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Asia Week


by Brook S. Mason
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The Asian art-market explosion is being felt on the other side of the world -- right here in Manhattan, that is. The annual spring extravaganza known as Asia Week, Mar. 16-24, 2012, features sales at no less than five auction houses, and also expands its reach to include 33 gallery shows plus events at 17 museums and Asian cultural institutions. In 2009, a mere 16 galleries took part.

New this year are Pace Prints and the Chelsea-based Chambers Fine Art. “Asia Week is a natural for us, as we have eight Asian artists to showcase from China, Japan and Korea,” says Dick Solomon, who heads up Pace Prints. Among the Pace eight are Zhang Huan, Yue Minjun, Yoshitomo Nara, Qin Feng and Lee Ufan. Solomon reports that the response to those artists was great when Pace showed them at both Art Basel and the Hong Kong Art Fair.

“We were rather minus the contemporary galleries until this year, so this as a very positive move,” says Henry Howard-Sneyd, chairman of Asia Week New York 2012 and Sotheby's head of Asian art in the Americas. Asia Week is nothing if not interdisciplinary, incorporating porcelain, jewelry, paintings, ceramics, sculpture, books, bronzes, prints, photographs, and jades from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia.

Chambers Fine Art director Christophe Mao does see a crossover of traditional collectors into contemporary art, though he says it is slight. “Maybe an increase of roughly 5-10 percent over the last five years” is how he is quantifies this shift.

During Asia Week, Chambers Fine Art will introduce two new bodies of work -- titled Rainbow and Seven-Layered Shell -- by Wu Jian’an, an emerging artist from China. Using techniques derived from the traditional folk-art of paper cutting, Wu Jian’an constructs large-scale installations from thousands of cut-paper figures whose forms are derived from Chinese mythology. 

Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art, an art advisory with offices in New York (at 724 Fifth Avenue), London and Hong Kong, is featuring photographs of the Yanaka district, the oldest neighborhood in Tokyo, by the contemporary Singapore photographer Kheng-Li Wee.

“A number of museums in the East are interested in his work,” says Richard Hennessy, “and we hope to attract traditional collectors to his photography.” To that end, the Kheng-Li Wee’s images have been mounted as Japanese scrolls.

“Even collectors of Ming porcelain are interested in contemporary art” said Hennessy.

Auction houses participating include Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams, Doyle and iGavel. Dealers hail from England, France, Italy, Japan and Thailand. The week also includes lectures and symposia by leading experts in the field.

Capping the activities is the Morgan Library & Museum exhibition, “Highlights from the Morgan’s Collection,” which features Chinese works of art with many from the personal collection of library founder Pierpont Morgan.

Asked to compare the competing Asian art markets of London, New York and Hong Kong, Howard-Sneyd says, “I see strength in all three markets, it’s the equivalent of a three-legged stool.”

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.