Neither New York auction house had what you could call "glowing expectations" for this September's Asian art sales -- so the good results were a pleasant surprise.
True, many Hong Kong regulars stayed away, and the European contingent wasn't as numerous or adventuresome as in previous sessions. Nevertheless, the best things did well, with results exceeding their "not especially tame" estimates.
Total Christie's sales were $15,603,000 from five sales. Sotheby's two sales totaled $4,600,000.
Sotheby's Chinese art department was gratified by the strong bidding it received in its Sept. 19 sale for the Reid double gourd vase, decorated with a dense pattern of gourds, leaves and blossoms, which sold for $345,000, more than ten times the low estimate of $30,000. The yellow and green color scheme is rare; other examples exist in blue and white.
A strong demand for early pottery was amply demonstrated by the sale of a pair of Tang horses, modeled as male and female, which brought $174,500 (est. $120,000-$150,000). The market was very selective in terms of purchases and unsold lots exceeded those sold.
In Sotheby's second auction of the week, Indian and Southeast Asian art on Sept. 20, a triumphant $669,500 was paid for a Gandharan gray schist Buddha, a record for a Gandharan work of art at auction, exceeding its low estimate almost nine times over. The sculpture was apparently found in 1880 in a plowed field Peshawar and shipped to England soon after. Here again more than 50 percent of the offered lots did not sell.
Indian contemporary art, paintings in particular, is building a strong market for itself. Sotheby's sold a total of almost $260,000 in this category, with the top lot, a kind of "New Image" painting (with abstracted images of mountains, a bird and a floating rock) by Jagdish Swaminathan 1928-93), selling for $44,000 (est. $15,000-$20,000).
At Christie's, the Japanese and Korean art sale on Sept. 18 was the most successful in four years, bringing in close to $3,500,000. The top two lots were a blue and white porcelain jar from the Korean Choson Period (18th century), which sold for $559,000, and a painting by the contemporary Korean artist Park Sookeum, which went for $ 449,500 -- so about 30 percent of the sale total came from these two lots.
Most of the rest of the sale was Japanese material, including a 15th-century l hanging scroll depicting the four seasons that garnered $218,500, double the low estimate, and a complete set of prints by Hiroshige of the "53 Stations the Tokaido Road," that went for $218,500.
In Christie's Sept. 19 Indian and Southeast Asian sale, the top lot was a 15th-century imperial thangka of Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi (symbolic of the union of wisdom and compassion), which went for $724,500, in the middle of its presale estimate of $650,000-$750,000. A beautiful gray schist Gandharan sculpture of Tyche, the goddess of cities and fortune, sold for $339,500, above its $300,000 high quote.
A large painted triptych by the contemporary Indian artist Tyeb Mehta (b. 1925), titled Celebration (1995) and resembling Matisse's The Dance, realized a surprising $317,000, over a presale estimate of $180,000-$200,000 and a record auction price for the artist. It was sold from the collection of the Times of India. The entire group of contemporary Indian art brought in almost $900,000 in this sale, and it seems likely that top Indian artists will be featured in future Asian sales at Christie's. "This category is growing by leaps and bounds," says the Bombay-based specialist.
An unusually large spinach-green jade brushpot , or bitong, with exceptional decorations and carvings, led the Chinese category on Sept. 20. At $394,000, it sold for well above its presale estimate of $100,000-$150,000. A Ming blue and white meiping (flower pot) from the mid-15th century was the second highest sale item at $317,000.
Finally, the sale of Dr. S.Y. Yip's collection of important classical Chinese furniture on Sept. 20 realized close to $3,000,000. A 16th-century hardwood bed sold for $350,000, a clothes rack for $295,000 and a lute leg table for $251,500.