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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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