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ART MARKET WATCH
Mar. 26, 2007 

BIG PRICES DURING ASIA WEEK
The loosely defined "Asia Week" took hold of New York last week, with a series of sales at both Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses, the International Asian Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory (which continues through Wednesday, Mar. 28), and the New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show at the Gramercy Park Armory, as well as a wealth of exhibitions at the city's Asian art galleries.

Sotheby's led the way at the auction houses, with a set of five Asian art auctions that cumulatively totaled $89,768,740, above the presale high estimate and a new record for Asian art sales in New York. The top-selling lot was a Chinese Bronze Age wine vessel from the late Shang Dynasty (13th-11th century B.C.), which sold for $8,104,000 -- well above the presale high estimate of $3 million and a new record for Chinese art at Sotheby's New York. The buyer was London dealer Roger Keverne, who was bidding on behalf of Compton Verney, a three-year-old museum near Stratford-on-Avon founded by British businessman and art collector Peter Moores, former chairman of the Littlewoods gambling and retail empire. ††

The vessel was one of a trove of Asian art objects sold this week by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, which now focuses on modern and contemporary art. The museum is unloading more than 200 non-contemporary objects from its collection at a series of sales at Sotheby's between now and June. Many of the best lots were donated to the museum by Buffalo-born chemist Arthur B. Michael, who died in 1942.

Albright-Knox property sold during Asia Week included a massive limestone chimera from the first half of the 6th century, which was purchased for $5,472,000 by an anonymous Asian private collector, and an early 6th-century limestone carving of a seated "pensive" maitreya, which sold for $1,361,600 to New York dealer Eskenazi Ltd, bidding on behalf of an anonymous buyer.

The Albright-Knox scored still another high in Sotheby's sale of Indian and Southeast Asian works of art on Mar. 23, when a granite carving of Shiva as Brahma dating from the Chola Period (10th century) sold for $4,072,000. The price was just at the lot's high presale estimate of $4 million, and a record for Indian stone sculpture at auction. The buyer was again New York dealer John Eskenazi, again bidding on behalf of an anonymous buyer.

The total for the week for the Albright-Knox property is $25,376,000 (including the buyer's premium of 20 percent on the first $500,000 and 12 percent on the remainder). Not bad -- that old museum provenance helps, as does the exemption from paying sales taxes on works sold by nonprofits. The next installment of Albright-Knox works hits the block at Sotheby's African, Oceanic and pre-Columbian auction on May 17, 2007.

Sotheby's also did some business at the contemporary end of the market, needless to say. The firm's sale of Indian art on Mar. 22 totaled $15,007,880, a record for a sale of Indian art at the house, with almost 88 percent of the works selling, or 149 of 170 lots. The top ten featured the stars of the contemporary and modern Indian art market -- Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain and others, whose works sold in the low seven-figure and high six-figure range. "We are exceptionally pleased," said Sotheby's specialist Zara Porter Hill.

One relative youngster in the top ten was Rameshwar Broota (b. 1941), whose Captives (1989), an ominous black-and-white painting of gaunt figures behind a chain-link fence, sold for $779,200, well above the presale high estimate of $450,000.

Sotheby's also had a huge sale of contemporary Chinese, Japanese and Korean art on Mar. 21, its third such sale in New York. The auction totaled $25,348,600, with 237 of 310 lots selling, or 76.4 percent. The sale was called "the highest total to date for a dedicated sale of contemporary Asian art," and set more than 20 new auction records for individual artists.

Top lot was Zhang Xiaogang's Bloodline: Three Comrades (1994), a pensive portrait of three Communist Party cadres, which sold for $2,112,000, just above the presale high estimate. Yue Minjun's Goldfish (1993), which features a row of the artist's trademark laughing men looking over a balustrade at a single fish, sold for $1,384,000 to an anonymous buyer. Leng Jun's "Neorealist" Five Pointed Star (1999), a rendering of the Chinese emblem as a battered and blackened object, went for $1,215,000 to a private Chinese buyer. Both prices were new auction records for the artists.

The new hunger for Chinese contemporary seems to be single-handedly reviving the market for realist and figurative art, with new auction records set for Jiang Guo Fang ($420,000), Shi Xinning ($372,000), Tang Zhigang ($360,000), Yu Youhan ($126,000), Jiang Shuo ($126,000) and several others.

One abstractionist who set a new record at Sotheby's was New York painter Emily Cheng, whose Lotus Rising (2003) sold for $14,400, in the mid-range of its presale estimate of $12,000-$18,000.

Christie's series of Asia Week sales, held Mar. 20-22, totaled $39,569,460, the second-highest total for the house. The Mar. 21 sale of modern and contemporary Indian art totaled $8.6 million, with 79 percent of the lots finding buyers. The top lot was V.S. Gaitonde's Untitled (1968), which sold for $768,000. Other works in the top ten included a 1982 abstraction by Syed Raza, which went for $480,000, and a romantic oil on canvas of a winsome Vasantasena by C. Raja Raja Varma, which sold for $420,000.

JANE AUSTEN AT CHRISTIE'S
Christie's Old Masters sale in New York on Apr. 19, 2007, features what may well be the only known full-length portrait of beloved author Jane Austen (1775-1817), painted by Ozias Humphry in ca. 1790 when the sitter was about 15 years old. Now called the "Rice Portrait of Jane Austen," the picture carries an estimate of $400,000-$800,000. It was displayed in New York three years ago, when it was the subject of a scholarly investigation; see Artnet News, May 4, 2004.


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