Published: April 6, 2004
Arts of Pacific Asia
With exhibitors from 12 countries offering a spectrum of Asian fine and decorative arts – from the mainstay Chinese and Japanese works to more esoteric Indian, Tibetan, Korean and even Vietnamese pieces – the New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show has never been more varied or beautiful.
But according to the show’s organizers, Caskey-Less of Topanga, Calif., and Shador of Silver Spring, Md., as well as many of the nine-year-old fair’s 75 exhibitors, the surge in gate and sales that marked this year’s show was stimulated by growing demand for Chinese art.
Buyers from mainland China and elsewhere thronged the gates of the expo when it opened at the Lexington Avenue Armory at 26th Street at noon on Thursday, March 26, for a three-day run. The show is a cornerstone of New York’s flourishing Asia Week events.
Having survived the worldwide consequences of terrorist attacks and currency downturns, SARS and Mad Cow disease, Asia Week is now a premier attraction for buyers from all over the globe. At Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Asia Week sales reached nearly $30 million, with Chinese art accounting for a little more than half of the total. More merchandise valued in the tens of millions of dollars was on offer uptown at the International Asian Art Fair and at galleries around town, where some of the field’s most prominent specialists mount exhibits.
The boom in Chinese art has received wide notice. In a March 27 account of Christie’s latest auction of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art in the International Herald Tribune, Souren Melikian noted the recession-resistant nature of Chinese art and antiquities. As he put it, “Four different constituencies spread across the globe from America to Europe to the Far East compete for Chinese art.” Of the Christie’s sale, he added, “There had never been so many new Chinese faces, nor such intense competition from the Far East… A new world order is coming about in the Chinese art market as elsewhere in the global economy.”
“The Chinese economy is getting stronger all the time. There is more buying power and dealers are stocking up in response,” said Tim Mertel of L’Asie Exotique in New York. Mertel is quick to note that ethnic Chinese buyers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Taiwan and elsewhere are another important part of the mix.
L’Asie Exotique and other firms with pan-Asian inventories faired the best at Arts of Pacific Asia, capitalizing on the diversity of the audience in town for Asia Week and the sometimes quixotic habits of buyers. At L’Asie Exotique, a 39-inch Burmese dry-lacquer Buddha, one hand in the earth-touching mudra, sat serenely beside an arrangement of Japanese flower baskets, two signed; a collection of colorful green and tan pottery Mingei-style oil dishes for catching drippings under paper lanterns, less than $1,000 a piece; and an unusual Edo period Japanese fireman’s coat of deerskin with resist decorations on its exterior and an indigo-blue rubbed interior.
“They are quite rare. You don’t see them very often in this condition,” Mertel said of the coat.
“Asia Week is becoming a fixture, with people floating among the different venues. There is a fair amount of overlap between the two shows in the $30,000 to $100,000 range. The International Show caters more to the fantasy high-end, which gives dealers at Arts of Pacific Asia incentive to bring pieces in the $3,000 to $5,000 range to capture the middle market,” said Cohn.
Chinese jades and porcelains were big sellers in the fair’s first two days. San Francisco dealer Robyn Turner sold her prize piece, an Eighteenth Century white jade carving of a horse, bee and monkey, 41/2 inches long. She had similar success with carvings in ivory. Snuff bottles were a go for Clare and Michael Chu of The Asian Art Studio, Los Angeles, and Toronto dealer Dick Wang noted continued interest in Chinese scholars’ objects.
Vallin Galleries’ sumptuous stand was a tour de force of Chinese sculpture, ranging from a pair of threatening guardian figures in carved wood to male and female Ming dynasty lions and their seven cubs. The life-sized lions posed on intricately carved marble bases.
Marc Richards of Los Angeles and Alberto Manuel Cheung of New York featured Tang and Han material, a set of armored pottery archers dating to 200 BC being a highlight of the Cheung stand.
Textiles remain a brilliant category. Gallery Arabesque and Michael Craycraft of Stuttgart, Germany, hung a magnificent Qing silk and brocade carpet inscribed “For the dining Room of High Personages.” Rupert Smith’s side wall featured a dazzling Seventeenth Century three-panel silk-velvet and gold-thread summer carpet patterned in a lotus and dragon design, $18,000.
Lee and Vichai Chinalai paired vernacular Chinese furniture and textiles in a subtly beautiful display in a palette of pale wheat and azure blue. The focal point of the Shoreham, N.Y., dealers’ stand was a pair of “dragon covers,” embroidered in silk on indigo homespun by Li minority people.
“We had a very good show and felt rewarded by the interest buyers expressed in our pieces. We sold a lot of textiles, jewelry, objects, sculpture and furniture,” Lee Chinalai said afterwards.
Management has steadily broadened New York Arts of Pacific Asia, this year adding K.G. Arts of Jaipur, India, and L.H. Pham, a Swiss dealer in ancient Vietnamese bronze-age pieces. But according to Eleanor Abraham, a New York expert in Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian stone and bronze sculpture, audiences have been slow to embrace exotic specialties.
“The average person relates to Japanese and Chinese art, but not Indian or Tibetan. The material is still very undervalued,” said Abraham, whose display centered on a voluptuous Eleventh Century Indian sandstone sculpture of an embracing couple, only $10,000.
Japanese art sales were not as strong as they should have been, given the wealth of excellent material on the floor. The bounty of scrolls, screens, prints, devotional figures, furniture, lacquerware, basketry, ceramics and textiles ranged from prints and pottery for under $1,000 to a Momoyama Period lacquered chest, $40,000 at Brandt Oriental Art of London, and a pair of large samurai bronzes, offered by Shimazu, specialist dealers in Japanese cloisonne and studio porcelain from Sewell, N.J., for $295,000.
Lacquer, ceramics and baskets stood out against a shimmering Edo period gilded screen at Cornelia Thomsen, Bensheim, Germany. The $32,000 painting was deaccessioned from Manno Art Museum in Osaka.
Bachmann Eckenstein’s meditative presentation trained the eye on a Nineteenth Century crescent-shaped flower vase by Rengetsu Otagaki, its lumpy, cream-colored glazed surface decorated with attentuated calligraphic squiggles. The Swiss dealer paired the vessel with a Japanese landscape painting of a mountain by Kano Naonobu (1607-1650).
The fair’s second largest gate was reported by management for the New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show. Attendance reached a record high on opening day. Sales and attendance were brisk through the weekend.
New York Arts of Pacific Asia returns to the Gramercy Park Armory for its tenth anniversary presentation during Asia Week 2005.
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