibit organized by the Tolman Gallery. The display, which continued in Tokyo to April 13, included an unprecedented loan from the Japan’s imperial family.
Another take on the contemporary was offered by Thomas Murray of Mill Valley, Calif., who puts together old pieces in new way. His booth was an intriguing mix of calligraphy; an Indonesian stone architectural element, $12,000; and a bust of Buddha.
When the New York Arts of Pacific Asia concluded on Sunday, March 30, organizers said that, commercially, it had been neither the best nor the worst of fairs. Even so, the concentration of so many top-notch dealers from all over the world in one place at one time was a luxury for the buying public and an investment in an even stronger Asian art market to come.