An Ebullient Phoenix Rises in Damrosch Park:
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – From March 22 to 26, returned to New York a different show than it had been a year ago, when it was still comfortably housed in its traditional home, the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue.
Like a dazzling metropolis built on the flattened foundations of an earlier city, this year’s fair was held in a large tent erected in Damrosch Park, adjacent to the Metropolitan Opera House and the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The feat itself was nothing short of heroic for London promoters Brian and Anna Haughton, who were particularly unlucky over the past season, having lost two fall fairs, including their flagship International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show, to the occupying forces of the National Guard.
The Haughtons’ intent was to recreate as nearly as possible the feeling of the drill hall, right down to the Armory’s vast expanse of ceiling, then obscuring it with gauzy streamers of translucent gold. To create a level platform for the displays, about 50 exhibits in all, the promoters worked with Lincoln Center’s crews to raise the terrain to eight feet, then constructed an oblong exhibition hall with an adjacent entryway, coat check, restaurant and offices for management, press, and security.
Lincoln Center’s formal gardens offered an appropriate foil to the cool minimalism of the presentation. The only thing apparently left behind at the Armory were price tags, an omission that discouraged browsing.
The fair was resplendent when it opened on Thursday night with a benefit preview party for Asia Society. Initially, the fair seemed subdued by the departure of several luminous personalities, among them Khalil Rizk, a founding exhibitor who died unexpectedly last year and to whom this year’s fair and loan show were dedicated; Robert Ellsworth, the prominent dealer in Chinese art who has assumed a lower profile in the business; and Gisele Croes, who, like many other prominent out-of-town dealers in Asian art, chose instead to organize a temporary exhibit at a New York gallery.
But the ebullience returned as a colorful parade of social figures and top-flight collectors, many dressed in shimmering robes or kimonos, pressed onto the floor. Before the evening was over dealers were rewarded with sales for their perseverance and patience over the difficult fall months. Raising over $500,000 for Asia Society, the evening was attended by healthy contingent of museum buyers, some of the fair’s best customers, and more than 1,000 other art lovers.
Cloaked in the traditional colors of Asia – lacquer red and black accented with touches of gold and dramatic floral sprays – the International Asian Fair is easily the most elegant of Manhattan’s high-level expos. In content it emphasizes sculpture, with only a slightly smaller interest in works of art, utilitarian or abstract, that are strongly graphic in appeal or, in the case of textiles, inclined to pattern making.
The fair is international in the best sense: the art on view is of such universal appeal and import as to transcend both domestic markets and, aside from ongoing concerns about antiquities trading and legitimate ownership of cultural properties, political squabbles. In all, roughly 50 top specialists in the arts of China, Japan, India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East offered $150 million worth of treasures at this year’s fair.
The show has an aura of serenity and perfection that is, of course, enhanced by the dozens of arresting manifestations of Buddha found here in great concentration. Masterpieces included London dealer A & J Speelman’s 41 1/2-feet tall figure of a seated Lohan. Dating to the Twelfth Century AD, the decayed Chinese figure appears rooted in the weathered block of wood from which it was carved. Also powerful was a Japanese figure of the same era, a Jizo Bosatsu of carved wood, 20 1/2 inches, that was selected as the cover image for this year’s sumptuous catalogue.
In the hushed, semi-darkness of Alexander Gotz’s jet-black booth, a Second to Third Century AD Buddha from Pakistan stood as if in a meditative trance, the figure’s stone cloak falling effortlessly into soft folds. Equally commanding was the imperial looking bust of a Bodhisattva Avalokite Shvara, Gandaharan, Second to Fourth Century AD, shown against a regal purple backdrop at Doris Wiener of New York. Not all countenances were so friendly. A fierce pair of carved wood Ming temple guardians of the Eighteenth Century glowered ominously at Priestley and Ferraro of London.
The secular International Asian Art Fair reveled in the natural world. Two exceptionally nice offerings among the many Tang Dynasty pottery figures included a pair of restive horses, sold by Berwald Oriental Art of London to a private collector, and a stately equestrian figure dating to the Seventh Century AD, sold by the Chinese Porcelain Company of New York. Wizened and sage looking, two carved wood monkeys, $50,000, hunched at the entrance of Judith Dowling’s crisp evocation of a Japanese tatami room.
The yin and yang of is the unexpected combination of classical art with contemporary painting, ceramics, basketry, and other studio crafts. Michael Goedhuis led the trend several years ago by putting contemporary Chinese paintings with antique bronze vessels and sculpture. This year, the London dealer paired semi-abstract drawings in ink on textured paper with a pair of intimidating Edo Period temple lions from Japan. The lions sold to a West Coast collector of Asian sculpture.
Lei Sneider of New York featured gossamer boxes of silk and metal fiber by contemporary Japanese artists; Tai Gallery/Textile Arts of Santa Fe, N.M., mated traditional ikat weavings from Java with abstract Japanese baskets by contemporary masters; and Lawrence of Beijing, one of the few exhibitors who deals exclusively in current painting, brought canvases by Wei Rong. The works – provocative examinations of cultural change in China – juxtapose sexy young women in Western dress and consumer goods with emblems of traditional life.
Joan Mirviss’s neatly tailored stand mixed Japanese painted scrolls of the Eighteenth Century, masterful woodblock prints of the Nineteenth Century, and contemporary ceramics, a genre the New York specialist has pioneered. In collaboration with Barry Friedman Ltd., Mirviss was concurrently exhibiting vessels by Kondo Takahiro at Friedman’s 57th Street gallery through May 18.
Having sold half of the ceramics in the first few days of the gallery show, Mirviss also brought two examples of Takahiro’s work to . “The glaze has a limpid, wet quality that is celestial. The artist calls it fire born from water,” Mirviss explained. Each piece is fired four times to achieve a surface dewily beaded with gold, silver and platinum.
When was launched in 1996, Japanese art was not one of its strengths. Times have changed, and the category is now one of the show’s best, represented not only by Mirviss, Dowling, and Sneider, but by Flying Cranes Antiques, Uragami Sokyo-Do of Tokyo, and Hiroshi Yanagi of Kyoto and New York.
Back in her Manhattan gallery a week later, Jean Schaffer of Flying Cranes Antiques, said the fair had been a supreme success. Flying Cranes’ centerpiece was a pair of Kano Period gilt screens, circa 1750, depicting the Tale of Genji, $55,000. They hadn’t sold, perhaps the dealers weren’t willing to break up the set. Flying Cranes instead sold a great variety of baskets, studio porcelain, metalwork, carved ivory, and lacquer. Said Schaffer, “I’ll be billing for two days. At one point I felt like I was in a bakery.”
Japanese specialist Malcolm Fairley of London sold netsuke, enamels, and metalware, including a pair of signed vases, circa 1800, to a private collector for more than $130,000. There were also good reports from dealers in Chinese art. Randel Gallery of New York, a new exhibitor, parted with a large gray earthenware Warring States pot dating to the Fourth Century BC. Berwald Oriental Art sold a glazed pottery money tree to an American collector for $125,000.
Indian and Southeast Asian sculpture also sold well. Noted London dealer John Eskenazi parted with a Third Century AD Gandharan head of a goddess in grey schist for over $150,000. Across town, Guiseppe Eskenazi set up for the sixth season at Pace Wildenstein, selling 11 of 19 pieces of from his exhibit, “Chinese Buddhist Sculpture from Northern Wei to Ming.”
Nancy Wiener and Theresa McCollough also turned in good reports. Francesca Galloway – a London dealer who combines Indian textiles, painting and sculpture to success – sold her most striking piece, a large opaque watercolor profile portrait of Rao Lakpatji holding a flower, circa 1725-50.
Magnificent Indian jewelry of the type depicted in the Lakpatji portrait was for sale just steps away from Galloway at Samina Inc., of London, a satisfying self-indulgent stop for such splendors as a Seventeenth Century moghul necklace that interspersed yellow sapphires carved as blossoms with beaded and enameled gold bells.
Costume and textiles were also well-represented. They ranged from a saffron-colored Tibetan Buddhist monk’s silk robe, which glowed like a color-field painting in the booth of Arthur Leeper, a new exhibitor from Belvedere, Calif., to an emperor’s tapestry-woven yellow dragon robe and a Manchu woman’s winter robe at Linda Wrigglesworth. The London dealer, who enshrined the vividly patterned garments in a trio of dark enclosures, sold a pair of Seventeenth Century Kesi panels from a Mandarin home for $50,000 to a private collector on opening night.
One of the fair’s most dramatic presences was Sam Fogg, the lone dealer in Near Eastern artifacts. Capping his display was a single, magnificent lustreware mihrab architectural tile of the early Fourteenth Century. The London specialist’s many transactions included a large, gilded head of a fish, sold on opening night for about $40,000, and an early Tibetan manuscript, sold for about $78,000 to a Midwestern museum.
“We had been concerned,” confessed Jean Schaffer of Flying Cranes Antiques. “But, absolutely, customers found Lincoln Center. People came from all over the United States. Americans are strong, and marvelous, and love art.”
will return to its original home at the Seventh Regiment Armory from March 21-25, 2003.