Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
    Art from the East
by Fred Stern
Japanese Inro
18th century
est. $1,800-$20,000
Sotheby's, Sept. 14
est. $1,400-$5,000
Doyle New York, Sept. 13
Noh masks
19th century
est. $1,000-$5,000
Sotheby's, Sept. 14
12 panel Chinese lacquer screen
Kangxi period
ca. 1678
est. $70,000-$90,000
Christie's, Sept. 16
One of a pair of Sancai (three color) galzed pottery figures from the Tang dynasty
est. $80,000-$120,000
Christie's, Sept. 16
Japanese tsuba
17th and 18th centuries
est. $2,500-$5,000
Christie's, Sept. 13
Archaic bronze wine vessel
Eastern Zhou dynasty (400 BC)
est. $30,000-$40,000
Christie's, Sept. 16
Tibetan gilt bronze figure of Buddha Sukyamuni, 15th century
est. $60,000-$90,000
Sotheby's, Sept. 16
You don't quite know when Pop culture lost its appeal. Maybe it was the seemingly endless promos for the new season of dumb comedies. Or maybe it was the advent of superbillboards. Anyway, you can't look at that stuff anymore.

For a welcome change of pace, immerse yourself in Asia Week, coming up Sept. 13 to Sept. 17 in New York. The auction houses and the galleries will be strutting their stuff, and the Arts of Pacific Asia Show will be at the uptown Armory. You'll see the beautiful, the exciting and the adventurous, with many pieces still surprisingly affordable. You can start this weekend, with viewings of the Asian wares at Sotheby's, Christie's and Doyle.

By way of introduction, we briefly describe three unique areas of Asian collecting, then move on to a summary of the scheduled auctions.

INRO. The word literally means "seal box." Inro are small wooden containers, with four or five smaller compartments, meant to carry snuff, tobacco, coins or medication. A Japanese man of the upper class wore an inro suspended from his kimono sash. The era of the inro, which began in the 15th century, came to an end about 100 years ago when men gave up their kimonos for Western-style clothing.

Inro were lacquered or inlaid with gold, silver or mother of pearl. Decorated with birds, landscapes, historic personages and scenes from Japanese legends, inro are fantastic miniatures. Good inro begin at about $1,500. They'll be sold at Sotheby's on Sept. 14.

NETSUKE. To prevent an inro from sliding right off the kimono sash, a fastener was needed: a netsuke. (pronounced "netsky" ) At first, netsuke were made of wood or tree roots. But as time went on, fastidious men demanded more of this utilitarian object. Netsuke were carved from ivory and other precious materials into the most fantastic shapes and figures, mice and birds, sages and elephants, frogs and puppies, crying babies, bridges and landscapes. Netsuke are one to two inches in size. Pricing depends on intricacy of design, age and rarity, with netsuke beginning in the upper three figures and going up to the mid-four figures. You'll find them at Christie's, Sotheby's, and Doyle.

NOH MASKS. Masks are a special part of Japan's cultural life, especially the masks made for the great series of 16th-century Noh plays. More than 100 different Noh masks exist, each worn for a different role in one of the plays. The masks are made of wood coated with plaster, then painted and gilded. Only at Sotheby's.

Now, on to the auctions.

Sotheby's, 1334 York Avenue at 72nd Street, 606-7010.
* Korean art, Monday, Sept. 13
Ceramic bottles and wares from the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392 AD). So outstanding was the Koryo ceramic ware -- the vases, plates and ceremonial vessels in their soft green celadon shade -- that its owners chose to be buried with their treasures. An ancient Chinese traveler in Korea designated Koryo ceramics as being "of the first most secret color under heaven." In the early part of this century thousands of Koreans excavated these ceramics. Price estimates range from $1,500 to $80,000.

* Japanese art, Tuesday, Sept. 14
Look for the 120 inro being offered mostly from the Cleveland Museum of Art (rumor has it that the museum has in excess of 2,500 inro, and is looking to expand its collections in Oceanic and aboriginal art). These are primarily 19th-century ivories of incredible intricacy and design, with estimates ranging from $1,800 to $20,000. Look also for a diverse group of 12th- to 19th-century Shinto and Buddhist sculptures, estimated at $40,000 to $150,000 and a group of sword fittings, or tsuba, estimated at $600 to $3,000. 6) Gold and lacquer inro are estimated in the $1,000-$9,000 range, and Noh masks from $1,000-$3,500. Carvings, screens and prints make up the rest of the sale.

* Chinese art, Wednesday, Sept. 15
Did you know that China had the secret of making porcelain a full 800 years before the West? The finest offering in this category is the 12 "famille verte" cups, one for each month. They are from the Kangxi period (1662-1722 AD), and are estimated to bring between $60,000 and $80,000.

Stone, bronze, and wood sculptures of gods, guardians, dogs and astronomical figures estimated at $10,000 to $150,000 enliven this auction, which traditionally attracts the largest number of bidders.

* Southeast Asian Art, Thursday, Sept. 16
This year's offerings in the art of India, Cambodia, Tibet and the Himalayan kingdoms beggar previous auctions and are expected to lead to fierce bidding. Rare Tibetan stone stele are expected to top $90,000. Tibetan temple hangings, or thankas, some from the 14th century, are expected to bring $12,000 to $90,000. Look also for Indian gouaches, unique works that range from $1,500 to $60,000.

Christie's East, 219 East 67th Street
* Asian decorative arts, Monday, Sept. 13
Art in all categories with many items under $1,000. Offerings include ceramic figurines, Chinese vases and jars and Tibetan bronze figures.

Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Plaza at 49th Street, 636-2000.
* Japanese ceramics and Korean art, Wednesday, Sept. 15
Paintings, screens and ceramics dominate these offerings.

* Chinese sculpture from a private collection, Thursday, Sept. 16
Here you will see the glories of China's Tang and Han dynasties. Look particularly at horses and camels in a rare, tricolor sancai glaze. For the novice collector, this auction of top pieces is for viewing only.

Immediately following, Christie's is holding a sale of Chinese furniture, ceramics and other works of art. Classic Chinese furniture has a characteristic dark, almost mahogany look, created with a dark hardwood called Huanghuali. These 17th- and 18th-century pieces are estimated to bring $6,000 to $40,000.

Green celadon, white and rose-colored vases and jades are in the sale as well as textiles, kimonos and wall hangings.

* Indian and Southeast Asian art, Friday, Sept. 17.
Exquisitely carved manuscript covers from 14th-century Tibet (est. $3,000-$40,000) and a large array of Indian sandstone figures ($3,000-$30,000) power this last of Christie's Asia Week sales.

Phillips International, 406 East 79th Street, 570-4830.
* Chinese ceramics and bronzes, Friday, Sept. 17.
This unique private collection is being offered in this single sale. Look at the pottery models around the $1,000 level or less. Viewing is Saturday, Sept. 11 to Thursday, Sept. 16.

Doyle New York, 175 East 87th Street, 427-2730.
* Asian art, Monday, Sept. 13.
Doyle offers over 250 items in all categories. Look for Japanese silk hangings, small Japanese cloisonne vases and netsuke.

FRED STERN writes on art and antiques.