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Christie's Asia Week
Japanese and Korean Art Auction - September 18, 2007
Fine Chinese Ceramics, Jades and Works of Art Auction - September 19, 2007
The Merian Collection: Important Chinese Snuff Bottles Auction - September 19, 2007
Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Auction - September 20, 2007
Gandharan Buddhist Art from the Collection of a Prince Auction - September 20, 2007
Indian and Southeast Asian Art Auction - September 21, 2007

"Across an Unresolved Story" by Santhosh

Lot 29, "Across an Unresolved Story, by T.V. Santhosh, oil on canvas, 47 5/8 by 71 5/8 inches, 2005.

By Michele Leight

Photographs by Michele Leight

Christie's galleries were humming with activity in anticipation of Asia week, September 18-21, 2007, as experts enthusiastically shared their knowledge of a dazzling assortment of artifacts reflecting the excellence, sophistication and antiquity of the great civilizations in which they were created, while giving equal attention to the meteoric rise of modern and contemporary art recently, especially in India and China.

Reclining celestial woman
Lot 77, "Reclining Celestial Woman," circa 1173, Collection Ariane Dandois

The quality of art works on offer at Christies Asia Week is exceptionally high, notably a gleaming group of Tibetan gilt bronzes from a Roman collection, a prince's collection of Gandharan art from the 1st century, a diminutive snuff bottle from the Imperial Workshops in Beijing, stunning ancient Indian and Southeast Asian art from the collection of Ariane Dandois - like the fine reclining goddess illustrated above - and a drop-dead gorgeous 18th century Japanese screen featuring "Cranes." Such outstanding creativity from the great artists of the past sets the bar high, offering an awesome historical context for modern and contemporary art.

Christie's sale of Classical and Contemporary Indian art realized $21.7 million, with Chinese art realizing $17.3 million. The overall result of sales for Christies Asia Week 2007 was $44,316,701.

Samurai suits of armor

Samurai Suits of Armor in Christies "Sol Lewitt" Entrance at Rockefeller Center

The full spectrum of Asia's abundant treasures begins in Christies vibrant "Sol LeWitt" entrance with three Samurai warrior's suits of armor and helmets dating from the Muromachi period (16th Century, estimate $30,000-40,000) and the Edo period (18th century, estimate $20,000-25,000), softened by a luscious row of exquisite plum colored kimonos.

The focus shifts further back in time to India and Pakistan in the lobby with a breathtaking group of Gandharan schist sculptures whose timeless beauty serves as a reminder that, while India and China may be regarded as "new" superpowers today, both were flourishing cultures many centuries ago.

Gable relief, Gandhara, shown by Dr. Hugo K. Weihe

Lot 232, Dr. Hugo K. Weihe, International Director Asian Art, senior vice president and International Specialist Head Indian and Southeast Asian Art, at Christie's, pointed to Important Green Schist Gable Relief, Gandhara, 2nd to 3rd Century, at press preview

The Gandharan Buddhist sculptures include a rare arched relief, Lot 232, estimate $200,000-300,000) depicting scenes from Buddha's life, that offer the viewer a historical snapshot of an ancient civilization that once dwelled in the Peshawar region in the foothills of the Himalayas, now Pakistan. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $529,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. The political upheaval in the region today makes these peaceful artworks all the more alluring and significant.

Extraordinarily humanistic and expressive, these magnificent works of art are a fusion of Eastern and Western philosophies and ideals forged on compassion and understanding. It is no coincidence that Gandhara was an important Buddhist center from the 1st-8th centuries, where the first Buddhist sculptures were created.

Large gray schist figure of Buddha

Lot 227 "Large Gray Schist Figure of Buddha" Gandhara, 2nd to 3rd Century, second from the left

An exceptional "Large Gray Schist Figure of Buddha," Lot 227, also carved in Gandhara in the 2nd/3rd century depicts him with an "other worldly" halo, in sharp contrast to his life-like left hand grasping the drapery of his finely carved tunic or sanghati. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $181,000. Lot 207, another "Gray Schist Figure of a Standing Buddha" from Gandhara, 2nd/3rd century is graceful and sensitively carved, and has an estimate of $25,000 to $30,000. It sold for $73,000. Lot 264. "A Gray Schist Head of a Bodhisatva," has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for $27,400. Lot 241, "A Rare and Important Gray Schist Double Sided Figure of Buddha and Maitreya," has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $193,000.

The Dalai Lama, who wrote the forward of the catalog "Gandharan Buddhist Art from the Collection of a Prince" offers insight into a golden age of enlightenment that flourished around Buddha:

"One of the distinguishing features of the Gandharan school of art that emerged in the north-west of India is that it has been clearly influenced by the naturalism of the classical Greek style. Thus, while these images still convey the inner peace that results from putting the Buddha's doctrines into practice, they also give us an impression of people who walked and talked, etc., and slept much as we do. I feel this is very important. These figures are inspiring because they not only depict the goal, but also the sense that people like us can achieve it if we try."

Gilt figure of Nagaraja

Lot 121, A Gilt Bronze Figure of Nagaraja, Tibet, Densatil, 15th Century

Connoisseurs of Tibetan art will delight in finding one of the most stunning private collections of Tibetan bronzes at Christie's this week from Rome, not India, or Nepal as might be expected. This wonderful collection originates from the monastic complex of Densatil, near Lhasa, which was founded in the late 12th century, and was lavishly expanded and decorated from 1360 to the early 15th century. Elaborate friezes were installed along the base of large stupas.

The shimmering "Nagaraja," a serpent god,Lot 121, illustrated above, is shown kneeling, with arms raised, wearing a short dhoti and a distinctive foliate headdress. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold for $397,000. While this sinuous, graceful bronze certainly is a star of the collection, there were so many dazzling pieces on view it was difficult to choose which to write about. A beautiful gilt bronze freize of Sri Devi, Lot 123, Tibeto-Chinese, 15th century, has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000, and it depicts a heavily jeweled, mounted goddess with a sword on a lotus base surrounded by miniature deities also on lotus bases. It sold for $385,000. The otherworldly golden gleam of the Tibetan bronzes enhances their aura of mystery and awe, and it was a real privilege to see so many gathered together.

Gilt figure of Padmapani

Lot 169, "An Important Gilt Copper Figure of Padmapani," Nepal, 9th to 10th Centuries, Property from a Mid-Western Estate

Illustrated above is another magical bronze manifestation of Buddha, Lot 169, "An Important Copper Figure of Padmapani" cast from gilt copper in Nepal in the 9th to 10th century, displaying incredibly fluid and graceful lines. The lotus flower in his left hand parallels the sinuous curve of his right arm, and the partially rubbed gilt on his body reveals the copper base beneath. The lot has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $577,000.

Chinese ceramics

Chinese ceramics

Across the Himalayas, Chinese artisans have dazzled the world for centuries with exquisitely formed bronzes, snuff bottles and painted ceramics, carved jade, scholar's objects wall hangings and furniture, amongst other artifacts.

Chinese Wall Hanging and Furniture

Finely wrought monochrome amd delicately painted porcelains appear to float in their glass display cases, notably Lot 391, a red and blue apple form water pot, Kangxi Mark, circa 1662-1722, has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.It sold for $769,000. Many of the porcelains offered in this sale were from the Estate of John B. Trevor who acquired them from Duveen Brothers, the legendary fine art dealers that sold works to connoisseurs and museums in Europe and the United States.

Acouye Ganguin, gilt bronze

Lot 188, Acouye Ganguin, Gilt Bronze, Dali Kingdom, Yunnan Province, 12th Century

A highlight of the Chinese Art sale is Lot 188, a magnificent 12th century gilt bronze figure of Acuoye Guanyin, Dali Kingdom, Yunan Province. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. Cross-cultural artistic exchange is particularly evident in the endless manifestations of Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Nepalese, Gandharan, Khmer and Indian Buddhas. Even the remotest regions of Afghanistan and the Himalayas bear witness to Buddha's influence through exquisite sculptures, frescoes and carvings in his likeness in caves and on rock faces. Lot 188 sold for $1,945,000, making it the most valuable classical Asian work of art sold this week.

Imperial snuff bottle

Lot 640, Imperial Snuff Bottle, Palace Workshops, Beijing, Kangxi Yuzhi, 1715-1722

One-hundred-and-seven gleaming snuff bottles from the The Merian Collection are estimated to fetch $2.2-3.3 million including one, Lot 640, that is exceptionally rare, Imperial, from the Palace Workshops, Beijing, Kangxi Yuzhi circa 1715-1752, that has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $657,000. The single- owner collection of Mary Margaret Young, a Canadian philanthropist and collector who died in 2005, ranks amongst the finest in the world.

"Cranes" by Okyo

Lot 113 "Cranes," by Maruyama Okyo, Ink, Color and Gold Leaf, 1733-1795

The Japanese and Korean Art sale includes a stunning pair of six-panel screens, "Cranes," Lot 113, by Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795), illustrated, with a detail of the virtuoso brushwork that is synonymous with Japanese painting, rendered here in ink, color and gold leaf. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $1,105,000. This screen is truly spectacular, especially when viewed up close, where the feathers on the wings of the crane are as lifelike as any magnificent drawing by Albrecht Durer, one of the finest draughtsman of all time.

In addition to the spectacular suits of arms and armor mentioned earlier, the Japanese sale includes an important collection of swords and fittings assembled over the last four decades accompanied by certificates from the prestigious Society for the Preservation of the Japan Art Sword. A reverence for beauty imbues all Japanese artifacts, whether they are works of art or objects designed for combat and war. Many of the swords, and the Samurai suits of armor, are from the Satake Family, one of Japans most respected warrior families.A breathtaking Noh costume strewn with chrysanthemums embroidered in silk has an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000, and accompanying Noh masks are from a Japanese institution, one of several exquisite costumes and accompanying masks for sale. A Hizen Katana sword in mounts, 17th century, by Tadakuni, has an estimate of $50,000 to $60,000. It sold for $91,000.

Ancient and contemporary Korean art are well represented, previously establishing high prices at auction for contemporary artworks comparable with the surge now occurring for Indian, Pakistani and Chinese contemporary art. A beautiful scroll, Lot 46, "A Gathering of Scholars," circa 1551, bears an anonymous inscription by Chung Sayong, a courtier to four successive emperors that lived a long life from 1497-1592 at a time when longevity usually meant a lifespan of 40-50 years. It sold for $825,000.

Fast-forwarding to the present the sale includes an oil and mineral pigment painting by the well-known South Korean born contemporary artist, Lee Ufan, "From Line," 1980, has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000 and sold for $361,000 and a painting from 1960 by Kim Sou, "Untitled," showing two figures, has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000 and sold for $313,000) On a more reasonable price scale - and absolutely gorgeous - are mother of pearl inlay on lacquer ware pieces from the collection of Robert Moore,

Indian minatures

Lot 13 (left) Miniature of "Krishna and Radha," India, Rajasthan, 18th century, and Lot 14 (right) "A Love Vision," India, Bundi, late 17th Century

Christie's sale of Indian and Southeast Asian art highlights property from exceptional
Private collections, including the French art dealer Ariane Dandois, Robert H. Ellsworth two miniature paintings originally from the collection of Carter Burden and a spectacular group of Tibetan gilt bronzes from a Roman collection.

Tantric paintings

Group of Tantric Paintings from the Collection of Ariane Dandois

Whether it is the relaxed "Celestial Woman" circa 1173 with feet painted red - denoting her status as the wife of a Hindu god, illustrated at the top of the story, with an estimate $120,000 to $180,000), or an intricate group of Bikaner miniature paintings from a "Ragamala," circa 1800, with an estimate $80,000 to $100,000, the 150 works of art in Ariane Dandois collection were chosen for quality and enjoyment by a true connoisseur. Stunning Indian miniatures from a private San Francisco Collection illustrated above, include Lot 13, "Krishna and Radha," Rajasthan, 18th century, is estimated at $3,000 to $4,000 and sold for $17,500, and Lot 14, "A Love Vision," Bundi, late 17th century, has an estimatd at $25,000 to $35,000, originally in the Collection of Carter Burden and it sold for $97,000.

Lot 73, "Bindu," by Syed Haider Raza, acrilic on canvas, 59 1/2 by 59 7/8 inches, 1985, at left; Lot 39, "Untitled," (Nude) by Francis Newton Souza, oil on canvas, 48 by 32 inches, 1999

The eclectic mix of paintings and sculpture in Ariane Dandois's collection is especially fresh and exciting. Strikingly abstract Tantric paintings created to enhance meditation and spiritual serenity during yoga, (with estimates from $500-15,000) are astonishingly similar to Contemporary South Asian paintings like "Bindu," Lot 73, illustrated above, by Syed Haider Raza (b. 1922), from a private collection in Norway, which has an estimate of $180,000 to $200,000. It sold for $217,000. On the near wall is an untitled nude painting by Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002) that has an estimate of $350,000 to $500,000. It sold for $457,000.

Picchvais

Lot 313, Picchvai of Shri Nathji and the Rasalila, India, Rajasthan, Kishangarh School, 18th to 19th century

Minutely detailed picchwais on a grand scale created as backdrops in temples during religious ceremonies and for important events, (estimated at $8,000-50,000), brightly hued Kaligat paintings from Calcutta designed to woo pilgrims visiting the Kali temple, and noble Mughal miniatures offer a wonderful visual and historical reference for the vibrant modern and contemporary artists to whom the torch has been passed.

"The Red Signal" by Hassan

Lot 32, "The Red Signal, 9/11," by Ijaz Ul Hasan , oil on Canvas, 60 by 108 inches, 2003.

Lot 32, "The Red Signal, 9/11" a provocative contemporary work by Pakistani artist Ijaz Ul Hasan (b. 1940) has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000 and is light years away from the subject matter of Lot 313, the picchwai "Shri Nathiji and the Rasalila" of the 18th-19th century, from the Collection of Ariane Dandois, which has an estimate $30,000 to $40,000, but the style is familiar. Lot 313 sold for sold for $79,000. "The Red Signal" failed to sell.

Christie's South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale is packed with choice works by living artists from India and Pakistan that are experiencing a golden age, rivaling China, Indonesia and Korea in prices for contemporary art, and capturing the interest of sophisticated Asian and international collectors.

Lot 57, "Mahishasura," by Tyeb Mehta, acrylic on cancas, 59 by 47 1/4 inches, 1996

Tyeb Mehta (b. 1925), considered one of India's greatest artists, began as a filmmaker, and is a prominent member of the Progressive Artist's Group. His powerful abstract 1996 acrylic on canvas, "Mahishasura," on offer this week at Christie's, is based on the 5th century epic Markandia Purana, featuring the goddess Durga with the Buffalo Demon. It has an estimate of $750,000 to $1,250,000.This painting sold for $1,105,000. Born in Gujarat, Mehta holds the record for the highest price for an Indian painting sold at auction for another "Mahishasura" sold to a private collector of Indian origin at Christie's New York in September 2005 for $ 1,584,000.

Anish Kapoor's sculpture drew applause at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale on November 15, 2006 when his abstract sculpture "Untitled" (1999) fetched a whopping $ 2,256,000. A beautiful, saturated red watercolor by Kapoor, Lot 56, "Untitled," has an estimate of $35,000 to $50,000 and sold at this sale for $51,400.

While figurative art features prominently in Modern and Contemporary Chinese art at Sothebys, it is striking that so many of the Indian paintings in Christie's and Sotheby's sales rooms this week are abstract. That said, "Three Painters," (estimated at "$150,000-200,000), a nostalgic figurative oil and acrylic on canvas by Atul Dodiya looks as though it was painted in Rene Magritte's day, but is a contemporary work, created in 1996. Born in Mumbai in 1959, and still residing there, Atul Dodiya is one of India's leading artists and a major influence on the younger generation of artists."Three Painters" sold for $541,000, establishing a world auction record for the artist.

"A Day in the Life of Landscape" by Rana and untitled head by Reddy

Lot 112 "A Day in the Life of Landscape" by Rashid Rana, Digital Print, 72 by 113 inches, 2004, background, and Lot 118, untitled, by Ravinder Reddy, polyester, resin and fiberglass, 34 1/4 inches high, foreground

Maqbool Fida Husain is the most recognized artist in India today, whose prolific art has been visible for decades. Husain's paintings have done consistently well at auction. There are several paintings on offer at Christies, notably a poetic "Birds in Tree," (1973) that is neither horse nor woman - his favored subjects - but a brightly hued canvas that reflects rural life and the artists love of India. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $361,000.

In addition to Husain, works by well-known artists like Tyeb Mehta, Anish Kapoor, Syed Haider Raza, Ram Kumar and Francis Newton Souza are now fetching extremely high prices at auction, as are works by Contemporary artists like Rashid Rana (b. 1968), one of Pakistan's most important artists, whose gigantic, Cezannesque digital print "A Day in the Life of Landscape" (72 x 113 inches) is a conceptual work that blurs the boundaries between high art and photography, a hugely popular art form with young collectors. It has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $133,000.

Similarly, the whimsical, monumental replicas of traditional South Indian goddesses by Ravinder Reddy (b. 1956) belong more to the world of Pop Art and Jeff Koons than ancient India. The artist is from Andhra Pradest but wittily borrows from America's penchant for "super-sizing." "Untitled" head, Lot 118, fashioned from polyester, resin and fiberglass, is more "tongue-in-cheek" earth mother than an intimidating deity. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $187,000.

"La Terre" by Raza

Lot 91, "La Terre," by Syed Haider Raza, acrylic on canvas, 51 1/4 inches square, 1980

There are several stunning paintings by Syed Haider Raza, a veteran artist who was born in 1922, notably Lot 91, "La Terre," (estimate $350,000-500,000) and "Terre Noire" (Black Earth) a beautifully muted canvas that is estimated at a more reasonable $80,000-100,000. Lot 91 sold for $421,000. Raza is a member of the Progressive Artists Group and maintains consistently high standard considering how prolific he is. "Bindu" illustrated with the Tantric paintings of Ariane Dandois, is an ode to the potent colors, dazzling sunlight and mesmerizing religious and cultural diversity of India.

The art of T. V. Santhosh (b. 1968) resonates today for its subject matter, and for its cutting edge appearance. His paintings look like digitally enhanced computer images, but in fact they are superbly rendered in oil paint, a traditional artistic medium. Lot 29, "Across an Unresolved Story," the leading image of this story, is technically magnificent, and visually compelling, with toxically colored women in burkhas facing an apocalytic - possibly nuclear - sky. A solitary woman facing the viewer is obliterated by her veil, her identity extinguished. "Across an Unresolved Story," (2005), addresses current issues of feminism and religious fundamentalism. It has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. This painting sold for $217,000.

Many of Santhosh's paintings reference violence - wars, domestic, environmental, communal, poverty - today and throughout history. His paintings are also a "play" on the biases portrayed in current visual culture, holding media and television journalism to account. Ironically, however, his instantly recognizable photo-realist style is adapted from photographs - a staple of all visual and journalistic media - that he subverts by solarizing or reversing the image, like an x-ray or film negative.

Female artists are well represented at this sale: Arpita Singh (b. 1937) has a luscious vision of a domestic goddess, "The Eternal Repose," estimate $180,000 to $200,000 and it sold for $253,000; Nalini Malani (b. 1946), who was included in this year's Venice Biennale, is represented by "Love II Series," estimated at $30,000-50,000 and it sold for $46,600 and "Reverie, Portrait of Pushmapala, estimate $20,000 to $25,000 and sold for $25,000.

"Elixir" by Ponmany

Lot 140, "Elixir" by Justin Ponmany, hologram on canvas, 75 by 96 inches

Irridescent "Elixir" by Justin Ponmany (b. 1974), Lot 140, has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000 is created from industrial plastic, resin, printers ink, salt and holograms for stylistic effect, while the subject matter is based on photographs of the infinitely less glamorous gutters, detritus and alleyways of life in an Indian megalopolis, Mumbai. He glorifies contemporary cultures emails, text messages and chat rooms in a constant stream of text across his canvases. It sold for $55,000.

As collectors enthusiastically embrace modern and contemporary Asian art, it is important to also protect and preserve the Gandharan sculptures, reclining goddesses, luscious miniature paintings, petchwais and vibrant Tibetan bronzes of the past, like the fine examples on view for all too brief a time at Christies this week. Recent events have proved disastrous for the exquisite Buddhas carved into the mountains of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, when they were desecrated and destroyed by the Taliban. Hopefully this will inspire concern for what remains of ancient art.

The old and the new belong together, in galleries, museums and homes in Asia and across the world. Such rich history and quality is to be treasured, because it offers a glimpse into the creative processes and preoccupations of Asia's awesome artistic forebears, who would be wide-eyed to witness the fruits of their legacy today.

See The City Review article on Asia Week Fall 2007 at Sotheby's

 

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