By Michele Leight
New York - Samurai Warriors
armor and helmets
in Christies lobby at Rockefeller Plaza herald the return of Asia
Week in New York, 2008, marking the 10th anniversary of the Indian
and Southeast Asian Art Department at Christie's New York. Several
outstanding Buddhas from different parts of Asia are highlights
of this sale, notably "The Sarnath Buddha" illustrated
below, from the Gupta Period in India, with an estimate of $600,000
to $800,000, and a show-stopping Lot 200 in the Japanese and Korean
Art auction, "Highly Important Wood Sculpture of Daimcha
Nyorai" Kamakuza period, Japan, illustrated at the top of
the story, estimated at $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for
$14,377,000, setting a new world auction record for Japanese art,
and any Asian work of art sold in New York. According to Christie's,
the new discovered work is "believed to have come from a
temple during the Meiji period (1868-1911) when the government
officially adopted Shinto as the state religion." "Upon
leaving the temple, it was part of a prominent family collection
in the northern part of the Kanto region. The statue's existence
was unknown until it was later sold to a Buddhist dealer and brought
by the current owner. Suspecting the figure was hollow inside,
the owner approached the curator at the Tokyo National Museum
and it was discovered by X-rays that the figure contains three
dedicatory objects, sealed inside the torso for over 800 years.
The three objects, a wood five-stoage pagoda, crystal ball supported
by a bronze stand, and a crystal five-stage pagoda, represent
Buddhist symbols and are tied together with bronze wire."
Of note in this sale is a
of Japanese swords, sword fittings and helmets - 45 lots - from
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Exotic treasures include the
first ever auction
in the United States devoted to exquisite Chinese textiles in
luscious hues with swirling or geometric embroidered patterns,
fire breathing dragons and delicate peonies from the Linda Wigglesworth
Collection. Rarified works of art like Chinese Snuff Bottles,
an important Longquan celadon "Kinuta" vase, and libation
cups crafted from rhinoceros horn from the past keep company with
stunning Ghandaran sculpture, gilt bronzes from Tibet and exquisite
Mughal miniature paintings. A stunning collection of Modern and
Contemporary Art from South Asia - India and Pakistan - brings
the ancient arts of Asia full circle to the present.
"The Ideal Image: Eight
Indian and Southeast Asian Art" closes out the week long
auctions with masterpieces spanning several centuries, from the
ancient Kingdom of Ghandara, via India, the motherland of Buddhism
and Hinduism, to the Himalayas and Southeast Asia. Standing amongst
these works at cocktail hour was a sublime experiences, especially
after negotiating blaring horns, bustling crowds and fumes on
Fifth Avenue. It is no myth that these ancient sculptures have
exceptionally calming and healing powers.
"With works ranging in price
than a thousand dollars to more than a million, there is something
here for everyone," said Dr. Hugo Weihe, International Director
Asian Art, and International Specialist Head, Indian and Southeast
Asian Art at Christies. Included in "The Ideal Image"
sale are The Sarnath Buddha, (Uttar Pradesh, 4th to 6th centuries),
from the Gupta Period (estimate $600,000 to $800,000), a golden
age of the arts in India, epitomized by this graceful, minimalist
form with downcast, introspective eyes, carved from buff sandstone.
Buddha gave his first sermon after gaining enlightenment in the
Deer Park of Sarnath. It sold for $4,969,000, a world auction
record for an Indian sculpture.
"How do you price something
said Dr. Weihe. When I asked Dr. Weihe if this rare work would
disappear from view into a private collection, not to be seen
again by the general public he said:
"You will be able to see it in
you have no worries about that." That is comforting.
the highest total ever
for Asian Art sales in New York with a total of $80,068,489 for
the week. The Indian and Southeast Asian Art sales also set a
record for the series of sales with a total of $21,939,488.
Theow H. Tow, Deputy
Americas and Asia commented after the sales that “Christie’s
achieved the highest total for Asian Art sales in New York this
week and established numerous records, a testament to the superb
sales put together by Christie’s specialists." "The
strength of the market combined with an extraordinary group of
works of supreme quality, exceptional provenance and excellent
condition, contributed to the phenomenal success. We saw enthusiasm
from clients in Asia as well as the West and remarkable records
were established for masterpieces. Works of such extreme rarity
and importance were exemplified by the Dainichi Nyorai Buddha,
which sold for $14,377,000. Christie’s dominates, finishing
the week with 63% market-share for Asian Art in New York.”
To the left of Dr. Weihe in the
illustrated above is a rare sculpture of a woman in the prime
of youth, "The Baphuon Uma," Lot 508, from Khmer, Cambodia,
carved in the 11th century, from The Kaplan Colection, with an
estimate of $1,000,000-$1,500,000. Uma Khmer was named the most
important monument at the time of its creation in Cambodia. Uma
(Parvati) is the consort of Shiva, the mythological Hindu god
of destruction and renewal, and this exquisite example exudes
youth, freshness, and ethereal grace: it is as if she is floating
in space. It sold for $2,113,000, a world auction record for
Two other works of art from The
are illustrated above, "A Highly Important Granite Figure
of Venugopala," a winsome South Indian sculpture of Krishna
playing his mystical, magic flute to attract the gopis, evoking
the dance of love. This superb work of art was created in the
13th-early 14th century (estimate $500,000 to $700,000), which
"the owners let go of with great difficulty," said Dr.
Weihe, and one can see certainly see why. It is as enigmatic as
it is joyful and graceful. Venugopala metaphoricaly represents
the Supreme Being, "the great ocean into which all rivers
must merge" writes Dr. Weihe in the exhibition catalog. It
sold for $1,609,000.
The remarkable thanka from the
(illustrated above) included in this select group of eight masterpieces
is noticeable for both its beauty and its large size: the "Highly
Important Thanka of Vairocana," (estimate $450,000 to $600,000)
from Central Tibet, in mint condition, considering it was painted
in the 13th century. Exquisitely wrought, this thanka of Vairocana
symbolizes the teacher, without whom there would have been no
Buddha, and no path to enlightenment. He is surrounded by celestial
beings, including Buddhas, Indian Buddhist monks, and Bodhisattvas
arranged in registers. It sold for $1,497,000, a world
record for a Tibetan painting.
Paintings and Sculpture from
The South Asian
Modern and Contemporary Art Sale have been doing exceptionally
well in recent years, and the upcoming sale includes artworks
from Pakistan as well as India. Christies galleries were ablaze
with vibrant color - a shot of artistic adrenaline on a cold,
gray day - notably a large "Battle of Ganga and Jamuna,"
(1972) by Maqbool Fida Hussein (estimate $600,000 to $800,000)
part of a series of 27 based on the Mahabarata, the Hindu epic
detailing the cosmic civil war between the forces of right and
wrong, with morality and duty at its core. This painting shown
at the Sao Paulo Bienal, where Husain was invited to exhibit alongside
Pablo Picasso. Other paintings from this series are in the collection
of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. It sold
The catalog offers further
godesses, Ganga and Jamuna, are the personifications of the holy
rivers originating in the Himalayas, and here are depicted as
a conjoined being labeled in Sanskrit on both sides of the split.
This treatment of the figure is a highly complex and brilliant
conceptualization of the internecine strife between the warring
factions of the Kuru lineage, the Pandava and Kaurava cousins,
each descended form these River Goddeses. The mass of figures
on the right foreshadow the toll of war and pay subtle homage
to Picasso, whose "Guernica" remains a formative influence
Mother Teresa had an enormous
impact on Husain,
and has been a frequent subject in his art, including Lot 31,
"Mother Teresa" offered at this sale. Here, in his own
words, as told to Ila Paul in "Beyond the Canvas: "I
have tried to capture in my paintings what her presence meant
to the destitute and the dying, the light and hope she brought
by mere inquiry, by putting her hand over a child abandoned in
the street....That is why I try it again and again, after a gap
of time, in a different medium." The estimate for this work
is $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $205,000.
Syed Haider Raza's "Bindu
(1999) is a gorgeous fusion of abstract expressionism and the
ideas and elements of Tantrism derived from Indian scriptural
texts: "...the bindu, or the black point, can be variously
interpreted as zero, drop, seed, or sperm, and is the genesis
of creation (from the catalog). This painting has an estimate
$300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $361,000.
Taking color to an extreme is
"Untitled," (2007), Lot 75, illustrated here, depicting
a man praying or meditating, rendered in psychadelic green, red
and yellow, in his signature "reverse negative" style
(estimate $20,000 to $30,000). This is a tender departure from
the artists most often depicted themes of war, terrorism and violence,
like the much larger, similarly pigmented "Traces of an Ancient
Error," (2007), Lot 26, featuring mice, lab instruments -
the seedy side of technology, with its implied "experimental"
violence - and a scientist in a laboratory. (Estimate $150,000
to $200,000). Lot 75 sold for $85,000. Lot 26 sold for
Turning down the color volume
to almost bleached
out is a beautiful painting by Naiza Khan, drawn from a series
of painting, drawing and sculpture called 'the clothes she wears,"
that began an exploration of the "emotional content of the
body through the prism of outward attire," (catalog). These
clothes are both conventional and decidedly not so: lingerie,
chastity belts and bullet proof vests. "Restore the Boundaries,"
(2007), is arresting for its juxtaposition of a woman's torso
with an open bodice and an island off the coast of Karachi, Pakistan,
that has special meaning for the artist, as she describes in the
exhibition catalog: "The space here is completely different
from the urban metropolis of Karachi, and it seems to give shape
and space to many of my ideas."
After the sale, Hugo
specialist head of Indian and Southeast Asian Art, said that the
sale was "well received by an enthusiastic audience,"
adding that "we are gratified that new records were realized
today, including a new world auction record for any contemporary
Indian painting, which was set by M.F. Husain. Works by the senior
progressive artists performed well, led by a record for Ram Kumar's
exceptional figurative work." Of the 125 offered lots in
the South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art Sale, 111 were sold
for a total of $10,974,000.
Chinese treasures abound at
this sale, including
a magnificent collection of "Fine Chinese Costumes and Textiles
from the Linda Wigglesworth Collection," which apart from
being absolutely exquisite are also in superb condition, is also
the first single owner auction in the West devoted to Chinese
textiles, comprising 150 lots with pre-sale value of $3,300,000
to $4,600,000. Amazingly, this unparalelled collection began one
day when Linda Wigglesworth "was unpacking a shipment of
Kangxi porcelains," wrote John E.Vollmer in Christie's catalog
for this sale, and "discovered Chinese robes being used as
packing material. When asked what they were, she was told they
were 'old Chinese clothes.' But these old clothes, with their
worn, but exquisite embroidery and elaborate patterns of dragons
or flowers, held Linda's attention." There was an immediate
connection that alerted her to the urgent need both for their
preservation and for their status as artworks to be recognized.
In that afternoon, a career was born."
Tina Zonars, (above), Christies
Director for Chinese Costume and Textiles, with (left) Lot 83,
an exquisite Imperial noblewoman's kesi fur lined
surcoat, Yongzheng/Quanlong Period, (1723-1795), which she explained
was exceptionally rare because few textiles from the 18th century
survive (estimate $250,000 to $350,000) and (right) Lot 12, an
equally rare, first rank Imperial consort's embroidered summer
surcoat, longua, which appears to be the only outer
dating from the 18th century to be offered at auction (estimate
$200,000 to $250,000). Lot 83 sold for $241,000. In
contrast to the unadorned dark blue silk ground, the eight richly
embroidered dragon roundels coiled around longevity symbols are
superimposed against flames, swirling clouds and rolling waves.
Part of an Imperial yellow silk panel visible on the left, (Lot
146), is so beautiful it is hard to believe it is entirely embroidered
in minute satin stitch. This bucolic scene resplendent with pagodas
and peach trees laden with the fruit of immortality is occupied
by "immortals," and spreads out over nine glorious panels
measuring 47 x 100 1/2 inches (Estimate $300,000 to $500,000).
Linda Wigglesworth was a
consultant and advisor
to filmmaker Bernard Bertolluci for "The Last Emperor,"
(1987) and an empress's crown decorated with phoenixes is offered
at this sale (estimate $4,000 to $6,000) together with many gorgeous
accessories, including a Mandarin's velvet brimmed winter hat,
illustrated above, (Lot 115), in black and red (estimate $3,800
to $4,500), and Lot 127, a sumptuous red silk floss summer hat,
with a beautifully painted tin hat box (estimate $18,000 to $25,000).
Lot 115 sold for $8,750 and Lot 127 sold for $46,600. The
hat boxes that have protected these fragile headdresses are works
of art themselves. Rank played an important part in Imperial China,
and "rank badges" in glorious designs, and "hat
buttons" in different colors (as on these two hats) denoted
the civil, military, artistic or royal rank, or other position,
the wearer occupied in society, as did resplendent military banners,
also included in this sale.
is an exquisite white
satin Imperial Guardman's ceremonial uniform and helmet from the
Qianlong Period, 1736-1795. It has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.
It sold $115,000.
Of the 154 lots offered in the
112 sold for a total $1,800,963.
Another single owner sale "The
Collection, Part II: Important Chinese Snuff Bottles," includes
fine examples from the legendary Palace Workshops, Beijing, among
others, like Lot 295, the fine "European subject" snuff
bottle illustrated here, originally from the Robert H. Ellsworth
Collection, with an estimate of $170,000 to $200,000. It sold
for $337,000. Not shown is Lot 253, a spectacular "inside
painted" crystal snuff bottle (1900-1920) by Ma Shaoxuan,
Beijing, with a portrait of Zhang Quian (1853-1926) meticulously
rendered with "angled brushes" - comprised of a single
hair - through the tiny opening at the top (Estimate $120,000
to $140,000). It sold for $109,000. The mind boggles at the technical
agility of the artist, let alone his ability to achieve a true
likeness of his subject "backwards."
Lot 561, a Longuan celadon
Kinuta vase with
a stunning bluish-green glaze once in the collection of the reknowned
tea master Matsudaira Fumai (1751-1818) is striking for its large
size, and for its stylized dragon-fish handles, which substitute
for the more common phoenix-shaped handles.(Estimate $800,000
to $1,200,000). It sold for $2,281,000.
Lot 396 is an outstanding gilt
Bodhisattva from the 10th-11th century in superb condition. It
was extremely difficult to cast bronze figures of Buddha at that
time, let alone one of this size and quality. It has an estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $2,505,000.
elegant posture of this Liao gilt bronze is either an incarnation
of Avalokitesvara (Guanyin), the most popular and venerated Buddhist
deity of the period, or Maitreya, the "future Buddha."
Lot 436 is a winsome, finely carved dark green jade water buffalo,
17th/18th century, from the Estate of Leona M. Helmsley. It has
an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $421,000.
international director for
Christie's of Chinese Works of Art, said after the sale that "Today's
today of $26,299,588 set a record for the highest series of Chinese
Works of art sales at Christie's in New York," adding that
the Merriem Collection of snuff bottles, part II, "was 100
percent sold and set a record for a Chinese snuff bottle."
"The sale of Chinese textiles from the collection of Linda
Wrigglesworth was the first of its kind in the U.S., marking the
accomplishments of this dealer and collector, whose dedication
to the field raised Chinese textiles to the status of art."
"Winsome" also describes the
known Korean artist Park Sookeum's paintings, two of which lead
a group of 20 Korean modern and contemporary artworks at this
sale, aquired for about $30 in the '60s': Lot 468, "Mother,
child and two women," circa 1964, (estimate $500,000 to $600,000)
and Lot 469, "Coming home from market," circa 1965,
(estimate $400,000 to $500,000), which are quite diminutive in
size. Lot 468 sold for $601,000 and Lot 469 sold for
With only about 400 works created in the artist's lifetime,
any appearance of his work at auction is extremely rare. Christie's
holds the current record for Sookeum's "Seated woman and
jar," 1962, which sold for $1,239,500 in March 2004.
The "Dainichi Nyorai" Buddha
at the top of the story attracted considerable attention at the
press preview, but I had been fortunate to spend a few moments
almost entirely alone with the piece because I arrived early.
Without the glare of floodlights of the Asian TV camera crews,
and members of the press wielding notebads, the incredible "presence"
of this carved wood deity was keenly felt. It would be a wonderful
sculpture to live with. A Japanese TV reporter asked me what I
thought of the estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000, and I said
I believed it would sell for more.
"Dainichi Nyorai" is believed
be the creation of Unkei, one of the greatest carvers of the early
Kamakura period (1190). Amazingly, the statue it was discovered
by chance by a dealer in a country antiques store. The present
owner suspected the statue was hollow, and this was confirmed
by the curator at the Tokyo National Museum, when X-rays revealed
that the figure contains three dedicatory objects that have remained
sealed inside the torso for over 800 years. This is from the Christies
"From the eleventh century,
in a workshop partonized by the aristocracy or court received
honorific titles and achieved a level of recognition above that
of civil servant. In fact, sculptures from this period are often
signed inside, although the name is invisible until the sculpture
is opened, as many have been. Unkei, who was rewarded the title
of hoin, the highest rank any artist could
the likely sculptor of this Dainichi. He is the direct descendant
of the Kei School of Buddhist sculpture and his work has been
equated with the muscular, masculine style of Michaelangelo. He
produced his early work in Nara, center of traditional buddhist
sculpture, and around 1200 he moved his studio to Kyoto."
The quality of many of the
works on offer at
this sale is exceptionally high, with two, The Sarnath Buddha
and "Dainichi Nyorai, bordering on the iconic. The Chinese
costumes displayed "en masse" or in clusters, were as
uplifting as the sight of apple and cherry blossoms in spring
- a feast for the eye and a balm for the spirit.
Hugo Weihe, International
Director of Asian
Art, International Specialist Head of Indian and Southeast Asian
Art said that "The highest total for a series of Indian and
Southeast Asian Art sales was achieved with a total of $21,939,488.
Together with yesterday’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary
sale, an impressive total of $31,914,088 was achieved for Indian
and Southeast Art. Dramatic new records were established for an
Indian sculpture when a sandstone figure of Buddha reached nearly
$5 million; for Indian painting with a work by Nainsukh of Guler
that exceeding $2 million; and a sandstone figure of Uma doubled
the previous record for a Khmer sculpture – shattering all
previous records. Once again, quality, rarity and provenance were
recognized and rewarded above all.”