ADJOINING MY EDITORIAL, for this “Changing Face of the Shanghai Bund” issue of Arts of Asia March–April 2005, is the brilliantly colourful jacket of the book Shanghai Through the Panoramic Eye (128 pages, full colour, 23.5 x 31 cm, HK$260) (1). The year 2003 folio of photographs and mainly the overseeing of the book production is by Fumio Okada, Chief Executive of Daiichi System Graphics Co., Ltd (2204 Kodak House II, 39 Healthy Street East, North Point, Hong Kong, Tel: 852-2342-4283, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). I am glad to disclose that not only is Mr Okada an international Japanese friend, but he has also worked on the beautiful colour separations for Arts of Asia since 1971. This must be a record!
From the Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower, with its sputnik-like lower sphere on the left of the picture a landmark, we look in the jacket’s night-time panoramic view across the Huangpu River to the waterfront buildings of the new Pudong area. This exuberant, uninhibited example of China’s landscaped monumental planning and architecture is described by Peter Hibbard, the enthusiastic editor of the book in his Foreword, as having been “little more than farmland and warehouses at the turn of the 1990s. Today it is a superbly choreographed spectacle of skyscraper spires, attractive parks, massive housing developments and wide tree-lined boulevards. At its core Lujiazui has been designed Asia’s Wall Street and the city is again emerging as a major centre of trade, finance and commerce. With its unrelenting drive for modernity Shanghai is set to showcase its success by hosting the World Expo in 2010.”
The Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower appears again in Fumio Okada’s daytime panorama (2). It is an aerial view from Pudong of the alignment of the right-hand stretch of the Shanghai Bund up to the curvatures of Suzhou Creek and shortly beyond. For orientation I publish in black and white a reduced version (3) of author Eric Politzer’s Map 1 in this issue (see pages 64-81). Readers can compare the Bund of close to today’s photograph with its plan in 1855 of the emerging foreign settlements.
While maintaining the integrity of the photographer’s unique daytime panorama, to aid our subscribers across the world to identify a few of the most notable early 20th century buildings and historic features, capital letters have been added as follows:
A-dome-topped former Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building, constructed between 1921 and 1923; B-Customs House and Clock Tower built in 1927; C-pyramid-capped Cathay Hotel, built in 1929 and lived in by its owner Sir Victor Sassoon (notable entrepreneur with a collection of Chinese ivories formed in Peking between 1915 to 1927, catalogued in three volumes in 1950), now the north wing of the Peace Hotel along the Nanjing Road and fronting the Bund; D-adjoining, vertical stressed approaching to “modern” 1937 Bank of China building; E-Suzhou Creek, still seen in the foreground of the photograph crossed by a sturdy two- arched centre-supported low bridge built by the British a hundred years or so ago.
Many of the imposing late renaissance-style office buildings erected along the Bund in the 1920s and 1930s were the work of Palmer and Turner, a major professional firm of former British colonial architects and engineers, still active today though headquartered in Hong Kong. Progressively their buildings along the Shanghai Bund during the first half of the 20th century became increasingly shorn of their imperial columns and classical mouldings, with art deco featuring mildly during the progress of the 1930s.
I first visited Shanghai, with my architect husband Stephen Markbreiter and our three young children in December 1965. Since then I have visited the Huangpu River major city and its environs many times. Several of these areas were featured in early issues of Arts of Asia which has made it more difficult to select the Fumio Okada panorama most appropriate to complete these pages. In our January–February and May–June 1997 back issues I celebrated first in my Editorial the opening of the new Shanghai Museum, followed by an outstanding issue on the Shanghai Museum Collections with individual articles by their curators (4). I have therefore no hesitation in selecting for our international subscribers a portion of Fumio Okada’s superb panorama of People’s Square (5). It shows, centre, the Shanghai Museum in the shape of a ding (bronze ritual food vessel), with to its left the spectacular Grand Theatre with its crescent-shaped top floor. The evergreen landscaping with its trees and lawns is a fine example for China’s world cities. Even the appropriate part of the super-highway is lined with plants.
I found disturbing an article by Jane Cai that appeared in the South China Morning Post on Friday December 31st, 2004: New Year’s Eve! She repeated that there has been an 80 per cent surge in the number of historic relics stolen in mainland China last year. She quotes Lu Jiansong with the Cultural Heritage Research Centre at Shanghai’s Fudan University, who says the situation will not improve unless central and local governments make the issue a priority.
In my wish to do what I can, I have discussed this so far with representatives of the major auction houses, gallery owners, international and local dealers during the past few weeks. They agree that the Chinese government can and should do more to prevent looting. However, they tend to believe from their own experiences that during 2004 and the preceding three to five years the volume for Chinese art and artefacts arriving in Hong Kong was in fact declining dramatically-not increasing. Rather they blame the booming market itself inside China for the incentive to looting.
According to the American trade particularly, any new restrictive regulations designed to stop the entry of Chinese art into their country could have an affect of cutting off Americans from all kinds of access to Chinese cultural property. A correspondent points out that the Chinese government does not have any system set up for screening and licensing the export of any cultural property other than the lowest grade “friendship store” material. Also there is a large volume of Chinese art in the hands of Chinese collectors in Hong Kong which quite legally belongs to them. He says they should not be restricted from sending it outside of Hong Kong to whatever destination they choose.
As a collector of China Trade paintings since many years, I believe particularly useful in this issue is the article by premier London conservator Alan Bradford. I would especially like to thank Martyn Gregory, Patrick Conner and those other friends who have made available the examples.
The article by Professor William Shang on Chinese late 18th to 19th century winter scenes is also relevant. It arises as a result of our own inquiries since a number of years as to the meaning of an early winter scene in our own collection (6). (See “The China Coast Collection of Tuyet Nguyet and Stephen Markbreiter” by Patrick Conner, Arts of Asia, March–April 1996 issue, title page.) Much international interest these days focuses on modern Chinese paintings. Surprisingly western traces can be seen to date back to the 16th century at least. This interesting East-West subject, with influences in both directions, will be the subject of a book review by Colin Sheaf in our May–June 2005 magazine.
As we approached the Chinese New Year on February 9th, most recognised in our minds was still the disastrous earthquake and tsunami waves of December 26th, 2004. While heartbreaking for so many, our hopes must be that the immediate positive response of help in massive aid and reconstruction from the people of all nations and their governments will in the long run bring East and West closer together. For those amongst our readers who have suffered heartbreaks and bereavements, please do know they have my understanding and that I feel for them. But life is fragile and must go on.
I do send all our readers, contributors and advertisers my warmest best wishes for the Chinese New Year which commenced on February 9th, 2005. The Year of the Rooster, it is illustrated here (7) by a Japanese wood carving of a rooster and hen, painted in naturalistic colours, signed Ueno Gyokusui, a high regarded Kyoto wood carver, circa 1920. It is published courtesy of our long-time supporters Lucille and Glenn Vessa at Honeychurch Antiques Ltd (29 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong).
On December 17th, 2004 Christie’s Hong Kong Limited announced in a press release that “After nearly twenty years at Christie’s, Anthony Lin has decided to leave the auction house at the end of January 2005 to pursue an independent career as an art advisor.” Anthony’s full biography appeared in an interview “The Publisher and Christie’s Anthony Lin at the Mandarin Hotel” that we published in the September-October 2003 magazine on pages 10-13.
On January 13th this year Anthony came to my office, at my invitation and a transcript of our lengthy interview together (8) is published as a correction to the many rumours and inaccurate gossip that have been circulating in Hong Kong, and most probably in the Asian art world elsewhere.
Tuyet Nguyet-It is a surprise that you, as Chairman of Christie’s Asia, a position you have been holding since September 2000, are leaving the auction world. People did not expect your press release at all. With Christie’s moving its venue for its end of May sales to the Convention and Exhibition Center, everybody thought you were busy building up for the most extraordinary sale of the year. Many friends called me asking whether your resignation is true.
T.N.-For example there is a rumour that you were sacked.
A.L.-Let me make this very clear. If you were sacked there would not be a press release. Edward Dolman [Christie’s Chief Executive Officer] was very good about it. He wanted to give a very clear, positive message that I was leaving Christie’s on my own accord under the friendliest circumstances. There is goodwill on both sides, clearly stated in the press release. We both made very positive comments.
T.N.-The whole process was so fast. It was unexpected you could tender your resignation and then step down just more than a month later.
A.L.-It has been on my mind for some time.
T.N.-For how long?
A.L.-I have been mulling it for well over a year now. During my sabbatical I thought about what I really wanted to do. There are opportunities for working in different ways in the art market. We live in exciting times with China opening up. The main thrust was I felt auctions had become very highly pressured. I am in the second half of my career and it makes you think about how you use your time and how you might be able to have a career in a different way that would allow you to pursue more personal interests yet continue to contribute to the art market.
Christie’s had been very generous in granting me the sabbatical which allowed me to think about what I wanted to do with my career, how I wanted to work. When I came back I gave it a very good try and was lucky the market was so strong in 2004. In fact last year was our best ever and I felt it a good time to leave on a high note.
T.N.-You are absolutely correct that you are leaving Christie’s at the height of your career. I read with amazement that Christie’s Hong Kong made US$100 million in 2003 and nearly double that amount, US$181 million, in 2004. How could they afford to let you go?
A.L.-It wasn’t their decision.
T.N.-It’s a miracle to make money like that. If I have HK$200,000 and put it in The Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited for three months, the interest is only HK$5. Not even enough to buy a cup of tea.
A.L.-You are getting almost nothing, leaving your money in the bank. A lot of people have moved funds into the art market, which is one of the reasons the art market has been very strong the last two or three years.
T.N.-Which areas in the Chinese art market do you think will perform well at future auctions?
A.L.-The contemporary and modern Chinese paintings market is very exciting, with dramatic growth over the last few years. We have a great expert in Eric Chang who has done so well and is one of the best experts I have worked with. There has been a lot of buzz with its 20th century slant, as well as this very “hip”, avant garde element. New York and London sales of Western contemporary art are huge growth areas. I see this happening in Hong Kong as well on the Chinese side. We have had these sales for the past seven years and in the last two years they have taken off. There are many new buyers, not just from Asia but from Europe and America. They are looking at what is going on in China. Much of the arts in this area are social, political and economic commentaries of China. It is intellectually stimulating for younger buyers from Asia, as well as Europe and America.
T.N.-I fully agree with you that this is an area with a wider audience, whereas quality, rare and expensive ceramics is more restrictive to the wealthy.
A.L.-You are right. More traditional areas of art, ceramics and the top rung of 20th century painting are limited to collectors with deep pockets. But contemporary art is thought provoking, and of course there are no authenticity issues because they are works of living young artists.
T.N.-Your cv is remarkable and I am impressed with what you have achieved in nearly twenty years at Christie’s, especially establishing the Christie’s Shanghai office in 1994. What did you do before you joined Christie’s?
A.L.-I did editorial work in Singapore at the Straits Times and research for publications on the history of Singapore. Then I worked in the textile industry for a year. My father had a textile factory that made jeans for export to Europe and America. It was great business experience, but I did not enjoy it.
T.N.-Was your father born in Singapore?
A.L.-No, he was from China. Both my parents were born in China.
T.N.-When did they move to Singapore?
A.L.-They were in Singapore before the war. They left China during the turmoil in the 1930s. Then of course as events turned out they had to stay and could not go back after 1949.
T.N.-During your nearly twenty years at Christie’s what did you most learn?
A.L.-My greatest satisfaction in Hong Kong has been building sales from 1993 to where they are today. I could not have done it without the amazing team we have in Hong Kong who are dedicated to work and are fully committed to the task at hand. I don’t think this is found anywhere else other than Hong Kong. For me, that was the biggest satisfaction. We put so much into building the business. The building blocks are made up of people. You will find it in every department. We built up sales in Chinese paintings, ceramics, jewellery, and then Southeast Asian and 20th century modern Chinese paintings. The team is incredible. That is the greatest thing I have learnt. That people, at their dedicated best, outperform expectations, even their own.
T.N.-When you were appointed Managing Director of Christie’s Hong Kong in 1993, some of the foreign collectors were unsure as the first Chinese person to head the company you could succeed. I said why not, as long as you had the expertise and the affinity to cope with people of all works of life. I remember when you were appointed to hold your second auction in Hong Kong you wanted smaller auctions and focus on quality not quantity.
A.L.-That was one of the first things I wanted to do.
T.N.-The auctions under your supervision were a great success.
A.L.-Looking back it was a historic moment in time. Hong Kong was still very much a colonial place in the 1980s right up to the handover in 1997. People were still used to British run institutions and organisations. Some felt it was slightly unusual that I was appointed to that position. But people forget that Mamie Howe ran the show at Sotheby’s for years. She was a business woman and highly respected. Of course as things turned out it was her sister, Baroness Lydia Dunn, who became Christie’s Chairman. I learnt tremendously from her. She had incredible style in everything she did and had great tact. She was very astute.
T.N.-When did Christie’s and Swire join together?
A.L.-From 1989 to 1994 Christie’s and Swire had a five year joint venture. This was something decided in London. It was felt that Swire might be able to give us an entrée into segments of the market that we were not already familiar with. After five years, the joint venture ended and it reverted to Christie’s. But Baroness Dunn remained Chairman of the Board until she left Hong Kong. Those were amazing early days of growth and consolidation. Before I came in 1993 it was pretty tough. We did not have full-time departments and that was what we needed. Full-time specialists based here with a full infrastructure, then you have top-class support to grow. Up until then sales were all run and processed out of New York or London. Large tranches of property were sent out here and I would coordinate everything in Hong Kong. One of the first things I realised was we needed a proper base here with dedicated specialist departments.
T.N.-When Christie’s had its first sales in Hong Kong on January 13th, 1986, James Spencer was the person coming to Hong Kong from London and Alice Piccus was the Christie’s Hong Kong representative. The sales took place at the Mandarin Hotel and were conducted by Christie’s Chairman John A. Floyd. It was reported in the Arts of Asia May -June 1986 magazine.
A.L.-In the early days, most of the property came from Europe and America. There were very few local consignors for the first few years. People here were more loyal to Sotheby’s. It was a great learning curve, understanding how brand perception works. When we first came to Hong Kong Sotheby’s was the brand. It was not a global market. Information is now much more widespread. At that time Hong Kong people generally attended Hong Kong sales, very few participated in New York or London. Markets were very insular. Regional clients were active only in local markets, rarely crossing borders to buy and sell. Few dealers in those days did that. Of the few who did well, Robert Chang understood the global market and knew he could buy something in New York and sell it for a better price in Hong Kong. He was very skilful and saw the huge potential. I learnt a great deal from him about taking a global view of the Chinese art market. He would consign huge numbers of lots to each sale location, and knew how to get the best out of each auction. I was always amazed that he remembered everything in his head. Many did not see how hard he worked; he had all that drive and ambition.
T.N.-I have known him for over thirty-five years and he is a remarkable man. Last night when I looked through our back issues and saleroom news reports in our May-June 1986 issue, I found that Christie’s first Hong Kong sale accented only on Chinese paintings and jewellery. How come?
A.L.-Well, that was all we had.
T.N.-What about Chinese ceramics?
A.L.-That only started the following year. They decided that we had to have a first sale. I remember the jewellery came in very late from an old Hong Kong collection.
T.N.-In the early years you consistently offered wonderful Chinese paintings.
A.L.-K.S. Wong, working out of New York, was running Chinese painting sales. He would focus on putting together 19th century Chinese paintings for Hong Kong. That was how it worked out. By 1987 we offered ceramics, jades, rhinoceros horn, other works of art and jadeite carving. Jadeite carvings used to make a fortune and now they are out of fashion. It is fascinating to see how the market has changed.
T.N.-The lesson to be learned is to collect what you really enjoy.
A.L.-I think the people who bought those jadeite carvings then were new wealthy collectors who wanted to have them as status symbols in their homes and offices. It was then a different lifestyle.
T.N.-How did you develop such in depth knowledge in Chinese ceramics?
A.L.-It was the basic training you received starting up as a junior at an auction house in London. I don’t think you can replicate that experience today because there simply isn’t the volume you used to get. People would walk in with boxes filled with twenty or thirty items which might include jade carvings, ceramics and works of art that had been in families for fifty or a hundred years. You saw an extraordinary body of material and had to process everything, whether it was genuine or not. That was a great learning experience. Genuine lower value items went to South Kensington, and if not they were returned. Everything had to be catalogued on cards and you learnt how to describe pieces accurately. One year there was a snuff bottle convention in London and six or seven hundred snuff bottles came in. No one else wanted to do it so I catalogued the whole lot. The interesting thing for me was to sit down with the Bob Stevens catalogue and learn all the materials. I found it fascinating. The entire gamut of Chinese craftsmanship is to be found in Chinese snuff bottles, whether it is painting, glass, etc.
T.N.-With your trained eye, can you tell whether a Yuan or Ming blue and white ceramic is genuine or not?
A.L.-Today a lot of technological research concentrates on mineral content in the body and cobalt and the recipes of the glaze in different periods. These are very scientific aspects. The ceramic institute in Shanghai have been holding conferences for years and years finding out how ceramics were made. Their findings across the whole repertoire have been published. But that is only one aspect. What I think you need to do is take your time to look at every aspect of a ceramic: glaze, construction, shape of the foot, the way the clay thins to the rim of a dish or a bowl, bubbles, painting, cobalt-it is like detective work. You need to give yourself time to examine. Most of the copies have a flaw somewhere. There are areas where they fall down. These are handmade, remember. They are still crafted. There are recognisable traits to the painting and you cannot rush your decision. Porcelain is an area where there are duplicates for comparison so if you look at enough genuine examples, after a while you begin to look for the right style, feel, proportion, and painting. If there is ever a sliver of a doubt, I repeat, you need to take time and not rush a decision.
T.N.-You are very wise. What is your particular strength in Chinese ceramics? A.L.-I never feel you know enough as there are so many aspects in the art market. I particularly enjoy working with bronzes, stone sculptures, Song ceramics and early blue and white. I am probably most comfortable looking at Yuan and early Ming blue and white. Song is fascinating but it is a very difficult area.
T.N.-Why do you say that?
A.L.-It is very complex. There is a great variety of black, white and green wares and not that much available to study in detail. It is also the period furthest in time from us, so there are far fewer examples around. You have to work in museums for some time before you get to handle rare examples of the best. The greatest academic debates over dating still arise in the Song area. It is fascinating and knowledge continues to grow. But of course Qing is also complex because of the sheer range of technique and style, not just in blue and white. There is a huge variety and so many different types of enamelled and monochrome wares. In a way, I am grateful for the way auction houses were set up. It has given me the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount as well as a lot of pleasure.
T.N.-Some of our friends are amazed that Yongzheng pieces fetch such high prices. Can you explain?
A.L.-Yongzheng has always fetched high prices because of the quality. During the Chenghua and Yongzheng periods there was extremely stringent control in terms of aesthetic and technical quality. They were also very demanding arbiters and a huge quantity was rejected. Perhaps only ten per cent was accepted. Much was destroyed and of course the very best craftsmanship was the result.
T.N.-Over the last two or three years many reporters have said only Chinese collectors dare to pay high prices.
A.L.-It’s not true at all. It is a story that has been running for many years now, especially in the western press. People have been very keen to develop this theme that the “dragon” has awakened. They are absolutely right that China has become a force. If you look at China ten years ago compared with now, there was nothing then. Auctions only began ten years ago in China and where they are today is just incredible. This is really about the opening up of China with the liberalisation of the economy under Deng Xiaoping. That in itself is a huge phenomenon and a wonderful story. But journalists have gone beyond that, saying that the mainland Chinese are now the biggest buying force. It is very variable. From 1999 to 2003 there was strong growth in the buying pattern outside China, in Hong Kong, London and New York at the upper end of the market. Then suddenly last year when they introduced the credit squeeze, it had a noticeable adverse effect on top end buying. What we noticed last year however was more and more mainland people came to Hong Kong to buy Chinese paintings. Of course prices are more modest from HK$100,000 to HK$1 million. We are not talking about paying HK$35 million for one vase. There is steady growth, but I don’t think mainland Chinese buyers were consistent buyers of the top lots. The biggest buyers overall are still the Taiwanese.
T.N.-Where did they get the money to buy?
A.L.-There is plenty of money there. What is fascinating is that a lot of the businessmen in Taiwan are doing so well out of China. Some of them have been producing computer chips in China, others were broadening their business or production networks in China. Their wealth has grown exponentially over the last five to ten years because they have all gone into China to build property or plants. They have increased their turnover dramatically and because of the low cost of production in China, they have made fortunes many times over. These are the big buyers. There are four or five exceptionally strong Taiwanese buyers.
T.N.-For the coming year, how do you see the market for Chinese art?
A.L.-I think it will continue to be very strong. I don’t believe it will weaken, at least not in the first half of the year. China had exceptional sales the end of last year and I think it will carry over. There is no indication of any panic yet and there is a huge amount of money still in this market. As for China there is no doubt one day it will become the indisputable force when it becomes a mature economy. It is still early days yet.
T.N.-You were the one to ask Christie’s to move its sale to the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center and you are not going to be there to conduct the first auction.
A.L.-Since we moved all our sales to Hong Kong in 2002 there had been a strain on resources. We were quickly outgrowing the space and there was just not enough room in the hotel to display the works. We had to hire additional space in a separate location from the hotel to hang paintings. We can sell more and I think we do want to sell more because in terms of Southeast Asian paintings there is a very interesting contemporary side we haven’t had the space to showcase. This is equally so in Chinese contemporary painting. We have also started to include Korean contemporary painting which was one hundred per cent sold, and in addition we will have Japanese contemporary painting in May. It is really going to become a pan-Asian contemporary painting effort which is very exciting.
T.N.-But overseas dealers have said how can you expect them to travel to Hong Kong four times a years to attend the Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales now that they will not take place more or less at the same time?
A.L.-I don’t think that is an issue any more.
T.N.-It is a very serious issue.
A.L.-Dealers from Hong Kong fly to sales in Germany, London, New York and Paris, all at different times. They fly everywhere. I don’t think overseas dealers should complain as Hong Kong dealers do a lot more travelling than they do. We are in a global market and if you want the goods you have to go where they are offered. Business people fly around the world at the drop of a hat for short meetings. We made it quite clear that we did not want to inconvenience people but we have a space issue. We cannot sell more at the moment because we are just bursting at the seams and the only time we can sell at the Convention Center is in May. That was the only slot they had. This is a market requirement. Dealers like Eskenazi and Lally used to come to Hong Kong for three or four days between auctions, sometimes as often as six or seven times a year. Generally overseas dealers come several times a year other than to attend the auctions, so I don’t think it is a real issue. Our departments were unable to take on more consignments in the Marriott. The new space now is huge. It is five times the space we had at the Marriott Hotel. We can have installations and museum style displays. In the hotel we are limited by floral carpets, wallpaper. We will be getting designers to work on the display. It is very exciting. We wanted to showcase more works. The demand is there. Moving is the price you have to pay to grow the market and the market is there for growing.
T.N.-I understand the idea of expanding the space but Sotheby’s complained that you did not double-check with them about the dates. They said it was totally unexpected.
A.L.-That is totally untrue. I know that Sotheby’s scheduling department in London is in contact with ours and knows what we are doing. Of course we do not consult with them. We had the need for more space and tried to get it in the same week. You can only inform others once you have a signed commitment. I don’t think the decision was taken much before November. We had informally told a number of people that we were moving.
T.N.-But the concern is that you have a flair for displaying the pieces, but you will not be there to supervise.
A.L.-I will be there as a spectator. I will enjoy looking at the art for a change.
T.N.-What are your plans now that you have resigned and will be leaving Christie’s for good in more than two weeks from our interview? You are leaving Christie’s for good and will not go back?
A.L.-I have already announced that I am leaving and will set up an art advisory business. I will advise institutions and private collectors on art collecting. I will search for works they are looking for or advise them on what they should have.
T.N.-Will you bid at the auction?
A.L.-I may do so eventually. I haven’t set up anything and I am not in a hurry to do so. I will travel around, look at how people are working in different markets, and renew contacts with friends in the business whom I haven’t seen in the last few years. For example, it will be a relief to go to the art fairs in New York and not have the pressure of having a New York auction happening. I can just enjoy it and talk to collectors and dealers meaningfully.
T.N.-Will you be able to walk into Sotheby’s previews and auctions?
A.L.-I hope so. I will be a free agent.
T.N.-Will people be able to ask you to bid for them?
A.L.-Yes, if they feel so inclined.
T.N.-I am sure they will be. May I ask your commission?
A.L.-I have no idea. Depending on the nature of their business, advisors charge quite differently. I am going to take my time and make those decisions later.
T.N.-Certainly you will already have a list of very important clients?
A.L.-I am still working at Christie’s. It would be inappropriate to start planning anything now. I’ll make an announcement when the time comes.
T.N.-Would you also have a gallery in the future?
A.L.-I am sure I would not like to run a gallery.
T.N.-What would you enjoy doing best?
A.L.-I would love to be able to write from time to time, I still owe you articles for Arts of Asia! Over the last two years it has been almost impossible to sit down, get in a creative mode, and spend a whole week or ten days writing a piece.
T.N-There have been rumours that you are going to work for the Poly Art Museum in Beijing. Have you heard about that?
A.L.-That is what I love about the art market-it’s full of gossip! There is no truth in this. I will be leaving Christie’s as a free independent agent. I will really miss my incredible colleagues. I could not have done it without their dedication and the way they worked to build up Christie’s Hong Kong.
T.N.-Do you have any news on who is going to replace you at Christie’s?
A.L.-No. They will make an announcement in due course. I do not know what decisions will be made.
T.N.-I have been told that your job will be carved into two or three positions. They want to have someone who will hold a very prominent position in China and there will be another person to manage the Hong Kong office.
A.L.-I have no idea.
T.N.-You can’t step down and not have a plan with Edward Dolman to find a replacement?
A.L.-There are plans and they are putting them in place. They will announce them.
T.N.-I hear they are in disarray and have not found anyone yet.
A.L.-Everything will fall in place. Far more senior people than I have come and gone at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and life went on. It changes all the time. It is a people business and those involved in the business will change it, and that’s a good thing.
T.N.-People have noticed both auction houses have not been tight enough with their ethics. Descriptions in the catalogue are not specific enough and that pieces are being resold after less than a year or two.
A.L.-The fact is that there is a rising demand in the market. You could say it is a more speculative market with more people rushing in, but the pieces are selling. That is the proof at the end of the day. It is whether something sells or not. Of course you try to have as tight a hand as you can on attributions and information. But we don’t have the luxury that people in the trade have in spending a year or more putting things away for an exhibition. They can put together a collection of fifty pieces. We have to put together auctions of three hundred lots. Even three weeks before the deadline you find yourself short of certain pieces. You have to go on, and until the deadline, you are not sure what you might have. We provide certain standards as the art market is judged by auctions. We are a demand led business, if the demand is there, we respond. We have to provide a complete service across many fields of Asian art and it is completely different from what dealers do. We have to put sales together in the space of three or four months.
T.N.-People say going to the auctions is no longer the same as before.
A.L.-Of course it’s not the same! Life has changed, Hong Kong and New York has changed. The buyers are different. Doing business has changed. You no longer walk into the bank and know your bank manager. Relationship businesses have changed. Information has changed our lives. We are no longer working in an era when life was at a leisurely pace.
T.N.-Many collectors say the auctions are now too hectic and not so pleasurable. It is more of a trade and the ethics are lax.
A.L.-I think that a very unfair criticism. We try to demonstrate to the marketplace a position of responsibility. I remember when we started talking to dealers about how we should deal with provenance issues some of them were very upset. They thought what we were proposing would make life much more difficult for the whole business. If the whole regulatory environment is changing you have to change along with it.
T.N.-What do you think of the Chinese government request for extensive restrictions against the importation of Chinese cultural property into the US?
A.L.-I think it is a very unfortunately worded request and has upset many people in different ways. There have been very different responses. What needs to be done now is to rally all views and have one consistent voice.
T.N.-Some dealers are very worried.
A.L.-Of course they are. On a personal level I think it is unfortunate because it turns collecting Chinese art into something undesirable. Many Americans and Europeans come to Chinese art fascinated by the culture. It would be very unfortunate for cultural exchange should collecting Chinese art be discouraged. As an overseas Chinese I learnt a huge amount about Chinese art by going to museums in America and Europe. They had wonderful collections, more accessible than China then. My eyes were opened to whole areas of Chinese history. That could be lost if collecting were turned into a politically undesirable thing. I hope a sensible approach will be taken on both the Chinese and American sides, so that a workable solution may be arrived at to the advantage of China. On the American side, I hope they arrive at a decision that is sensible and takes into account all the different pressures people are under. Nobody in their right mind would sell anything that is tainted or stolen. Equally blanket regulation is not going to help. It would have the effect of discouraging interest in Chinese art. I hope that a workable, sensible and acceptable solution without too much political intervention can be arrived at. They will need to approach the issues with tact and skill.
T.N.-I have been told that the last three years saw few important Chinese antiques coming to Hong Kong.
A.L.-China has been very tough on illegal excavations. We almost don’t hear of important pieces coming here any more.
T.N.-This, I was told, is because the pieces can be sold to mainland Chinese collectors.
A.L.-They have arrested a number of people over the last three or four years. Obviously the measures are working and they are doing something about it.
T.N.-I would like to thank you for coming here for this candid interview. You look good and are smiling a lot more. It is obvious you are more relaxed and don’t have the pressures that come with putting together the next auction.
A.L.-Now that I have done it and made my decision I am so relieved. At this time I would be normally thinking about the next sale and who I should call. Basically I would be travelling non-stop between now and March just to get the sale together, to meet clients and take on business.
T.N.-Then who is doing that in your absence?
A.L.-Pola Antebi and the team are very good and exceptionally professional. They are very capable and did a great job when I was on sabbatical.
T.N.-Besides Pola Antebi in Hong Kong who should collectors approach if they want to talk to an expert?
A.L.-Rosemary Scott is still the academic consultant. There are two others specialists- Chi Fan Tsang who has been with Christie’s for twelve years now and is very good; Audrey Wang who has been working on the Jimmy Li snuff bottle sale coming up in New York and has produced a very attractive catalogue.
T.N.-I am looking forward to that. Will you continue to live in Hong Kong?
A.L.-I will continue to be based in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is still the hub for the Chinese art market.
T.N.-Are you planning to write a book about your experiences in the auction house?
A.L.-Maybe I’ll write on another subject.
T.N.-Can you name some of the important collections of Chinese art?
A.L.-Au Bak Ling in Hong Kong and the Ma family in Taiwan have great Chinese ceramics. Leon Black in New York has wonderful bronzes. The Hong Kong Museum of Art shows part of The Tianminlou Foundation of ceramics belonging to S.C. Ko. J.S. Lee has some wonderful paintings. For jades I would say Charles Ho and Sir Joseph Hotung. The Aurora Foundation in Taipei also has very good jades and Buddhist sculptures.
T.N.-Will you have any regrets when you leave Christie’s?
A.L.-I don’t want to maintain this hectic lifestyle for the rest of my life. I want to do so many other things besides work at an auction house. I plan to maintain good relationships and friendships. I will enjoy music, opera, concerts, theatre and film and get into better shape physically.
Coinciding with the publication of this magazine two notable shows and fairs are being held in New York. One (Thursday March 31st preview, Noon to 7 pm) is the Arts of Pacific Asia Show, which will be running from April 1st–3rd at Gramercy Park Armory, Lexington Avenue at 26th Street. The other, which runs for longer, is The International Asian Art Fair (Thursday March 31st preview, 6 to 9 pm) from April 1st–6th at The Seventh Regiment Armory. Many of our supporters will be active at these events. Several who are holding exhibitions at this time of the year have asked me to supply information for our readers on their exhibitions which I do briefly alphabetically.
Carlton Rochell Ltd is pleased to announce its spring 2005 exhibition entitled “Divine Incarnations: Art from India and Southeast Asia”. The show comprises some thirty outstanding examples of sculpture and painting from India, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, and will be presented in his gallery in the Fuller Building (41 East 57th Street, Tel: 212-759-7600) from March 9th–April 15th. The exhibition coincides with the Asia Week auctions. Illustrated is his rare work from the Nalin collection of a copper alloy Cakrasamvara Mandala dating from the 12th century (9). It comes from West Bengal or Bangladesh.
China 2000 Fine Art is displaying at their gallery (5 East 57th Street) in Manhattan and at The International Asian Art Fair on Park Avenue forty paintings evenly divided between two artists: Sha Yixuan (1886–1954) and Zeng Xiaojun (born 1954). Titled “Tradition and the Future of Tradition”, these paintings use traditional materials for Chinese painting, ink and colour on paper, with fine brushwork as the standard of quality. Several of Zeng Xiaojun’s paintings are of monumental size (135 x 323 cm) (10). For further information contact Karen Wender (Tel: 212-588-1198).
E & J Frankel, Ltd is presenting from March 31st to April 30th in their gallery (1040 Madison Avenue at 79th Street, Tel: 212-879-5733) a collection of fifteen yixing wares from the 16th through the early 19th century which has been stored in Taiwan for the last fifty-five years. Pictured is their Chen Mingyuan teapot in the form of a pumpkin, reminiscent of one by the great Ming dynasty Yixing potter, Shen Dabin (11). The collection also has scholar’s implements and drinking cups all signed by the foremost potters to have worked in Yixing.
Leading London dealer Eskenazi is holding their annual New York exhibition “Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Sculpture” at Pacewildenstein (32 East 57th Street, Tel: 212-421- 3688) which will be shown from 28th March to 9th April. The exhibition will feature some ten major bronzes and sculptures on view, including a bronze vessel, you and cover from the Shang period, Anyang phase, cast some three thousand or more years ago (12). Other remarkable pieces include two carved limestone Buddha figures, 5th century AD, and an elegant seated carved wood figure of a Bodhisattva, Song period.
For their upcoming exhibition J.J. Lally & Co. (41 East 57th Street, Tel: 212-371-3380) will be showing early Chinese ceramics from an American private collection. Carefully put together in the past fifteen to twenty years, the collection includes a good selection of early Chinese ceramics dating from the Neolithic period (3rd Millennium BC) to the end of the Song dynasty (13th century), with a main concentration on the Song dynasty. The special exhibition will take place from March 28th–April 16th, 2005 and will be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue providing a full description and a colour illustration of each item. I have selected to illustrate a painted Cizhou vase (meiping), Jin dynasty, 12th/13th century, height 40 cm (13).
Bangkok based dealer in Himalayan and Chinese art Mehmet Hassan will be exhibiting for the first time at The International Asian Art Fair. As a long time dealer working from home on an appointment only basis he is looking to find new clients in the American market. He says, “I am getting fewer visitors to Bangkok and not having a gallery it is important to have a venue where I can present high quality works of art to the sophisticated American market.” Amongst the items he will be bringing is a ritual bell and dorje with the imperial mark of the Yongle reign (1403–1424) (14) and a beautiful white marble torso of the Buddha dating from the Northern Qi period (550–577). Also being shown are several high quality Tibetan manuscript covers and bronzes as well as Chinese stone sculpture and early bronze material. Mehmet Hassan will be producing an exhibition catalogue.
Michael C. Hughes is again showing at the Ingrao Gallery at 17 East 64th Street between Fifth and Madison (Tel: 212-472-5400) from March 29th to April 8th; major items come from four private collections in the US and Europe. Important highlights are a pair of huanghuali wood figures and a select group from Tibet including a massive 15th century seated figure of Buddha Aksobhya, almost 60 cm high. A 15th century red lacquer box (15), 16th-18th century cloisonné, furniture, archaic bronzes and jades are included, and a group of snuff bottles rounds off the exhibition.
Rossi & Rossi of London is holding at the Barbara Mathes Gallery (Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, Tel: 212-752-5135) the first ever commercial exhibition dedicated specifically to Mongolian sculpture from the School of Zanabazar. “Treasures from Mongolia: Buddhist Sculpture from the School of Zanabazar” will run from 28th March to 4th April. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated scholarly catalogue with an essay by Gilles Beguin, Conservateur General du Musée Cernuschi, Paris. Illustrated is a 17th/early 18th century figure of Sitatapatra, goddess of the glorious white parasol (16). It bears strong resemblance to a group attributed to Zanabazar (1625– 1723), the religious ruler of Mongolia skilled in bronze casting, who contributed significantly to the arts of his country.
As usual Sandra Whitman will be exhibiting at The International Asian Art Fair in New York City with a group of regional carpets; Khotan, Ningxia, Baotou, Peking and Tibet, as well as three East Turkestan carpets and an important complete Ming runner. The latter is geometric with an octagon field and narrow robin’s egg blue wan border and liver coloured outer border. Illustrated is her Kangxi period circa 1700 Ningxia carpet from western China in the stars and squares pattern (17).
It will be remembered with pleasure that the James H.W. Thompson Foundation in conjunction with Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company held their successful symposium, “Southeast Asian Textiles through the Thread of Time” in August 1999. This I reported in my November–December 1999 Editorial, pages 8–9. It brought together twelve distinguished speakers and over two hundred participants.
Plans are now announced to hold a second symposium in Bangkok from August 4th to 7th, 2005. The event will feature a two-day symposium, to be held on August 4th and 5th, with lectures by distinguished scholars and textile experts from around the world. Entitled “Status, Myth and the Supernatural-Unraveling the Secrets of Southeast Asian Textiles”, the symposium will focus on the traditional role and function of textiles in countries such as Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Thailand. Other activities include an optional three-day excursion to visit weaving areas in Northeast Thailand. During the symposium there will be special textile displays and exhibitions. The objective of the symposium is to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and new research on traditional Asian textiles. More information is available on www.seasiantextiles.com.
Impressed by the short introduction by Christina Chu, Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, published towards the end of this issue, we made a point of attending the opening on December 23rd, 2004 just before Christmas of the exhibition “Huang Yongyu at 80”. Important Hong Kong officials, seen at the opening standing next to the artist, are dressed in red Ms Anissa Wong Sean-yee, Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, and in purple Ms Elsie Leung, Secretary for Justice (18). The artist is greatly popular in our area of Hong Kong, and China itself, for his Chinese ink paintings with bright and luxuriant colours, and particularly of the lotus. The popularity of his paintings was expressed most visibly by the bank of flowers that encircled the gallery foyer from his named supporters and the Chinese ink painter’s enthusiasts of all ages who attended the opening.
Before closing my Editorial I had a last chance to reread the press release of Christie’s Hong Kong dated December 17th, 2004 announcing the departure of Anthony Lin. I feel it is important for my readers to know what Mr Edward Dolman said there:
“Anthony Lin has played a key role in establishing our dominant role in Asia. He has been a guiding light and mentor to our highly successful international Asian department, and as a colleague, has been a pleasure to work with. His dedication and commitment to Christie’s has been exemplary throughout his career. I understand his desire to change direction at this time and wish him ongoing success in the future. While we will all miss Anthony, I anticipate that we will work with him in his new capacity. I am also confident that Christie’s leading presence in Asia will continue to develop and we will see further exciting developments in the region in the coming year.”
Mr Dolman’s office in London has told me that “up to now we have not found anyone to replace Mr Anthony Lin. We are still searching.” I hope I will be able to mention the name of the selected candidate in my Arts of Asia May-June 2005 Editorial.