Christie’s grabs lion’s share of market...

...while private exhibitions by dealers take a toll on Haughton’s annual fair

NEW YORK. Auctions at this year’s Asia Week in New York (17-21 March) made $127m, marginally less than the $130m achieved in 2007, but Christie’s reversed last year’s trend by taking the far greater share of this—$80.1m—nearly doubling what it made in 2007 and far exceeding the $45m-$63m estimates it had placed on its auctions.

Sotheby’s five sales made a disappointing $46.4m, not quite hitting its low estimate. Some pointed to the departure of Joe Yang, who joined Christie’s this January, although in reality his move to the rival auction house came too late in the Asia Week auction process to make a considerable difference. Others say Sotheby’s now ships its best Chinese works to Hong Kong. “Christie’s leave good things

in New York,” says London Chinese ceramics dealer Stuart Marchant, although Sotheby’s deputy chairman Henry Howard-­Sneyd said that none of the period Chinese works consigned in the US for this season’s sales had been shipped for sale abroad.

Asia Week is now as much about the dealers’ exhibitions as it is about the auctions and this year marked a change in their strategy as a significant number of them defected from the Haughton International Asian Art Fair (15-19 March) to hold their own exhibitions. Private openings in rented galleries in New York’s Fuller Building and other uptown venues were particularly successful.

Christie’s

Driving Christie’s impressive results was an abundance of rare objects, along with an unprecedented demand for Buddhist figures. A recently discovered, cypress Dainichi Nyorai Buddha, attributed to the sculptor Unike and dating from the 12th century, soared to $14.4m (est $1.5m-$2m), setting a world record for any Japanese work of art. It was bought by the Japanese department store Mitsukoshi, acting for the Shinnyo-en Buddhist temple in suburban Tokyo.

The increase in Asian buying was marked. “Ten years ago, Asians took only a fraction of the offerings,” said Theow Tow, deputy chairman of Christie’s Americas and Asia. This year, Asian buying accounted for 34% of sales. “Buddhist taste is prevailing more,” he added, saying that demand for Buddhist material ranges across many cultures.

Its increase in value was also demonstrated by a Tibetan 14th-century Imperial gilt bronze figure of the Buddhist diety Avalokiteshvara, which sold within estimate for $1m in Christie’s Indian and Southeast Asia sale on 21 March, having sold for $66,000 in 1989.

Christie’s made sale history across the board: records were set

for an 18th-century snuff bottle which went

for $825,000

(est $250,000-$300,000) while a work by M.F. Husain, The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna, 1972, set the auction record for a contemporary Indian painting when it went for $1.6m (est $600,000-$800,000). The auction house also established records for the most expensive Khmer sculpture when it sold an 11th-century figure of the Hindu deity Uma for $2.1m (est $1m-$1.5m), and the highest price for a Tibetan painting when a 13th-century depiction of the three-headed Vairocana made $1.5m (est $550,000-$750,000).

Sotheby’s

Despite its disappointing overall results, Sotheby’s achieved some high prices—even though its contemporary sale on 17 March coincided with the collapse of Bear Stearns. Records were set for Li Huayi, Huang Gang, Guo Jin, Li Jikai and Qiu Xiaofei. “Given that day of market volatility, Chinese contemporary sales were strong,” says Mr Howard-Sneyd.

The following day, an early Ming “Jun” narcissus bowl sold to Hong Kong antiques dealer, Chak’s for $825,000 (est $300,000-$400,000). This was one of the works on offer from the private Dexingshuwu Collection of 30 ceramics dating from the Five Dynasties period (907-960 AD). A similar bowl from the same collection sold for $870,000 (est $400,000-$500,000). Also from a private collection, an 18th-century bamboo carving of Eight Daoist Immortals Crossing the Sea, Qing dynasty, consigned by Walter and Mona Lutz (together with another 30-plus bamboo carvings), sold for $217,000 (est $40,000-$60,000) to an Asian private buyer.

Dealers

A total of 23 dealers held private exhibitions in the Fuller Building at 57th Street and Madison Avenue throughout the last two weeks of March. London dealer Francesca Galloway, previously a ten-year Haughton fair veteran, found that “having a gallery as opposed to a fair stand is superior: far more space, yet also more intimate, and an entirely new group of clients.”

She sold 15 Indian miniatures with prices from $30,000 up to six-figures. Another five were reserved by museums. Rossi & Rossi, also showing in the Fuller Building, racked up 15 sales of 18th- and 19th-century Tantric carpets, including one to a UK collector, which sold for between $150,000 and $175,000. Across 57th Street, Marcus Flacks sold well, including a pair of Ming wood cabinets for around $1m to an American client.

The Haughton fair, which had changed dates to avoid Easter, moved this year from the Park Avenue Armory to the Christian Science Church. Dealers found the new quarters “cramped”, with some in the basement. Others were on built-up stands in the balcony right below the 50-ft dome, causing Washington, DC dealer David Swetzoff to ask: “Are there slides down to the entrance?”

The fair has lost the appeal of its glory days of the late 1990s, when it boasted 60 dealers, many top tier, with only 32 taking part this year. Sales seemed patchy. Veteran Japanese prints and ceramics dealer Joan Mirviss sold a number of vessels, but says: “I didn’t sell a single screen as it’s not possible in this space to get the distance to appreciate them.” Will she return to the fair in this same spot? “The answer to that is a big question mark,” she says.

But London dealer Stuart Marchant sold, among other objects, a yellow Kangxi bowl for over $100,000 to a client from the Chinese mainland. “I would definitely return as the fair has gone upmarket with top dealers like Nick Grindlay and Bob Hall,” he said.

Brook S. Mason

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