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Mar. 26, 2008 

The global nature of the art market offers some hope that art prices might weather the U.S. economic recession, and that hope is boosted by the shining results of Asian art sales in New York at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s during the first week of spring.

Christie’s total for its series of sales on Mar. 18-21, 2008, was $80,068,489, the highest total ever. Buyers hailed from both Asia and the West, according to Christie’s expert Theow H. Tow. Christie’s dominated the week, with what the firm said was a 63 percent share of the total sales.

The total was boosted by the $14,377,000 paid for the 12th-century Dainichi Nyorai Buddha, a new record for a Japanese artwork. The sculpture, made of Cyprus wood and containing hidden in its insides a wood pagoda, a crystal pagoda and a crystal ball on a bronze stand (as revealed by x-rays), was bought by Mitsukoshi Ltd., a major department store.

New auction records were set in several categories, including snuff bottles ($825,000), Liao Dynasty bronzes ($2,505,000), Chinese archaic jades ($421,000), Indian sculpture ($4,969,000, for a sandstone Buddha), Indian painting ($2,225,000), Khmer sculpture ($2,113,000) and Tibetan painting ($1,497,000).

Modern and contemporary art saw good results as well. The sale of South Asian modern and contemporary art on Mar. 20 totaled $10,974,600, with 89 percent of the lots finding buyers. Macqool Fida Husain’s Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabhartata 12 (1972) went for $1,609,000, a new record for any contemporary Indian painting. And Ram Kumar’s Vagabond (1956) was knocked down for $1,161,000, a record for the artist.

A new record was set as well for the modern Korean artist Kim Whanki (1913-74), whose traditional oil painting of a porcelain jar and plum blossoms sold for $825,000.

Christie’s holds additional Asian art sales in London, May 13-16, 2008, and in Hong Kong, May 24-28, 2008, when the firm launches its inaugural Hong Kong sale of Asian contemporary art and Chinese 20th-century art.

Sotheby’s four New York sales of Asian art, Mar. 17-19, 2008, totaled $46,435,414. In the contemporary department, Sotheby’s "Contemporary Art Asia: China Korea Japan" auction on Mar. 17, 2008, totaled $23,210,525, with 233 of 291 lots finding buyers, or just over 80 percent.

Top lots included Zeng Fanzhi’s expressionistic Mask Series No. 11 triptych from 1996, which went for $1,217,000, above the presale high estimate of $1,000,000, and Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline Series: Big Family No. 8, also from 1996, which sold for $937,000, just under the $1,000,000 presale low estimate.

Li Huayi’s ethereal Autumn Mountains (2007), a misty view of mountains, waterfalls and a natural bridge, sold for $451,000, a record for a Chinese contemporary ink painting at auction. At the other end of the esthetic spectrum, Yan Pei-Ming’s 1998 portrait of Mao was purchased for $481,000. The buyer, a private European collector, got a relative bargain -- Yan’s auction record for a Mao portrait is $1,609,000

Sotheby’s spring sale of Indian and Southeast Asian art on Mar. 19, 2008, totaled $12,133,626 for 241 lots. Top prices were achieved for paintings by M.F. Husain ($409,000), F.N. Souza ($313,000) and S.H. Raza ($241,000).

For complete, illustrated auction results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report .

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