East meets West

The writer visits the museums and auction houses of New York to experience the 2014 Asia Week.

April 05, 2014 05:31 pm | Updated May 21, 2016 08:50 am IST

'Princess in an Exotic garden' by Forge Lynch

'Princess in an Exotic garden' by Forge Lynch

It is that time of the year when Asia takes over the U.S., with the most wonderful art — both ancient and modern — from different parts of the continent. Galleries, museums and auction houses all showcase the latest and best from diverse Asian countries, be it China, Korea, Japan or India. Asia Week New York, which ran from March 14-22, was a collaborative effort between museums, galleries, art dealers, and auction houses.

The 2014 Asia Week began with an Open House Weekend where the public could walk into countless galleries and museums for new shows. Throughout the week there were lectures, panel discussions and opportunities to view Asian art at scores of galleries and museums and auction houses — Christie’s, Doyle, Bonham and Sotheby’s. There were grand benefit receptions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Japan Society, The Korea Society and the Rubin Museum of Art.

“This March, Asia Week New York was considered the most successful since we started six years ago,” says Carol Conover, Chairman of Asia Week New York. “All the gallery participants and auction houses saw a jump in attendance and sales. Also, all the curators of Indian art from the major museums in the U.S. attended and brought their collectors.” She points out that there was a big spike in the sales of Himalayan material both at the dealers and the auctions due to new mainland Chinese collectors.

While the mainstream has always been interested in Asian antiquities, Conover says at least a quarter of the participating dealers either specialise in or carry contemporary Asian art. This year there was new interest from Indian buyers in Indian contemporary art.

There was also the first annual Asia Art Fair at the Bohemian National Hall featuring 27 international art galleries and dealers who showed artwork and antiques from Southeast Asia, India and the Near East under one roof, showing paintings, sculpture, jewellery and rugs. Paul Anavian, the organiser, said that while the Chinese market is the hottest, Indian sculpture and painting along with Mughal art are in demand as well. “There is a strong group of Indian buyers that comes to New York for Asia week,” he said. “They have pushed prices up at the auctions and bought from exhibitors at the fair and around town.”

At ‘The Sublime and the Beautiful: Asian Masterpieces of Devotion’ (Christie’s), the top lot was a Baishajyaguru, a gilt-bronze seated figure of the Medicine Buddha, from the Ming Dynasty, which went for $5, 541,000. There was also a fine selection of contemporary Indian art on auction. Syed Haider Raza’s La Terre went for $3,105,000.

An entire gallery was devoted to the work of F.N. Souza — the Shelley Souza Collection presented by their daughter Shelley. Souza, who lived for many years in New York on 60 Street, continues to dominate the Indian imagination. His work went for a total of $2,842,375, and the top lot was Souza’s ‘Reclining Nude on Brocade’, oil on brocade for $275,000.

Hugo Weihe, International Director of Asian Art of Christie’s, pointed to record bids both in antiquities and contemporary art: “The total of $8 million, on top of the $10 million achieved in the sales of South Asian Modern plus Contemporary Art, underscores the continued strength of the art market for the region.”

At Sotheby’s, the big seller was V.S. Gaitonde, whose major retrospective is to be launched at the Guggenheim in the fall. His painting No. 3 sold for $2,517,000. Another favourite was Bhupen Khakhar’s ‘Buffalo among Flower Bed’, which went for $293,000.

Artists Atul Dodiya and Anju Dodiya, who attended a reception at Christie’s to launch Atul’s new book, were surrounded by collectors, art lovers, dealers and art aficionados. Who better to ask about the state of Indian art than Dodiya himself? Asked if Indian art is getting its due, Dodiya replied, “Definitely. Masters like Husain, Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Gaitonde, Akbar Padamsee worked so hard in the 1950s and 1960s and then the next generation of artists came, and then my generation came along. We’ve all been working seriously in our own way. It’s a wonderful feeling now to be getting all this recognition. There are a lot of positive responses and energy — so we are all quite excited.” He was just back from Barcelona where the Musee Picasso had a showing of his works and that of the late M.F. Husain to celebrate its 50 year.

When asked about the relatively lower prices of Indian art compared to Chinese contemporary art, Dodiya said, “Being an Indian — and I’m not boasting —I think Indian art is actually fantastic. Chinese art is much hyped and higher priced; they’ve also been there much earlier than us. I don’t think too much about this aspect of art — I just do my work!”

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at www.lassiwithlavina.com

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