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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Highlights from March Asia Week NYC 2018 - Song Ceramics, Buddhist Sculpture and a Monkey King

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I'm finally back home for the next little while. I just returned from Vancouver after a week-long business trip and I'm now slowly trying to catch up with all my Toronto-related work.

For the past few hours I have been organizing the hundreds of photos I took during New York Asia Week. Asia Week is a series of Asian Art related events that take place in Manhattan over a period of ten days in mid-March.

In addition to museums showcasing new Asian Art exhibitions, there are also multiple auction previews at the 'big three' international houses (Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's), gallery openings and academic lectures.

This year I was in New York from March 16 to 20 - it may seem like a long time, but I still wasn't able to see everything!

I usually spend most of my time in the auction previews where I am looking at the highlight pieces, trying to analyze current trends, and chatting with the auction specialists. My primary focus is still to examine the Chinese works of art, and there was an extremely high volume this year. Fortunately I did manage to wander around the various Chinese painting and Indian and Himalayan art previews to balance things out.

Here are some of my favourite highlight items during Asia Week 2018:

Christie's at Rockefeller Centre had one of the most talked about pieces this Asia Week - A Highly Important Ding Russet-Splashed Black-Glazed Bowl from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).

This bowl came from a Japanese collection amassed over the past thirty years and was offered in The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics - The Linyushanren Collection, Part III. Christie's has been selling this collection in stages at the rate of one auction per year.

This tea bowl is one of the rarest examples of its type due to the deep black glaze on the surface and abstract russet splashes in the interior. Typical ding bowls are white in colour and there are only a handful of black examples recorded.

This bowl is one of the most published examples of Song ceramics over the past sixty years and was once part of important collections including that of Eugene Bernat (Boston) and the Manno Museum of Art (Osaka). With an 'estimate upon request', this bowl sold for USD 4,212,500.

Ding Black Glazed Bowl, Northern Song Dynasty

A view of the bowl's reverse and wonderfully 'crisp' raised foot rim:

Ding Black Glazed Bowl, Northern Song Dynasty

Another highlight at Christie's came from the collection of The Studio of the Clear Garden: Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. I loved this Very Rare and Superbly Carved Imperial Polychrome Lacquer Rectangular Tray.

In addition to the high quality lacquer carving, the design contains numerous auspicious symbols fit for an emperor. This includes the longevity deity Shoulao in the large 春 (chun) Chinese-character (which means both 'spring' and 'youth'), the pair of large imperial dragons, and the basket containing Buddhist emblems.

Against an estimate of USD 120/180,000, this lacquer dish sold for USD 237,500.

Imperial Lacquer Dish, Qianglong Period

Here is a detail of the dish's reverse with the imperial mark 大清乾隆年製, daqing qianlong nianzhi, which means 'made in the year of the Qing Dynasty Qianlong reign (1736-1795)'. Below are four characters 春壽寶盤, chunshou baopan, which translates literally to 'eternal spring precious dish'.

Imperial Lacquer Dish, Qianglong Period

Up the street on Madison Avenue, Bonhams had an incredible collection of Buddhist works of art on display at both their auctions of Chinese Works of Art and Himalayan, Indian & South East Asian Art.

On the Chinese side of things was this Rare Gray Limestone Figure of Maitreiya from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-584). Despite a relatively smallish height of 31 cm (12 1/4 inches), this figure of the 'Buddha of the Future' is rare for its exquisite carving - the beauty of the pensive pose, subtle smile and flowing robes are all trademarks of the highest quality of Northern Wei Dynasty Buddhist figures.

It was also formerly owned by Hidenari Terasaki (1900-1950), the renowned diplomat who was one of the Japanese Emperor's most important liaisons to Washington, Havana, Beijing and Shanghai during the turbulent years between 1929 and 1945. The sculpture is similar to other examples from the famed Longmen Caves in Henan Province, and it was acquired circa 1941 during his station in China.

Conservatively estimated at USD 40/60,000, this Maitreya limestone figure sold for USD 162,500.

Gray Limestone Figure of Maitreiya, Northern Wei Dynasty

In their sale of Buddhist Art, Bonhams featured two of my favourite pieces during Asia Week.

The first is this large Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Avalokiteshvara Sahasrabhuja Ekadasamukha. From its Tibetan inscription, the sculpture can be attributed to Sonam Gyalsen (active 15th Century) and dated to circa 1430 AD in Central Tibet.

This large figure is one of the pinnacles of 15th Century Tibetan Buddhist bronze sculptures and depicts the boddhisattva of compassion in one of his multi-armed and multi-headed ultimate forms. This magnificent bronze sold for USD 1,212,500 against an estimate of USD 1/1.5 million.

Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Avalokiteshvara, Tibet, 15th Century

My second favourite piece at the Bonhams sale of Himalayan, Indian & South East Asian Art is this Schist Head of Buddha, Ancient Region of Gandhara, 3rd/4th Century.

I think this is the first time I showed a Gandharan sculpture on my blog, but these are some of my favourite types of Buddhist sculpture. All of these pieces have a Hellenistic influence transmitted through the region of modern-day Pakistan by Alexander the Great during the 4th Century BC.

Despite the Greco-Roman influences, this head is clearly that of the Buddha because of his trademark ushnisha (cranial topknot), urna (third eye), noble/youthful visage, downcast eyes and fleshy earlobes. With an estimate of USD 150/250,000 this exquisite head of Buddha sold for USD 200,000.

Schist Head of Buddha, Ancient Region of Gandhara, 3rd/4th Century

Sotheby's on the Upper East Side, featured a wide selection of Chinese paintings, porcelain, jade carvings and bronzes.

One of their most impressive works exhibited was this monumental painting by Zhang Daqian 張大千 (1899-1983) titled 'Water and Sky Gazing after Rain in Splashed Color'. Dated to 1968, it was one of the most talked-about Chinese paintings leading up to Asia Week and displays the modernist master's revered 'splashed ink/colour' technique. The large abstract 'splashes' of blue and green contrast the more traditional Chinese landscape of trees, mountains, houses and waterfall located on the painting's left side.

It came from the Chew Family Collection, a Chinese family that imported and exported Chinese antiques and jewelry from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Their impressive collection was formed in the 1960's and 70's with many works acquired directly from the artists. This painting sold for one of the highest prices during this edition of Asia Week at USD 6,550,400 against an estimate of USD 1.2/1.8 million.

Zhang Daqian 張大千 (1899-1983) 'Water and Sky Gazing after Rain'

Another highlight at Sotheby's was the impressive sale of 'Kangxi: the Jie Rui Tang Collection'. This sale featured over 90 pieces of Kangxi Period (1664-1772) porcelain acquired by Jeffrey P. Stamen, an executive of a tech company.

Assembled over thirty years, this collection contained domestic and export wares that included the highest quality of monochromes, famille verte, doucai and blue and white porcelain.

The masterpiece from this collection was a Large and Important Famille-Verte 'Investiture of the Gods' Roueleau Vase. This magnificent vase depicts a scene from the classic 16th Century Chinese novel 封神演義, Fengshen Yanyi (Investiture of the Gods). It depicts the leaders of the Shang Dynasty finally succumbing to the King Wu of Zhou and his impressive army of warriors, immortals and demons.

Everyone in the Chinese art field knew this was an extremely important and well-painted famille verte vase with very few comparables. But few people could have imagined its incredible price realized at USD 1,575,000! The estimate was USD 400/600,000.

Famille-Verte 'Investiture of the Gods' Roueleau Vase

Sotheby's New York also featured their second Ming themed sale aptly titled 'Ming: Luminous Dawn of Empire'. This sale featured fourteen lots from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) including porcelain, a rare book, textiles, cloisonné enamel and bronze sculptures.

My favourite piece by far in this sale was An Exceptional Gilt-Bronze Figure of Manjushri. This particular bodhisattva of transcendent wisdom was part of a larger group ordered by the Yongle Emperor (1403-1424) for the Chinese imperial court and select monasteries in Tibet.

These types of figures are renowned for their perfect gliding, sensuous poses, excessive jewelry and sublime facial features. While seated in lotus position, the hands are in the gesture of teaching.

It was originally purchased from the Doris Wiener Gallery in New York during the late 1960's and passed down through the family to the present day. Estimated at USD 400/600,000, it ended up selling for USD 1,335,000.

Gilt-Bronze Figure of Manjushri

Detail of the sculpture's sealed baseplate with inscribed double vajra (thunderbolt) and old Doris Wiener Gallery label:

Gilt-Bronze Figure of Manjushri (Base)

An extreme close-up detail of the inscribed reign mark 大明永樂年施, daming yongle nianshi, which translates to 'donated in the year of the Ming Dynasty Yongle Reign':

Gilt-Bronze Figure of Manjushri, Yongle Reign Mark

Finally, a pic of a monkey! I've been trying to take as many photos of monkeys in Asian Art because of my Chinese zodiac sign. We'll quickly return to Christie's and their sale of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art. Here, they displayed An Illustration from the 'Shangri' Ramayana: A Monkey Probably Sugriva, Instructs his Followers.

This miniature was illustrated in North India between 1700-1720 and depicts a scene from the Indian epic poem the Ramayana (Shangri is a town where a particular version of the Rayamana was found). The plot of the Ramayana focuses on Rama rescuing his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana, and all the adventures, animals, mortals and deities he encounters along the way.

The monkey king is probably Sugriva, leader of the monkey kingdom and a noble character who aids Rama during his plight. This page was estimated at USD 25/35,000, but failed to buyer. (And no, I will not purchase the painting in an aftersale... as much as I want it though!!!)

A Monkey Probably Sugriva, Instructs his Followers, North India 1700-1720

Anyways, that's it for this edition of my blog! Thanks for reading, and as I mentioned before, I'll be in town for the next couple of weeks working on my Vancouver and Toronto projects. Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions, comments or need any help with your Asian Art objects or collections. I'll start traveling again between the end of April to late May for Asian Art events in Chicago, New York (again) and possibly Hong Kong.

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