Published: April 17, 2001
By Carol Sims
NEW YORK CITY – While the rain was drizzling over limos and taxis lined up outside on busy Lexington Avenue, inside the Arts of Pacific Asia Show was a haven of quietude – at least until all those eager buyers poured in for the day-long preview. Stepping into Arts of Pacific Asia was stepping into a world of order and timeless beauty with objects from several centuries BC up to the early Twentieth Century. Held March 22 to March 25 at the 69th Regiment Armory, the show continues to carve out its niche as the best place to find textiles furniture, ceramic sculpture, and other works of art in the mid-price range of $5,000 to $50,000. There are also prime choices in the $50,000 to $250,000-range. Beginning collectors can even find a few rdf_Descriptions in the hundreds of dollars if they look carefully.
The Arts of Pacific Asia Show was international shopping made easy. It was easy on the feet, with 84 US and international dealers under one roof. It was easy on the wallet (or purse) with the week’s best selection of merchandise in the mid price range; and it was especially easy on the eye, with outstanding finds in all categories that were beautiful enough to tempt museum curators and connoisseurs. The large stunning garden centerpiece of carved stone from Vallin Galleries LLC of Wilton, Conn. took hours to install, and is an indication of the monumental behind-the-scenes efforts to bring unique and rarely seen works of art to the show.
Arts of Pacific Asia attracts dealers from all points on the compass rose. When the crates of ceramic sculpture, screens, jades, furniture and paintings were unpacked, they came from dealers as far away as Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, and Hong Kong as well as the US, Canada, and several European countries. Their wares came from Japan, China, South and Southeast Asian nations, and Himalayan countries- especially India and Tibet.
This was the tenth semi-annual Arts of Pacific Asia Show, the oldest Asian art show in New York City, dating from the fall of 1995. It is managed by Bill Caskey and Elizabeth Lee of Caskey-Lees of Topanga, Calif. and Frank and Elaine Farbenbloom of Sha-Dor Productions, Baltimore, Md. In honor of the occasion, Bill Caskey organized a series of well-attended lectures on Asian textiles, one of the strengths of the show. Altogether there were seven lectures by experts Alan Kennedy, Dr Young Yang Chung, Ken and Judith Rutherford, John Vollmer, Beverly Jackson and Valrae Reynolds. Frank Farbenbloom said ”the lectures added another dimension and were well-received.” Reynolds’s lecture on Tibetan textiles was listed as a must-see in The New York Times schedule for Asia Week.
This spring’s show had its share of rare and beautiful rdf_Descriptions. Eleanor Abraham brought a huge pink sandstone sculpted ”Head of a Jina,” which she had found in London. The Tenth-Century head came from a statue from Madhya Pradesh in India that must have been about 20 feet tall. The head was a showstopper. According to Abraham, Jainism, is one of the three great religions of India; the others being Hinduism and Buddhism. Jainism is an aesthetic religion that borrows from the Hindu tradition. About 500 BC, 24 ”peaceful liberators” or Jinas broke away from the strict Hindu caste system to create their own religion of peace and gentility.
Alberto Manuel Cheung of New York City had an exquisite array of museum-quality pieces at the show, including a pair of Oxford-dated ceramic camels. While they were found separately, and there is yet no proof that they were created by the same artist as a pair, the color, scale, and character of the camels and the way they related to each other was absolutely serendipitous.
Cheung did very well at the show, his best to date. He sold to collectors, one of whom has a penchant for giving pieces to Harvard. One of the pieces he sold was a Tang Dynasty ceramic flash decorated with four fish in sancai, or tri-color glaze. The fish, a symbol of longevity and prosperity, ”always moves forward” Cheung pointed out.
Arts & Antiques of Basel, Switzerland had a great piece of art with a great provenance: the collection of Gertrude Stein. It was a carved wooden figure ”Guanyin” from China, late Ming Dynasty (Sixtheenth, early Seventeenth Century) Dealer Bachman Eckenstein said, ”Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo were not only serious collectors of modern art but they gathered Chinese artifacts as well. It was Leo Stein who began collecting Oriental art inspired by his friend the art historian Bernard Berenson who was a vivid admirer and collector of Oriental art.”
Marie-Françoise of Au Lion Des Neiges, Sydney, Australia said, ”I had an excellent fair, my third one, and I will be back next year.” She has reason to be pleased. Last year at the show, one of the curators of The Metropolitan Museum of Art looked seriously at her Fourteenth/Fifteenth Century iron gilded Tibetan piece. ”This year this person came back asking about the rdf_Description, which was not on display, telling me his regret about not following up a purchase at the time. I told him that I had kept this piece at my home because I consider it as a stunning specimen of Tibetan metalwork. By now the piece has been sent to The Metropolitan. As an art dealer, I think that patience is an asset for a good piece to find a good home.”
Norman Sandfield of Chicago, Ill., had a wide array of netsuke from the late Eighteenth Century to the Twentieth Century. He brought examples in wood, ivory, lacquer, amber, clay, metal, bamboo, boar’s tusk, and antler. Sandfield has compiled The Ultimate Netsuke Bibliography: An Annotated Guide To Miniature Japanese Carvings available from Paragon Books. It includes more than 4,400 netsuke bibliographic entries. Sanfield also offered a pocket reference for netsuke markings and a guide on how to tie a medicine-box knot.
Renata Horstmann de Pepe of Asian Collectibles, Riverside, Conn., recently moved her business from Europe. The show was a good opportunity to gain exposure, meet new clients, and touch base with European collectors. With the large European art fair Maastricht directly preceding Asia Week, it surprised her that so many European collectors hopped on planes to be in New York for Asia Week.
Dealers were very pleased with the show attendance. Frank Farbenbloom estimated the crowd was a record 7,000. Farbenbloom said that the flow was excellent throughout the show, with the only lull being the opening hours of the International Asian Art Fair.
Alan Pate of L’Asie Exotique, La Jolla, Calif. said, ”Opening day was very aggressive and brisk. Friday slowed down a little bit, but picked up again very nicely on Saturday and Sunday.” Any way you look at it, people came out in force to see Arts of Pacific Asia, with neither the gloomy weather nor the gloomy stock market making a dent in attendance or sales.
”There was quite a bit of speculation going in to this show as to how the recent stock market fluctuations would affect us. However, from the opening of the show, people seemed very intent on buying; and no mention was made of the stock market in particular or the economy in general. Buying was very focused with people being very clear on what their needs and desires were. We sold a wide range of material with a particularly strong showing in the Japanese area,” said Pate.
Pate sold a Seventeenth-Century Japanese six-panel screen of military subject matter in the low/mid-five figures; a rare pair of Japanese iki ningyo (living dolls) measuring 52 inches high from the Meiji Period, also in the low/mid-five figures; several pieces of very good Japanese hardwood furniture; and a range of Japanese scroll paintings. In the Chinese arena they sold a good selection of Chinese scholar’s objects.
Douglas Frazer of Medina, Wash., brought Japanese prints and works on paper. Frazer actually heard a customer ask, ”why should I put my money in the stock market?” Why indeed. It appears that art is offering a viable alternative. ”We had three sales over $10,000 and several in the $5,000 – 10,000 range. It was our best show ever. One designer bought 33 different rdf_Descriptions for over $20,000. The crowd was the best ever.”
Up until now the show has been held twice a year in the spring and fall. Spring has always been the stronger of the two shows according to Frank Farbenbloom. Last year, there were scheduling difficulties because of a Jewish holiday falling on the same day as show set -up. This year, after much deliberation, the show management has decided to eliminate the September show altogether.
According to Farbenbloom, dealers did fine with the September show, but it was not as profitable as the spring show, especially for the show management. Factors in that decision also included uncertainty in auction dates for Sotheby’s and Christie’s fall sales of Asian art, the Jewish holiday, and British Asian Week following so closely after the September show. The desire to keep the high standards of the show was foremost in their decision. Organizing a worthy lecture series, for example, takes time. Whether or not the fall show will be reinstated will be evaluated from time to time.
Frazer supports the elimination of the September show. ”It takes too long to get good merchandise together,” he said. Others are disappointed with the cancellation of the fall show. Pate said, ”It is an extreme disappointment that the Fall Arts of Pacific Asia Show will not be happening this year, although we are hoping that the promoters will see their mistake and schedule the event to coincide with Asia Week in the Fall as usual.”
The Asian aesthetic, varied and splendiferous, is drawing in new collectors every year. It is no wonder that the market can bear so many single and group exhibitions during and before and after the two Asian Weeks every year in Manhattan. The temptation would be to keep expanding and expanding until the market reaches a saturation point. The decision of show management to eliminate the fall Arts of Pacific Show is an interesting development. Will the spring show be even more of a magnet next year? Probably.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm