TRUE TO MY POLICY of introducing fresh material for the benefit of our readers on little recorded though potentially highly collectable objects, this May-June 2000 number features for the cover article the notable Francis and Kay Reif Collection of carved Chinese ambers. Mainly 18th and 19th century, included amongst several other types are vases, figure and animal groups, mountain forms, immortals and mythical creatures, snuff bottles, and rather more unlikely, an opium pipe (mainly of amber), an archer’s ring and an incense burner. Like the delightful boat with phoenix bow, with its women in a canopied enclosure, boatmen and pile of fish on its deck, I assume that the majority of the carved ambers in the Reif Collection are decorative and did not have another assignable use, as is confirmed by their display-type stands. In many cases these stands are of complementary, beautifully carved hardwoods, though some stands are also of amber, either separate or an integral part of the main carving.
It was in 1998 that the longtime contributor of articles to ARTS OF ASIA, Barry Till, the Curator of Asian Art at the Gallery of Greater Victoria, Canada, first wrote to me of the donation of 131 pieces of carved Chinese amber (with a further forty to follow) by Mrs Reif of Vancouver. “As far as we know this is one of the largest collections of Chinese carved amber in the world. Would Arts of Asia be interested…” Barry asked me. So writing and putting together this wonderful record on the subject, and including not only the Reif’s superlative late Qing examples, but also the historical background, has taken Barry Till rather more than a year to assemble.
It has been well-worth our waiting, as it is much more than just one dedicated curator’s academic effort, for at the conclusion of his article Barry Till thanks for their assistance two special people: Paula Swart, the Curator of Asian Studies at the Vancouver Museum (his wife, who has also written for ARTS OF ASIA on several occasions, both jointly with her husband and by herself, but always under her own name); and Yin Zhi-qiang, Director and Professor at the Nanjing Museum, for sending information and photographs of rare excavated Chinese amber carvings. As a result, Barry Till’s article is truly at this time an unsurpassed record, which I am sure, for many years will be a valuable reference.
Leading my Editorial is a photograph (1) of some of the organisers at the opening night preview of the International Asian Art Fair, held in New York on Thursday, March 23rd, 2000, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street for the benefit of the Asia Society. From the left they are: Khalil Rizk (Honorary Chairman), Vishakha N. Desai (Senior Vice President, Asia Society), Nicholas Platt (President, Asia Society), Wendi Murdoch (Gala Chairman), Toyohiko Mikimoto (Gala Chairman), Henry Cornell (Gala Chairman), Mrs Randolph Hearst (Honorary Chairman) and Rupert Murdoch (Gala Chairman). Incidentally the post-preview dinner for collectors was hosted by Mikimoto.
It is reported that 985 full-price tickets at US$175 were sold by the Asia Society for the opening night preview (amongst which were three we ourselves bought for our own ARTS OF ASIA guests). However, the total attendance at the Gala preview was approximately 1400. The Asia Society, founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd “as an educational non-profit organisation dedicated to deepening the understanding of Asia…, at this year’s Gala raised US$550,000, the highest amount since the Fair’s inception and was chaired by Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi, with Mrs Randolph Hearst serving as Honorary Chair.” That is the official statement. How about my own reaction? This year, unlike previous years on the opening night, the ladies were not “dressed to kill”. They were there with their husbands, in a very businesslike way, looking at what was offered on the various stands very seriously. Both husbands and wives were interested buyers. When I made my own tour a little later, already there was a red dot on my favourite piece on John Eskenazi’s stand: an 11th/12th century sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha (which is also seen on page 2 of this magazine). Listed at over US$500,000, it was sold to an American museum, which is no surprise, as it is in remarkably fine condition with a beautiful even green patina.
Once again Anna and Brian Haughton,(2) the organisers, definitely deserve full credit for making the ambience of the exhibition quite stunning, with almost a surfeit of yellow orchids and flowering trees, and comfortable and colourful benches for visitors and exhibitors to relax and converse spaced along the promenades giving access to the stands. Doing just this,(3) are Alan Chait, the President of Ralph M. Chait Galleries, Inc. and his son Andrew. Another successful stand was that of the Belgium dealer, Gisèle Croës.(4) The following day, on my visit, she was as usual drawing many visitors, although a number of the most important early bronze and pottery pieces had already been sold to various American museums, foundations and important private collections.
It was an education for me to see her authentic Shang dynasty, Eastern Zhou, Warring States and Han bronzes in all their force and splendour. I am delighted to recommend to our readers her catalogue, “Life for the After-Life, Selected Objects”, with commentary in English and shorter captions in French.
As usual our own stand was packed with visitors during the Gala preview night as well as during the next six days. It was generally agreed that the posters and displays of our magazines were one of our best yet. Of the two pictures I have room for, the first (5) shows grouped with me my American daughter-in-law, Shari Markbreiter (my second son Michael’s wife), my dear friend Robin Duke, who I congratulate on having recently been appointed the American Ambassador to Norway, and Simone and Alan Hartman, longtime supporters of ARTS OF ASIA; seen in the second picture, (6) is a happy Isadore (Izzy) Chait, the founder/owner of I. M. Chait Gallery, who was first introduced to myself and the magazine so many years ago by Alan Hartman.
While the ordinary visitor to the Fair could relax and enjoy it as an exceptional opportunity to see in a single huge hall an assemblage of top Asian art by selective Asian art dealers from across the world, for myself, between talking to the constant visitors to our own stand, it meant work as well as pleasure and circulating amongst those of others and recording their owners’ opinions, market assessments and trends. Of the many interviews that resulted, my son Robin was an invaluable help in recording the following for our readers, published here without my own questions, but with the essentials of the owners’ responses.
Alexander Götz (Alexander Götz): I am more than elated as I sold two important pieces to two new clients. It is a big coup for me. I sold my third major piece to an old American client.
This does not include seven other less important works of art. It is interesting to note that for the first time three important stone sculptures from Cambodia, one from Doris Wiener, one from John Eskenazi and one from myself were sold. The only complaint I can think of is the vetting was inconsistent this year. The attendance was good and I like it because there were many new people coming.
China 2000 Fine Art (Leon Wender): We did very well. This was a risky venture. We were not sure how people would consider what we were showing. Established international collectors bought things and this was the exciting part. We showed socialist art with a social purpose as they were hung in the “great walls of the people” and in books. I am content the way the Fair is. Every year the Haughtons improve the Fair. The relationship between exhibitors is a happy one and not at all adversary. We also had great weather and we are very lucky because I am one of the few people who enjoy what I am doing. No one forces me to do what I am doing.
Doris and Nancy Wiener (Doris and Nancy Wiener): A very good Fair. It would be nice to see more variety, for example someone dealing in Anglo-Indian furniture. I would like to see more tribal. It would be interesting. We did so well on opening night. That was really astonishing. There was competition for pieces. People were not dressed up so much.
E&J Frankel Ltd (Edith Frankel): We did fantastically this week and we sold a lot of sculptures at the gallery. I think there is something missing in the Fair. There is just some excitement missing. It could end on Monday, it does not have to be as long as it is. It is not the Fair’s job to make the dealers friendly. The Fair is not as friendly as before. There is a sense of competition.
John Eskenazi Ltd (Mrs Eskenazi): We sold the Ganesha on the opening night to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It has been very successful. Less social but more interest from the public with more questions being asked about the pieces. I think it is very well organised, though it may be a little long. They could cut one day. The first three days are the really exciting ones. Now the Fair is like an appointment and in people’s diaries. This is important so people get used to coming. It is just fine the way it is. In New York we are selling to an American audience. At this moment the American market is growing and the American museums are so active not just buying but also promoting art through exhibitions.
Li Yin Arts Co. Ltd (Li Yin Tsai): Around 19 objects sold out of 25. This year is better than last year. This year is the best for me. We can do better because each year we learn more correctly American taste. This year we focused more. In the future we should do even better and thank you very much for introducing visitors to our stand. We sold mostly to Americans and American dealers. The Fair is too long. The most important days are opening night, the first and last day. This year more museum people are coming to see us.
P. C. Lu Works of Art Ltd (Stephen Lu): I think the show could be a little shorter. It is the best Asian Art Fair and this is good. The vetting should be more flexible. The vetting should be more specialised but it is a thankless job.
Robert Hall (Robert Hall): We have done very well. It has been good. Last year was probably better. This year we were doing Maastricht at the same time. We had 120 bottles in Maastricht. We keep the gallery stocked and we had 120 here. New York is a booming market. Our display has attracted younger people. Lots of very good bottles have gone and part of that has been due to going out to the people not just at the Fair. We did just a little less business than last year. One thing did affect us is that we were disadvantaged because of the snuff bottle sale taking place before the Fair. The organisers should bring the Fair earlier to hit the auctions and provide more choice. We saw fewer people from Taiwan and the bar prices are too high!
S. Marchant & Son (Richard Marchant): Our best show was three years ago. This year we sold our wonderful wucai brushrest. That was an important sale. We buy less and less these days at auctions and usually only bid for clients. We sold mainly to Americans. People seem to think we have nice things. Overall the vetting is about as good as it can be. It starts at 11 am to 7 pm. It takes a very long time and towards the end of the day we were exhausted.
Sandra Whitman (Sandra Whitman): It has been wonderful as it is the first time I am exhibiting at the Fair. We have had such a wonderful reception and a lot of interest in our important pieces such as the 18th century Khotan. What was so rewarding was that people took time to look at the labels. We had a wonderful response and had a great position in the Fair. I sold 16 rugs and I had serious interest in the Khotan and silk rugs.
Tai Gallery (Robert Coffland): We feel fantastic. We sold all types of things from Japanese baskets to Indonesian and Japanese textiles. We sold a very major Japanese textile. I would love to see some German and Swiss dealers. There are German and Swiss collectors coming to the fair. There are definitely many European collectors. Some exhibitors need some help with their booth designs.
The Chinese Porcelain Company (Khalil Rizk): Bobby Ellsworth was very gracious about his piece being vetting out. He is the Honorary Chairman and John Eskenazi and I are the joint Chairmen of the Vetting Committee, which is working late to protect the public. We will not try to be more lenient. If we are given a job we have to do the best we can to be fair to the public. We also want the dealers to be happy therefore we are thorough. It is human to make mistakes but we are trying our best. We almost killed ourselves to try to be good. I even had something vetted out. We will never be lenient. We will always be strict. We will never change the decision of the committee. We have done better than ever.
The Tolman Collection of Tokyo (Norman Tolman): We brought Chinese things for the first time and will do a one-man show at the 20th Century Show. This year we have expanded our booth by 50 per cent to introduce our Chinese paintings. I think the show is mutually beneficial for collectors and exhibitors.
With fourteen thousand visitors and fifty-eight major dealers including twenty-four from London, one from Brussels, another from Amsterdam, twenty-four from America, two from Japan, three from Taiwan, one from Beijing, and two from Hong Kong, this International Asian Art Fair was in the opinion of ARTS OF ASIA’s international subscribers the best ever staged in America. But this is not the end for Anna and Brian Haughton to the attention they give to it.
“Our Fair has always been successful since day one,” Brian told me when I interviewed him on April 29th, the final day. “This Fair has created Asia Week in New York. Like a flower, the Fair needs constant attention to blossom. Because it is here it has helped others to create special exhibitions at societies, including the Japan Society, museums and dealers. It drew the whole of Asia Week together. Financially, New York is number one, because quite frankly the money is here. With the American market you have to work at it. You have to get to know the collectors and they want to know you. We have been doing fairs here for fifteen years and it took me as a dealer two to four years to get to know the collectors and to build trust.”
According to Anna, “We are always thinking quietly about what we can do better. Thinking in a creative way. This year we increased our advertising budget and we had Fox 5, Channel 9, CNN and ABC come to interview. The people who have galleries in Manhattan say they have never seen so many new buyers and this is very encouraging. We need them to expand and stay alive. We are always delighted when the Fair is a great success for the dealers and we are also happy that their pieces receive the exposure.
“There are a lot of Asians living in America who are very successful. This is where the market is. In the front of the Fair we have a card for people to fill in for more information about the Fair. I have seen tons of ARTS OF ASIA magazines going out.”
At every new annual Fair I am happy to be able to say we sell more and more subscriptions and back issues at our stand, which we take time to make attractive and greet warmly hundreds of our readers. I enjoy answering their questions so that I can assess their wants. I must say I am truly touched by their love of the magazine, including my own Editorial. On this latest occasion, with my assistant, Sondra Bishop’s and Robin’s help, we sold 658 copies of back issues of the magazine as well as many new subscriptions.
Until July 19th, the Japan Society Gallery at 333 East 47th Street, New York, is exhibiting Japanese Treasures from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. This is a fascinating exhibition of forty-seven selected entries from the collection, with an explanatory brochure which has acknowledgements by Alexandra Munroe (Director, Japan Society Gallery), an introductory essay by Emily Sano (Director, The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco), fourteen of the forty-seven exhibits illustrated in colour, dating from a 6th century Haniwa warrior (7) to a pair of six-panel screens by Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795), and an article with plan, perspective and model of the New Asian Art Museum’s Galleries by the architect of the conversions of the old buildings, Dott. Gae Aulenti. I can highly recommend those who visit New York City to make sure to visit the exhibition in time. It is a must for collectors of Japanese art.
During Asia Week 2000 the Arts of Pacific Asia Show returned to New York City for four days from March 23rd to 26th. It was successful, with seventy exhibitors and nine thousand visitors. I would have liked to have spent longer with my friends, but unfortunately had to cut short my visit due to a dizzy spell, but I promise to spend more time with them
next year. However, before I left, I was pleasantly surprised to see at the Zentner Collection stand their 17th century Nepalese Dispankara figure (8), quite similar to the one known to me in the Avery Brundage Collection at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. In May I hope to be able to visit London. I look forward to seeing then the exhibition at the British Museum, “Visions from the Golden Land, Burma and the Art of Lacquer”, which runs from April 8th to August 13th, 2000. A recent gift to the British Museum by Mr and Mrs R. Isaacs of a magnificent collection of Burmese lacquerware has provided the core of the exhibition, complemented by loans from both national and regional collections around the UK. A book due to be published before the end of April 2000, Visions from the Golden Land, Burma and the Art of Lacquer (£40 hard cover, £25 soft cover), co-authored by Ralph Isaacs and Richard Blurton, Assistant Keeper at the British Museum, features some 200 items that demonstrate the immense skill of the Burmese craftsmen.
A series of essays examine the history of Burmese lacquer, its production, variations and inscriptions on the vessels. Just in time to appear in my Editorial is the copyright photograph of Ralph Isaacs with Richard Blurton at the entrance of the new exhibition of which Ralph Isaacs is a generous donator of many objects (9).
According to a letter I received from Richard Blurton on April 2nd, they believe “that this is the first major exhibition about Burma to be seen in this country-indeed perhaps anywhere outside Burma-since the 1826 exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly! It is a sobering fact.” Finally, can I bring the attention of our readers to the S. Marchant & Son sale from Sunday June 4th to Friday June 23rd, of the collection of our longtime friend, the former Maître d. at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon of the world famous Gaddi’s restaurant-The Rolf Heiniger Collection of Qing Imperial Wares, which Richard Marchant helped to form. I am sure Rolf Heiniger will see this note in my Editorial, because in the old days, we now all miss, he came personally nearly every two months to choose his latest subscription copy so that he would be absolutely sure it was in mint condition. My husband joins me in wishing the sale great success. In his catalogue, Richard Marchant provides a most enlightening profile of Rolf.
variety of pieces seen on the dealers’ stands at the International Asian Art Fair
Mathura, red sandstone, mid-2nd century AD
Height 70 cm., width 60 cm., depth 10 cm.
— Alexander Götz
B Large painted pottery model of a Bactrian camel carrying five musicians
Early Tang dynasty, 7th century AD
Height 80 cm.
— Berwald Oriental Art
C Chairman Mao’s Poetry
Watercolour on paper
102 x 39.7 cm
— China 2000 Fine Art
D Buddha standing in Varada mudra
Sandstone with traces of gilding Vietnam,
Tra Vinh, 17th century
Height 48.3 cm.
— Doris Wiener
E Two geisha entertainers practicing
Tanchosai Morifusa, c. 1820
Ink, colour, gofun and gold on silk
103.5 x 39.4 cm. (each scroll)
— Joan B. Mirviss, Ltd
F Standing Buddha
Mekong Delta, Cambodia/Vietnam Wood, 5th/6th century
Height 119 cm.
— John Eskenazi Ltd
G Magistrate Tien A-Sha Funerary Couch Northern Wei dynasty, Shiao Chang third year of Emperor Shiao Ming Di (527 AD)
Height 96 cm., length 220 cm., depth 115 cm
— Li Yin Arts Co. Ltd
H Appliqued thanka of Maitreya
Composed of 18th century Chinese silks Bhutan, 19th century
115 x 90 cm.
— Linda Wrigglesworth Ltd
I Pair of large framed watercolour paintings depicting the Emperor in the Summer Palace China, 19th century
104.8 x 71.2 cm.
J Imperial porcelain blue and white
landscape beaker cup
China, Kangxi six-character mark
and of the period
Height 7.6 cm.
— Roger Keverne
K Jade boulder of craggy mountain
form worked in low relief with a
waterfall and pine
The stone of mottled celadon
green and russet tone
China, 18th century
Height 17.2 cm
— S. Marchant & Son
L Yarkand (?) rug
East Turkestan, c. 1800
406.4 x 175.3 cm.
— Sandra Whitman
L Yarkand (?) rug
East Turkestan, c. 1800
406.4 x 175.3 cm.
— Sandra Whitman
M Buddha Sakyamuni
Sheet gold over a resin core Vietnam, 7th century
Height 44 cm., diameter of base 22.2 cm.
— The Chinese Porcelain Company