CELESTIAL SILKS and PRAYER BEADS, the titles you will have seen that head the cover picture of this unusual July–August 2004 issue, represent the two main articles, “Celestial Silks—Chinese Religious and Court Textiles” and “Prayer Beads in Asian Buddhist Cultures”. The articles are aptly “summarized” by the circa 1850 red silk Daoist priest’s robe from the Chris Hall Collection Trust. For our magazine the robe’s symbols represent the hoped for long longevity of our publication, which was founded in mid-1970 and by January 1971 was already in place.
At my request, Judith Rutherford, President of The Asian Arts Society of Australia (TAASA) and founder of TAASA Textile Study Group, covers in an initial fourteen attractively illustrated pages a major selection from the more than seventy silk Chinese textiles that will be shown in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, from July 30th to October 24th, 2004. On Saturday, July 31st, TAASA will hold a symposium on the exhibition with representative speakers coming from China (the National Silk Museum, Hangzhou) and Hong Kong (Diana Collins, Chris Hall and Humphrey Hui). Incidentally, textile conservator Diana Collins, founder of the Textile Society of Hong Kong eleven years ago, is the expert reviewer of the 2004 British Museum book Chinese Silk A Cultural History by Oxford University Curator Shelagh Vainker.
That book is packed with information, but it would not be fair to our readers if I were not to declare its resource for me, a time-to-time textile collector, lies mainly in its use as a reference. A rather different style of book, which we have recently received on the textile subject, is Silk—13th to 18th centuries, Treasures from the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, by Jon Thompson. A slim less than a hundred pages, but hard cover 34 x 24 cm, this beautifully illustrated catalogue was published to coincide with the exhibition “Silk and Ivory, 8th to 18th centuries”. Held at the Sheraton Doha Hotel earlier this year, this ran from the end of February to March 24th. Exhibition and publication project manager was well-known specialist Michael Franses who headed a considerable expert team. The photography, print and production of this book is of the highest standard, and the representations of the silks so realistic you really want to touch them. Publication was for the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Doha, in conjunction with The Islamic Art Society, London.
From silk, I pass on to prayer beads, which if you look carefully you will also find represented on Chris Hall’s Daoist robe. In her eighteen page “ground-breaking” article Ms Anne Breckenridge Dorsey on Buddhist prayer beads with thirty-nine studio photographs by Scott McCue, covers this subject fully as never before. Ms Dorsey, a determined tireless researcher of prayer beads, credits scholars Terese Tse Bartholomew, Bruce Bartholomew and Kuniko Kusuda for their generous help. I would like to add to that kind acknowledgement the contribution of Arts of Asia’s own team as well as our own colour separators, who have responded so positively to this unique theme.
In late March this year I made a special visit to New York City during Asia Week to attend the New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show (March 25th–28th) and The International Asian Art Fair (March 26th–31st); the Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions; as well as many private dealers shows. This is not the first time I have pointed out in my Editorial that a picture is worth many words. As our son Robin had to stay in Hong Kong to control the production of the May–June 2004 issue through the printers, my American daughter-in-law Shari, the loving wife of our New York based son Michael Markbreiter, filled the gap.
The previews of both fairs were very well attended and many dealers at both fairs also told me they had good sales, especially on the first days. For an independent view I would like to quote from comments I have received in a letter from Renzo Freschi, a prominent Milan dealer, who had amongst his positive comments these things to say:
“At the International Asian Art Fair, I saw quite magnificent pieces at John Eskenazi and [Doris/Nancy] Wiener stands: two Indian stone sculpture and a Tibetan book cover (Eskenazi); one Tibetan bronze and one thangka (Wiener), and many more. Both stands were [amongst] the most beautiful of the whole fair…
“Among private exhibitions, Carlton Rochell’s was the greatest…his aesthetic taste and quality of pieces were perfect. He sold 70%, a Parvati Chola bronze for over US$1 million…
“As ever, Giuseppe Eskenazi’s exhibition was very very nice; you couldn’t believe the difference in beauty of his pieces from the catalogue and from the real. To reach the top, an exhibition must have nice pieces and perfect display; that’s why Giuseppe Eskenazi is still the number one.”
After the fair was over Anna Haughton responded to my request for her personal thoughts, which she released for our readers through her email to me on April 6th:
“It was so nice to see you in New York and I hope you had a good time seeing your friends when you went travelling…You asked for my personal thoughts about our International Asian Art Fair which closed last Wednesday. It was certainly one of the most successful in its nine year history. More people than ever came to the Fair and there was such an atmosphere of enthusiasm, that selling to private buyers and Museums was equally buoyant. We know of many, many sales and reports from specific dealers who enjoyed fantastic business throughout the Fair. However, it is always a sensitive area to delve into, as dealer/client anonymity is very important, and it is what distinguishes trading at a Fair from buying and selling at auction. Also, of course, selling continues long after the Fair has ended.
“It seems clear that the market for Asian Art in all its tremendous varieties is still at a peak and that the Fair, around which Asia Week grew, has benefited hugely from being in New York.”
The International Asian Art Fair March 26-31, 2004
The Opening Night Preview Gala at the International Asian Art Fair which Shari and I attended on Thursday evening, March 25th, was very well supported raising US$500,000. This was the ninth such gala for the benefit of Asia Society. The many collectors amongst the thousand or so attendees took the opportunity to be the first to establish their choices and make acquisitions, as well as to gather and make new friends. Here I was happy to meet again that evening William F. Ruprecht (President and CEO, Sotheby’s Holding, Inc.) and Henry Howard-Sneyd (Managing Director of Sotheby’s China, Southeast Asia and Australia) (1), Dessa Goddard (Director of Bonhams and Butterfields of San Francisco) (2), and Hugo Weihe (Christie’s Senior Vice- President) (3).
Of the fifty-five supporting antique dealer companies taking part at the Haughton’s International Asian Art Fair, because of timing when the principals were present, sixteen are seen in Shari’s photographs. These companies were as follows in alphabetical order:
A. & J. Speelman Ltd (Jules and Adele Speelman) (4)
Art of the Past (Subhash Kapoor) (5)
China 2000 Fine Art (Leon and Karen Wender) (6)
Doris Wiener Inc. and Nancy Wiener Gallery (seen with me, Nancy pictured left, Doris on the right) (7)
Erik Thomsen Asian Art (Erik and Cornelia Thomsen) (8)
Flying Cranes Antique Ltd (Clifford and Jean Schaefer) (9)
Grace Wu Bruce (Grace Wu) (10)
Linda Wrigglesworth Ltd (Linda Wrigglesworth and Gary Dickinson) (11)
Liza Hyde (Liza Hyde) (12)
Plum Blossoms Gallery (Stephen McGuinness) (13)
Priestley & Ferraro Chinese Art (David Priestley) (14)
S. Marchant & Son (Richard and Greta Marchant) (15)
Robert Hall (Robert Hall) (16)
Tai Gallery/Textile Arts (Robert T. Coffland) (17)
Roger Keverne (Roger Keverne and Miranda Clarke) (18)
Sandra Whitman (Sandra Whitman) (19)
The Annual New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show March 25-28, 2004
I managed to visit the Arts of Pacific Asia Show in New York of Bill Caskey and his wife Elizabeth Lees on three occasions: March 25th, the first day preview; the 27th, the third day; and March 28th, the fourth and final day. So I gained a sufficiently comprehensive view. Shari again accompanied me to take photographs, and on the way we stopped to talk with many Arts of Asia subscribers and museum friends. We were still able to take photographs of fourteen of the seventy- seven exhibitors at their stands. The following companies are listed here in alphabetical order:
Annie Yau Gallery Ltd (Professor Yau, his daughter Annie and her husband John) (20)
Bao Lin Gallery (Roselyn Durand-Ruel) (21)
Eleanor Abraham Asian Art (Eleanor Abraham) (22)
Jasmin Asian Arts (Grace Paramaspry) (23)
L’Asie Exotique (Tim Mertel) (24)
Lee Gallery & Studios (Cliff Lee) (25)
L.H. Pham (Lan-Huong Pham and Maya Kramer) (26)
Moke Mokotoff (Moke Mokotoff and his daughter Sophia) (27)
Nicholas S. Pitcher Oriental Art (Nicholas S. Pitcher) (28)
Oriental Treasure Box (Kazuo Kuwabara) (29)
Orientations Gallery (Susan Tosk and David Cole) (30)
Rupert Smith Textiles (Rupert Smith) (31)
The Jade Dragon (Stuart and Barbara Hilbert) (32)
Tony Anninos (Tony Anninos) (33)
Two participants with a strong Japanese exhibition stand, Susan Tosk and David Cole of Orientations Gallery, had this to say:
“The New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show this March continued its trend to attract top-quality dealers, many displaying the finest works in each category. The show looked more elegant than ever, while conveying a busy and exciting place to do business. Many collectors commented that prices seemed to be at a more reasonable market level than at comparable events; dealers in all categories seemed to be extremely pleased with the result, with one notable Japanese dealer completely selling out his stand. People came to the show with the intention to buy.”
Business at this show was also active with many visitors. Elizabeth Lees later told me in a brief summary for Arts of Asia‘s readers that she and her husband were very pleased with the results this year. “The gate was up by 16% from 2003, and almost back to our all time high of three years ago. Sales were strong for most dealers, especially those who deal in Chinese material. There was a strong contingent of dealers from mainland China buying Chinese material to tak e back.”
Present were many specialists associated with Asian art, and it was there that I met Ulrich von Schroeder with his charming wife Heidi (34). I regularly read Ulrich’s books on Himalayan and Tibetan art. This was the scholar’s first trip to New York since five and half years and he found the city much changed. Also visiting this show was my good friend Robert Berg of Trocadero accompanied by his wife Vinka (35).
One of the prestigious buyers at the show was William Sargent, Director of the Peabody Essex Museum (36). When we met again later at the museum in Salem, he told me he was very happy with his purchases of three works of art on behalf of the museum.
Early copies of Adoration and Glory, The Golden Age of Khmer Art, by Emma C. Bunker and Douglas Latchford, Art Media Resources, Chicago, 2004, were available at a book signing by the authors at the New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show. In a short Foreword to this massive 445 page volume H.R.H. Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, under a two line heading “ Kingdom of Cambodia/Nation Religion King”, thanks “Emma Bunker and Douglas Latchford for their comprehensive research into the myriad forms of Khmer sculpture and for their dedication to Cambodia’s cultural heritage”. The co-authors are seen at the signing (37, 38).
Several major American and European art and antique dealers take the opportunity to present their own exhibitions in New York galleries while the two fairs are in progress. Daniel Eskenazi was happy to tell me that of the five Chinese Buddhist figures Eskenazi had on show at Pacewildenstein, New York, three were sold including the Tang period, height 40.6 cm earthenware Buddha. This is illustrated in three views within the Eskenazi catalogue, as well as bust length on the cover. The Eskenazi entourage is seen back in their London gallery, with their three exquisite Chinese (guan) jars, the fish jar with a cover. From the left: Mr P.S. Constantinidi, Giuseppi Eskenazi and Daniel Eskenazi (39).
Here in Hong Kong we have followed the career of Jim Lally (40) with considerable interest. With his J.J. Lally & Co., Oriental Art Gallery at 41 East 57 Street, he has long been assured of recognition as amongst the major New York dealers. Of his exhibition, “Ancient Chinese Tomb Sculpture”, which was accompanied by a catalogue of twenty illustrated pieces, I found on my second visit many were already sold. Going to a private collector was a large painted pottery orchestral group of three musicians playing bells, chimes and a drum, Western Han dynasty. The chimes and bells were suspended from replacement wood racks, each of the four rack legs rising from the back of an ancient painted pottery mythical beast (41).
Alvin Lo (42) held his New York Spring Exhibition 2004 at his 5 East 57th Street gallery from March 21st–31st, accompanied by a twenty-six entry detailed catalogue with research and selected bibliographies by Tina (Shih-yun Lo), photography by Maggie Nimkin and production by Pressroom Hong Kong. Ceramics, copper, silver, gold, bronze and gilt bronze are amongst classic examples of materials offered as well as jades—a Lo family expertise. In the 1960s, when I started to collect jade, the gallery of Alvin’s late father in the Peninsula Hotel was a treasure trove for many. Reminiscent of those days are Alvin Lo’s antique pair of jade rabbit earrings (cat. 16, Ming, heights 4.8 cm) which call out to be worn by a delighted wife (or perhaps girlfriend) (43).
I am seen (from the left) with Simone and Alan Hartman, Richard Littleton and James Hennessy (44), at the grand opening on March 22nd of the Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art gallery at 724 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10019. This is the fourth year the company has exhibited in New York for Asia Week. Their intention, however, is to keep their premises in London in addition to the New York gallery.
Sixteen of their carefully selected pieces were presented in the inaugural New York gallery’s Chinese ceramics exhibition including, seen previously in Arts of Asia, a blue and white yuhuchunping, pear-shaped vase painted with the “three friends of winter” and dating from the latter part of the 14th century. This had already been sold to a private American collector before my arrival. An archaic wide-mouthed bronze form zun jar (45) which caught my attention is illustrated on the front and back covers of the catalogue and described inside with three views (the one of the base with its rare Qianlong yuzhi mark). Because of the difficulties in firing its brilliant emerald-green crackled glaze, the catalogue suggests a technical provenance to Tang Yin, supervisor of the kilns at Jingdezhen during the reign of the emperor.
I am confident the Littleton & Hennessy gallery will do very well in America, and I wish them continued success as I much admire the joint tastes of the owners.
Myrna Myers, the Chinese costumes and textiles antique dealer whose main gallery is based in Paris at 11 rue de Beaune, was showing for the New York Asia Week at Neuhoff Gallery. The exhibition with the title “Silks for Thrones and Altars”, was accompanied with an illustrated catalogue by John Vollmer and talks on silks, and on jades, the first specialty of Myrna Myers.
Myrna Myers and her husband Samuel Myers (46) are seen at Myrna’s exhibition where a pearl embroidered twelve symbol robe from the Qianlong period was the star (47). Myrna comments, “As this was our first major exhibition during Asia Week in New York, we were extremely gratified by the press coverage we received and the enthusiasm of the many visitors, including a number of museum curators. Several pieces were sold to new buyers and we feel confident that others will eventually be in significant collections of Chinese textiles.”
New York preview parties of Edie and Joel Frankel, at E&J Frankel Ltd, 1040 Madison Avenue, always draw a big crowd and are very successful. So when I knew that on March 25th they were staging an exhibition of “Mongolian Connoisseurship, A Private Collection”, I made a point to arrive early to view in particular their 17th and 18th century works of art of the School of Zanzibar. However, I was too late. They had already sold the three gilt bronzes to one American collection.
Joel Frankel (48) is seen in their exhibition gallery tending their Mongolian ger, while displayed on the gallery walls hang various Mongolian painted or appliqué thangkas. Also from the family of a Mongolian scholar who formed the private collection offered at E&J Frankel, were Mongolian bronze and silver bells and other ritual works of art, as well as Chinese, Tibetan and Indian objects, including a 12th century Kashmir bronze Padmapani.
Carlton C. Rochell, Jr of Carlton Rochell Ltd in the Fuller Building ( 41 East 57th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10022) is seen together with his superb large sandstone Cham Garuda (49). I have no doubt that it “is virtually identical” to another now in the Danang (formerly Tourane Cham) Museum, which I first visited with my husband in 1969, on my way by helicopter to the Demilitarised Zone to see South Vietnamese and Allied military outposts. This is explained in my introduction to the article by Carl Hefley published in the January–February 1977 Arts of Asia, pages 68–74, which is illustrated with a range of my husband’s and Carl Hefley’s photographs, and titled “The Cham Museum in Danang”. However, the Cham Garuda illustrated in that article is another, slightly larger and a different pose.
I was so pleased to hear that my Vietnamese-born niece Trami and her American husband Mark Schaszberger, after visiting Carlton Rochell’s exhibition “Road to Enlightenment, Sculpture and Painting from India, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia”, catalogued by Jeanne de Guardiola Callanan and Carlton, had acquired this Cham sculpture on my advice for the major collection they are now forming. I have been informed by Elizabeth Goldberg, Carlton’s Gallery Manager in a May 12th email that “to date, we have sold 18 of the 33 objects offered in our Road to Enlightenment catalogue. We continue to have interest in several of the pieces so therefore we hope that number continues to grow.”
Interviews and interview articles have been a feature of Arts of Asia since our first 1971 year. I am pleased and encouraged that our readers have enjoyed them. I find it is a good method for sympathetically presenting important people’s views otherwise not generally available.
For this Editorial I first interviewed John Eskenazi of John Eskenazi Ltd by his stand at the International Asian Art Fair on March 31st. He and his wife Fausta are photographed with his major Indian stone sculpture (50). John is also an established author and founding member of Allemandi & Co., which publishes numerous books on art. This is followed by my April 27th interview in Hong Kong with Edward Dolman, Christie’s Chief Executive Officer and Christie’s International Management Group Chairman (51).
The Publisher Interviews John Eskenazi in New York
Tuyet Nguyet: How many pieces have you sold?
John Eskenazi: I’ve done very well. Probably in the end fifteen. It really has been very good. A lot of the larger pieces sold. I’ve always done well at these fairs.
TN: There have been so many rumours about you suffering from diabetes, the new antiquities law in England, and also you want to retire to be free of your gallery.
JE: I’ve done this job for twenty-seven years, ten years in London. I think it has to do with a mid-life change, rather than a mid-life crisis. I don’t want to postpone things until I’m dead. My goal is to work by appointment, initially from my home in London. In the end I am trying to concentrate on the very best, selling just a few pieces a year, to focus on my health, family, research and publishing books. I am one of the founders of The Art Newspaper. I’m doing three or four books now.
About 85 per cent of my clients are in America. That is why I do the Armory Fair. Possibly I will do an exhibition in the Fall in a New York gallery. If you sit in your own gallery, the great pieces won’t come to you. I am not closing because of the new law. If you talk to my friends, you will know I have been thinking about this for some years.
However, the new law will kill the English art market for nothing. The market will just move elsewhere. We need rules and regulations, but they must take into consideration the reality of the market, and make a difference between objects that can be legally exported and those that cannot.
Does China need a million Tang horses? In China, for example, give every object a “passport”. Sell them in auction in Beijing, then use the money effectively in the country. It’s like saying Mozart can only be played in Austria. National boundaries have no meaning because frequently the culture that produced the art has nothing to do with the present culture and civilisation. Take Afghanistan. It is inhabited by Central Asian tribes that have converted to Islam who have nothing to do with Buddhist Gandhara, which is an urban culture.
We have to regulate the market for its benefit. I think we are confronted with very dark times in general. The fear of globalisation. People are terrified at a subliminal level of losing their centre, their points of reference. Paul Valery said “the problem with the future, it is not what it used to be.” People react by being angry, short-sighted. We have to rebuild a planetary consciousness.
From a young age I always believed in diffusing the message of Asian art. I always thought that a good work of art could open one’s heart to other possibilities. That is what good art does. Art is there to push you in a direction of understanding other cultures and religions. That is why I like publishing books and creating exhibitions.
TN: When will you close down the gallery?
JE: At the end of July. I will let everyone know and probably have a party. I will start again privately in September. The cost I was paying for my previous overhead will be used for publishing books and exhibitions.
TN: How old are you?
JE: I am fifty-four. But I have to slow down and reduce the pressure.
TN: I feel very sad that you are closing down the gallery. It was a magnet for all of us collectors. Will you continue to exhibit in London in the Fall?
JE: No, but I will in New York. I will also devote myself to public exhibitions.
TN: What is your ambition in life?
JE: Peace of mind. It is very important. Stress eats you up. And I want to be as wise and peaceful as I can. That is the only way you can help others.
The Publisher Interviews Edward Dolman in Hong Kong
Tuyet Nguyet: What I thought was wonderful when I interviewed you four years ago was you had tremendous confidence in the Hong Kong art market. At that time you said Hong Kong will continue to be an ideal city for Christie’s to do business.
Edward Dolman: And that remains the case.
TN: You also said China will become a massive market for Chinese paintings and works of art. How do you feel about your very correct assessment?
ED: I think we were beginning to see a couple of years ago more and more mainland Chinese buying in our sales right across the board, not just Chinese works of art but also the watches and other things that we sell. We knew that with the development in China, WTO and the opening up of the market it was likely to increase the interest from the mainland Chinese buyer. What I did not predict and what I was not certain was just how quickly it would happen. I thought it would take a little longer than it actually has. I think the record sales which we have just had here are I hope a step change. There is a certain barrier. We had record years in 1999 and 2000. We did extremely well in 2002 and we did well in 2003, but all the good sales were coming in at much the same level. This time we have suddenly broken free and we were certainly not expecting to do 40 per cent more than we normally do. I think the combination of increased mainland Chinese interest, economic conditions generally and some of the quality of material we had in our sales helped to really make this big change. Now we have set a new benchmark for ourselves and I hope we continue to go from strength to strength.
I actually visited Beijing and Shanghai before coming here. It was my first visit to mainland China.
TN: Who went with you?
ED: Anthony Lin and Ben Kong our Chinese paintings expert. I went to have a look at the market, talked to some of the people who collect there, and saw the people at the Cultural Relics Bureau.
TN: What did they feel about the Christie’s auctions in Hong Kong?
ED: I think they certainly watch with interest the growth of our sales here.
TN: Did they voice any disapproval that you can collect wonderful unique works of art for sale and that China cannot do the same?
ED: There is a general understanding now that the public auction process produces a very good and transparent market. We offer a real chance for works of art to be identified, marketed and bought. Previous suspicions about the public auction process have been put to one side. They understand, like most institutions now, that it is much better to have sales in the public domain than to force the market underground. What Christie’s does is all about sales in the public domain. You could not have a more open transaction marketplace than we engage in.
TN: So they did not voice any concerns?
ED: I mean they absolutely have concerns because they want to protect the cultural heritage of China, which is the right thing for them to be doing. They are hoping the process of the public auction market will bring great works to light which have previously left China.
TN: It is wonderful that they do have that understanding of your work and the role played by your auction house on an international market. It is very important that they have no more suspicions and they know exactly what you are doing as you say in a transparent way.
ED: And they seem to be doing an extremely good job, actually.
TN: In what way?
ED: Well I think they are doing a very good job in supporting Chinese museums and cultural heritage. I was very impressed.
TN: What were your feelings and reactions when you met face to face some of the very important collectors in Beijing and Shanghai?
ED: I was obviously expecting to meet people who have great knowledge of the works of art and they did not disappoint me in that regard. But I was also very impressed by their understanding of the market and the growing ease in which they partake at auctions. So much of the drive in our sales has been the greater involvement of mainland Chinese collectors and there does not seem to be anything inherently different now, they feel, about buying and selling in our sales here in Hong Kong.
TN: After all they are buying back their own roots and they are the ones who are going to be the keepers of their cultural heritage. They can afford to pay for pieces around the world and bring them back to China. For me this is a wonderful act of sharing. What do you think?
ED: I think it is very important and in fact it is something you see worldwide. Great collectors have often left their collections to the nation in order to preserve the cultural heritage that they hold very dear which has driven their collecting over the years. You only have to visit the Shanghai Museum to see this where Alice Cheng bought at auction a very valuable peach vase and gave it to the museum. It is exactly that sort of thing that is very worthwhile and wonderful to see.
TN: When I started my magazine thirty-five years ago one of my aims was to help Asian people to love their own cultural heritage and if they could afford it to collect. If theybecome more successful or have more money to collect more important works of art then they should buy them back. What they are doing now is fulfilling this dream.
TN: Another of my hopes was collectors could start their own museums. I was told a few of the private collectors in China have already started setting up their own museums. To me this is wonderful and who could have thought five years ago this would be the trend?
ED: It is wonderful.
TN: However I am a little concerned and worried as the market is growing so fast. There are now certain elements of speculation in the market. If there are people who are too greedy and expect to have a fast return in only a few years then it is not good for the market as a whole. If the prices escalate 100 per cent and sometimes even 500 per cent then where are we going to go from here? I always advise people to collect because they love the works of art which they can enjoy for the longer term and not for speculation.
ED: I think we share your concerns and our traditional advice has always been exactly that. We advise people to buy what they like rather than see works of art as an opportunity for short term speculative profit. But it must be said it is a market and opportunities like that exist. We certainly don’t want to participate in overheating the market because it is absolutely in nobody’s interest at all. I think our specialists do give very sensible and impartial advice to people who want to buy at our sales and we certainly do not suggest that people should spend crazy amounts of money. There is a risk that the market might overheat, especially in a market that appears to be growing with more and more bidders coming in, but I don’t see it right now in the sale just passed.
Interestingly although the sales have been very successful it has been fairly selective, discerning buying. We don’t see irrational buying in everything. If you look at the bubble markets in the auction world before, in the end of the 1980s, there was almost no discrimination in buying. We sold everything. Whereas today there are extremely strong prices like the Ming brushwasher that we sold; it was a very important object. As long as that element of discretion remains the market will be OK. When we sell 99 per cent which we offer at crazy prices, then we have a problem. That is not the case at the moment. I see here very strong elements of discretionary buying.
TN: It is good that you can see the possible danger ahead. I talked to some very important London dealers and they were also predicting that in two or three years time if this trend continues then it will be a more speculative market rather than how it is presently. We have to take action now to prevent this from happening and protect the strong international market for Asian art.
ED: We would much prefer to see steady growth rather than very fast growth that might threaten a collapse at some point. I don’t see we are seeing it yet, but we are watchful.
TN: That is good. I am just trying to alert you. Looking back ten years or so collecting was a long term process and more for pleasure. It was more leisurely. Now it is getting more frantic and you can feel that. This is why we should not allow greed to overtake the seriousness of the art market.
ED: There is a general point to be made here, that the collecting patterns we see now are different from the collecting patterns of ten or fifteen years ago. People are still absolutely in the mould of a traditional collector and know a great deal about what they are collecting. They love what they collect and are looking all the time to enhance their collections in one way or another. There is an increasing awareness of the marketplace and there is an increasing awareness that great collections are being put together by people who use the market. They do buy and sell to upgrade and that is more prevalent now than before. In a way it is a little bit like the V&A museum and the British Museum who do not deaccession at all so their exhibitions have been inherently static, unless new donations come to them. Whereas the American museums actively partake in the market to add focus in their collections and fill gaps in their collections. There are two schools of thought—the traditional school of thought where you should keep everything and not use the market to upgrade, and the new school of thought to use the market to get your collection better and better by divesting some of the things you don’t want in your collection any more. There is a lot more activity from the collecting class than there used to be.
TN: People still remember the start of the breaking down of the Japanese art market in 1991 and it has taken one full cycle of twelve years for Japan to recover.
ED: I think that was a lesson for everybody. There was that explosion of prices in the art world, but we are not there yet. I think that Japanese bubble was an extraordinary period and economic event. We get the feeling that the economies of the world are better managed now. That the central banks control the upswings and downswings slightly more than in the past and that central control should help us. We will not have institutions and individuals coming to the market with hundreds of millions of dollars speculating on it. We can only hope that it does not happen again.
TN: What I have been told following my recent visit to America is no matter who is going to be the next President of America, the US economy will come down because of the heavy debt burden. If that is going to happen it is going to affect China and Hong Kong and so we have to be careful. Especially as China is overheated and there are signs that its growth has to slow down. So I was told the major banks are more careful about allowing the transfer of Chinese currency into Hong Kong. Perhaps that is why there appears to be more Taiwan collectors buying very strongly at your auction.
ED: There was Taiwanese buying at our sales over the course of the last few days, but you would expect that looking at the performance of the Taiwanese economy. I think we saw very strong Taiwan buying up to 2000 and in the last few years there has been less activity reflecting the recession that their economy has been through.
TN: But this sale was a total reversal and I was so pleased to see Patti Wong of Sotheby’s bidding for that Yongle dragon brushwasher. Here is somebody from Sotheby’s bidding for her client at your auction. She also knew the piece was very rare and managed to win against Mr Eskenazi and another bidder, paying almost HK$41 million.
ED: It was a great moment in the auction room when it happened. I was there with the vendor and I can tell you that the person selling it was very happy.
TN: Can I ask you whether he is from Asia, Europe or America?
ED: He is from Asia.
TN: I know this brushwasher has been sold quite a few times around the world. It is unique and there is no other piece like this. It is stunning. I was also encouraging Jason Tse to buy the parade scroll for his client, which he did at HK$26 million.
ED: I am surprised that he did not have to pay more for that.
TN: He almost stopped bidding for it two times. I said to him my friends in the art market thought this scroll should go up to HK$30 million. I was told by my dealer friends in America and Europe that piece should go to a museum. Jason was very pleased and did not have any regrets.
ED: That is not an inflated price for that quality. The unique thing is it is difficult to say that to the market because there is no obvious comparable. You can’t say one sold like that last year. There is no hint of over inflation in this area when such superb excellence is being offered.
The record sales this April reinforces the importance of Christie’s successful sales strategy in Asia. We have not seen such strength and depth in buyers from all over Asia for a decade, and we look forward to sustaining a momentum in keeping with the historic growth in so many Asian economies.
With this Editorial, readers are gaining valuable information through Arts of Asia interviews with a top author/art dealer authority, as well as with the Chief Executive Officer of the major international house whose foundation dates back to an auction conducted in England by James Christie in 1766. My Editorial alone is illustrated with more than fifty largely specially taken appropriate pictures not available elsewhere; while the issue as a whole has far more illustrations than most published and advertised illustrated art books today. I am delighted to still see that my determination when I founded the magazine in 1970 that the format should be bi-monthly, with six issues a year, was the right one. It takes the magazine’s team of myself and supporting editors far more than two months to produce each issue, not even counting the many years of experience and study on which each magazine is based.
I frequently receive letters from readers indicating that my Arts ofAsia Editorials are warmly appreciated. I do enjoy hearing from you and read everything I receive, however only a few can be published. They justify for me the considerable time and effort that are involved in preparing our work, including particularly the Editorials with their topical Asian art news and reports of events and activities. I learnt from my university studies in journalism in America that a magazine without an Editorial is hardly complete. But we do not stand still and are constantly making improvements in design, content and presentation. For instance, though these are developed gradually, the original magazine format always shines through.
So, for those with computer facilities I recommend our beautifully redesigned website www.artsofasianet.com. This has a secure server line for transferring credit card details when ordering subscriptions and back issues. Orders can be easily added to a shopping cart where the costs including delivery are immediately calculated. Customers are helped in making informed purchasing decisions and we have already received very positive results. It was prepared by website design specialists Compelite Limited (www.compelite.net) in Hong Kong . The project took over four months to complete and is, I am happy to be able to say, a brilliant new contribution to the usefulness of the magazine and a valuable resource for the serious Asian art world, whether collector or academic. Do please enjoy it.