Asia Week in New York



A meeting between the two great powers of the global art market, Asia Week New York is an annual event in two parts. The first part took place in March and the second kicks off the autumn auction season. This strategic calendar acts as a tonic for Eastern and Western buyers after the summer break, before the major sales of Modern and Contemporary art.

For the occasion, Bonhams, Sotheby’s and Christie’s overlapped their dates (from 16 to 18 September at Bonhams, from 13 to 19 at Sotheby’s, and 17 to 20 at Christie ‘s) and offered an extremely broad variety of works from all over Asia and covering all periods. The sales attract Western collectors of course; but are particularly followed by Asian collectors who often emerge as the highest non-attending bidders. The selections included rare antiques from Korea, Japan, India, China, works in jade, calligraphic art, traditional works and a whole selection of Modern and Contemporary Asian art. Christie’s is also running a private exhibition and sale (12 to 27 September) entitled Super/Natural Contemporary Korean Art on the theme of nature and hyper-reality.

South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art at Christie’s

For this annual Asia Week rendezvous, Christie’s organised a session devoted to Modern and Contemporary Asian art that mixed the best of fine Chinese painting, with classical masterpieces by Wu school masters like Shen Zhou and Chen Chun, and pieces by Modern masters such as Qi Baishi, Zhang Daqian and Xu Beihong. This session, which took place on 17 & 18 September generated an honourable turnover ($5,096,125 including fees) compared to previous years although the unsold rate was high (38.2%). Asian Modern and Contemporary works are still less profitable than Asian antiques and classical works, but the now unavoidable signatures like Tyeb MEHTA, Maqbool Fida HUSAIN, Sayed Haider RAZA and Francis Newton SOUZA all posted good results.
Not surprisingly, the most coveted signature was, as in March, the Indian artist Syed Haider Raza. Having already boosted Christie’s sale of 20 March 2013 with a 1964 painting entitled Village Party that fetched double its estimate at $1.55 million (nearly $1.86 million including fees), Christie’s was not taking much of a risk by choosing Raza’s Italian Village for the cover of the sales catalogue for its 17 & 18 September sale. This austere geometric cityscape painted in 1953 after the artist moved to Paris, shows the influence that European art exerted on his work and this type of ‘Modern’ dialogue between two cultures is highly sought-after by collectors all over the world. In the end it was an Asian institution that acquired the canvas, generating the sale’s best result at $600,000 ($750,723 including fees) against an estimated range of $550,000 – $750,000. Raza also scored the third highest result of the sale with a 1962 work –Untitled (Landscape)– that was acquired by an English amateur. Although there is a strong market for Raza’s works in India, his “local” market only accounts for 5% of his global turnover, with 37% coming from the United States and nearly 30% in France where the artist lived for many years (compared with just 22% in the UK).

The second best result of the sale was generated by an Asian buyer who acquired an abstract work by Vasudeo. S. GAITONDE (1924 – 2001) painted in 1973. Although the result was not exactly what Christie’s had in mind, the Untitled fetched $420,000 ($507,750 including fees) which means that Sotheby’s still holds Gaitonde’s record after it generated £580,000 (approximately $901,000 excluding fees) for Painting No.1. However neither auction house has managed to generate the price levels that Gaitonde was fetching in 2006.

On the Contemporary side of the Asia Week, buyers remained cautious and circumspect as evidenced by Bharti Kher’s superb Landscape, which just sold for $280,000 ($339,750 including fees). This was a disappointment for Christie’s, which was hoping to generate somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000; but the price was in line with the quality of the work which is made out of bindis. This type of result shows that the market has substantially matured since the 2006 – 2008 period because the bidding remained sensible despite the artist’s latest record (for a sculpture entitled The Skin Speaks A Language Not Its Own, acquired for $1.7 million ($1,785 million including fees, Christie’s, New York, 13 May 2013). The auction houses must adapt their sales estimates as buyers understand that trees do not grow to the sky.