Since its inauguration three years ago, Asian Art in London has been an unqualified success. A week-long festival of Asian Art auctions, exhibitions, lectures and symposia, the event brings together dealers, curators, scholars and collectors from all over the world. The dealers now mount their major exhibitions this week of the year and every one has a tremendous party; news and information is exchanged and a great deal of business is done especially at the top end of the market. This year there are 52 participants, centred in three main areas, St James’s, Bond Street and Kensington Church Street, but there are exhibitions as far north as Belsize Park and Islington and as far south as Battersea. It is impossible to review all the exhibitions and many of the dealers are showing new stock rather than a special themed exhibition but a detailed handbook with maps and listings of all participating dealers can be obtained free on +44(0) 20 74992215. Here are some of the highlights.
Rare Imperial porcelains are more commonly sold in Hong Kong these days but Anthony Carter is selling some of the cherries from the Chase Gillmore collection which have been on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago since the 1970s. There are about 10 mainly 15th- and 16th-century pieces of which by far the most important are a wucai covered box made for the Emperor Wanli and a large Yongle period blue and white grape dish. Chase Gillmore belonged to the old school of collectors, passionate about his subject. He set up a second business running a Chinese restaurant to finance his collecting habit and sent a monthly cheque to Bluetts in London who acted as his agent.
With the number of fake jades now circulating on the market, provenance in this field is everything and Marchant have put together a special exhibition of jades, hand picked from private collectors, to celebrate the firm’s 70th anniversary. This includes some stunning pieces such as a Mughal bowl made for the Emperor Qianlong, and a lotus bowl from the De Segonzac collection. Another jade specialist, Roger Keverne, has a fabulous Qianlong jade rhyton, the cup emerging from a phoenix. He also shows fine Song porcelain, scholars’ desk objects and a collection of Chinese glass painting.
There is a good spread of Chinese furniture this year with Eskenazi joining Grace Wu Bruce, Nicholas Grindley and Christopher Cooke with a small exhibition of classical Chinese furniture. One of their more remarkable pieces is a 17th-century clothes rack with an early version of the Wellington boot holder at the bottom. An extraordinary piece of design and craftsmanship, it is hard to imagine it was such a functional object.
Moving on to Japanese art, Barry Davies shows inro and Japanese lacquer from the Jacques Carré collection. The Carré collection of Netsuke was sold by Eskenazi in 1993 but this part of the collection is less well known. Jo Earle’s scholarly introduction to the catalogue places these pieces in their historical and cultural context. Gregg Baker also has his customary show of Japanese screens from 1600-1900 which last year sold out completely.
The Southeast Asian field continues to gather strength. John Eskenazi shows important sculpture including an embracing couple from North East India and a 10th-century stele of Shiva resting against the bull Nandi. Danart meanwhile has an exhibition of jewellery which might have adorned Indian statues. The vast majority of sculptures would have been gilded and then adorned with statue jewellery. They exhibit earrings, necklaces, breast plates and rings which are far too massive to have been worn by humans. Alexander Götz shows a collection of pre-Indus pottery which is very little known in the West even in museum collections. These vessels date from 5,000 to 1,800 BC which makes them contemporary with the great civilisation of Mesopotamia. The pottery shows a whole range of decoration from basic geometric forms to figurative designs in vibrant pinks and turquoise.
Spink celebrates the opening of its new Indian and Islamic gallery (this was the only Far Eastern department to escape closure last year) with a major exhibition, “Gopi’s goddesses and demons”. This includes an important group of Islamic tiles from Iran, Syria and Turkey and a spectacular silver-inlaid bronze bowl and cover of the 12th century from Iran. The bulk of the show is made up of Mughal miniatures and some stunning Indian works of art including Mughal armour and sandstone carving. Sam Fogg is now a major force in the Eastern manuscript market and mounts an important exhibition of Indian court painting and Chinese illustrated books.
Other former Spink employees Antonia Tozer and John Tucker have opened their own gallery in Bury Street covering a broad range of Asian art. Recently returned from a trip to Central Asia their exhibition includes newly acquired textiles as well as Gandharan gold and Chinese ceramics.
Textiles are one of the richest aspects of Asian heritage and there is a wide choice on offer from the very rare to later more decorative and affordable objects. Joss Graham shows “Phulkari and Bagh: embroidered gardens from the Punjab: 1850-1951”. Unlike Mughal embroidery these are not realistic gardens but gardens of the imagination worked in geometric patterns which resemble the lattice “jalis” or screens found in Mughal architecture. They were worn on the head for important ceremonies. Jacqueline Simcox has an exhibition of rare Chinese, Tibetan and central Asian textiles with examples from as early as the first and second centuries BC through the Yuan, Ming and Qing period. The show is a celebration of the superb technical skills of the Chinese weavers over 2,000 years. Textile Gallery make a bold statement with 12 spectacular medallion suzani from Bukahra in present day Uzbekistan, made as wedding dowries. Many were exported in the 19th century. The medallion group are the most colourful and overwhelming in their design, and although they were once considered crude and barbaric, today they are the most valuable type.
There is also a strong contemporary element to Asian Art Week. Asia Contemporary Art, the UK agent for Han Art have recently opened their gallery in Lambs Conduit Street. They are showing woodblocks by Zhao Yannian. Expressive and dramatic, these portray everyday life in modern China over the last 50 years. Shirley Day shows an exhibition of paintings by the Australian Robert Powell, “Behind the Himalayas – paintings of Mustang” which was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute last year. Mustang is a lonely, barren rocky part of north Nepal and Powell has worked as part of a German Research Foundation documenting its ancient culture. These paintings evoke rather than depict the spirit of the place. Merging the actual with the imaginary they transcribe the bleak landscape, the mud walls and wooden roofs of the architecture and the sacrificial animal bones on rocky outcrops.
Rossi and Rossi meanwhile mount a highly original show of photographs by Martine Franck which captures the young Tibetan Tulkas either alone or with their teachers. A Tulka is the reincarnation of a Lama: after his death the Lama is reborn in the body of a child and the children are generally recognised at the age of three or four and enter a monastery to begin their spiritual education at the age of six. These captivating images show how they remain essentially children, with a strong sense of fun as well as an awareness of the more serious side of their life.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Dealers, scholars and collectors congregate for major shows and great parties'