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Asia Week, Fall, 2007


Indian Art Including Miniatures and Modern Paintings, September 19, Sale 8341
Contemporary Art Asia: China, Korea and Japan, September 20, Sale 8343
Contemporary Art South Asia: India and Pakistan, September 21, Sale 8336
Arts of the Buddha, September 21, Sale 8345

"New Indians" by Upadhyay

Lot 27, "New Indians" by Chintan Upadhyay, installation with 33 fiberglass, wood, gold leaf and acrylic paint, 36 ½ x 35 ¾ inches, (2007) and Lot 29, T.V. Santhosh's "Untitled" oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches 2005 in the left background

Photographs by Michele Leight

By Michele Leight

Asia Week at Sotheby's, September 18- 21, 2007 was a dazzling spectacle of the not-so-old and ancient keeping pace with the cutting edge as luscious thankas, bronzes and serene Buddha's from India, China, Tibet and Nepal shared the stage with modern and contemporary Asian paintings, video installations, film, traditional and digital photography, and sculpture, with a noticeable emphasis on contemporary art from India and China, all very much in the limelight nowadays.

Sotheby's five auctions totalled $61,931,226, highlighted by a record sale of Contemporary Asian Art which realized $38,448,575, far exceeding expectations. Indian Art totaled $9,514,038, exceeding its high estimate, and Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art totaled $7,652,438 and Arts of the Buddha totaled $6,317,775.

Contemporary Art South Asia

It was also noticeable that representational - especially figurative - oil painting is a strong focus of contemporary Chinese artists, while sculpture from both continents was highly imaginative in the Contemporary Art South Asia auction.

Contemporary Indian artists are breaking exciting new ground, with correspondingly rising price tags for their work at auction as collectors of all ages snap up their work. Lot 27, "New Indians," by Chintan Upadhyay (b. 1972) is a marvellous installation of 33 glittering gold clones, and is illustrated at the top of this article. Created in 2007, it is a reflection of "unreal realness," and the ability of mankind to subject everything to the process of simulation, an entirely current preoccupation." It has an estimate of $400,000 to $500,000. It sold for $529,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

"Untitled" by Subodh Gupta

Lot 25, "Untitled," by Subodh Gupta, mixed media lifesize sculpture of an Indian family on a vespa (2006)

Lot 25 in the same sale is an untitled work by Subodh Gupta (b. 1964), showing a lifesize Indian family on a scooter. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000. It sold for $277,000, setting a record for the artist.

"Father" by Atul Dodiya

Lot 33, "Father," by Atul Dodiya, enamel paint on metal roller shutters, shown closed, left, and open, right, acrylic and marble dust on canvas, 108 by 72 inches, 2002

A contemporary work by Atul Dodiya (b. 1959), "Father," painted in 2002, Lot 33, brilliantly references ancient and modern western art, religious paintings, and populist iconography like Bollywood movie posters and calendar art, common subject matter for Dodhya, who is revered by the younger generation of Indian artists. It has an estimate of $230,000 to $280,000. "Father" sold for $601,000, setting an auction record for the artist.

Lot 24, "The Fragrance of Jasmine," by Surekha, 83 framed, colored photographs, each 9 x 6 ¾ inches, 2002

A contemporary installation by Surekha (b. 1964), entitled "The Fragrance of Jasmine," brings the viewer face to face with 83 framed, colored photographs taken by three generations of male photographers from the 1960s onwards that show young South Indian girls or women wearing an elaborate jasmine braid to highlight an important rite of passage in their lives, like puberty, marriage or pregnancy. The mirrors behind each photograph serve to show the viewer the braid, but as we move from frame to frame, noticing the expressions of joy, excitement or unease of each sitter, we feel like voyeurs.The lot has an estimate of $15,000 to $24,000. It sold for $27,000.

Lot 29 is an untitled oil on canvas, by T. V. Santhosh (b. 1968), illustrated in the background of the photograph at the top of this article. Santhosh deploys digital imagery, but subjects its photographic qualities to traditional oil paint, often garishly colored, while also solarizing and reversing the image, like an x-ray or film negative. Santosh also highlights issues of contemporary and historic injustice and violence, with a special emphasis of the media's questionable role in disseminating information to the masses. His "Untitled" is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $205,000.

Women artists are well represented, with works like Shibu Nateshan's (b.1966) atmospheric "Oriental Lady," Lot 55, pointing at herself in surreal seashell pink light straight out of CSI Miami. The 47 1/4 by 59 7/8 inch acrylic on canvas, which was executed 1999-2000, has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000 and sold for $85,000, setting an auction record for the artist.

Contemporary Art Asia

"The Little Mermaid" by Liu Ye

Lot 8, "The Little Mermaid," by Liu Ye, oil on canvas, 86 5/8 x 70 7/8 inches, 2004

The tenth floor at Sotheby's was awash with contemporary art from India and China, and upon entering the beautifully light and airy space, "The Little Mermaid," by Liu Ye, (b. 1984), one of the highlights of the sale, commanded attention because of her diminutive size and girl-woman demeanor - set in an expanse of blue water. Lot 8, it was the back-cover illustration of the Contemporary Art Asia catalogue and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,385,000, setting an auction record for the artist.

"Infanta" by Yue Minjun

Lot 27, "Infanta," (The Princess), by Yue Minjun, oil on canvas, 78 ¾ X 75 5/8 inches, 1997.

Around the corner from the little mermaid was a widely smiling, teeth exposing "Infanta, (The Princess), "1977, by Yue Minjun (b. 1962), a leading artist in the Cynical Realism movement. Exaggerated smiles are his hallmark, and particularly bizarre and effective when imposed upon the "Infanta," from an iconic western painting. Lot 27, it is a witty "send-up" of Diego Velaszuez's famous "Las Meninas" of 1656, featuring a pouty Donna Margarita. It has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,945,000. If this seems like a high price tag, Minjun's "The Pope" sold for a whopping $4.2 million at Sotheby's London this year, setting a world auction record for a Cinese contemporary artist.

Another oil painting from one of founders of the Cynical Realist movement, Fang Lijun (b. 1963), entitled "98.10.01" features fluorescent lyrical roses and bald-headed thugs whose latent aggression and meanness is barely concealed, symbolizing the artist's - and his generation's - disillusionment with China's flagrant consumerism and "each-man-for-himself materialism. This is an ongoing theme for the artist, who is hugely popular in China. The painting, which measues 98 by 141 inches, is estimated at $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,721,000.

"U2" by Zhang Huan"

Lot 257, "1/2," by Zhang Huan, chromogenic print, 40 x 53 inches, 1998.

Currently the subject of a one-man show, Zhang Huan (b. 1963), at The Asia Society in New York, and well known across the world for his provocative photographs, is represented in the auction by Lot 257, "1/2," a typical example of his signature self-portraits in which he is covered in Chinese script, a mild "performance," compared with others in which he is covered in bees, wrapped in raw meat, or laying on a bed of ice. Moving away from performance, he has recently created superb gigantic sculptures in ash and copper, and traditionally inspired murals featuring exquisite drawings and fine woodcarving. The estimate for this lot, which is numbered 6/15, is $18,000 to $23,000. It sold for $49,000.

"Bloodline Series: Comrade" by Zhang Xiaogang

Lot 10, "Bloodline Series: Comrade," by Zhang Xiaogang, oil on canvas, 57 by 39 3/8 inches, 1995

Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958) is widely recognized today for his somber, stylized portraits of unsmiling, uniformed men, women and children that stem from the cultural revolution. Most often they morph into the same face, based on photographs of the artist's family and ancestors. "Bloodline Series: Comrade," Lot 10, a 1995 oil on canvas that measures 51 by 39 3.8 inches, is a typical example. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $2,305,000.

However, Xiaogang's "Chapter of a New Century - Birth of the People's Republic of China," Lot 11, dated 1992, features a lurid red baby, with a backdrop of familiarly nostalgic photographs of family and ancestors, who, despite efforts at homogenization by government and state, retain their individuality. Zhang has the historic perspective that tends to prove the impossibility of imposing Mao's dream of an equal society on the Chinese people, evidenced by today's expressive clothing, and rampant upward mobility of an ascendant middle and upper class based on wealth. This painting has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $3,065,000.

Lot 22, "Great Criticism, No Pop Art," by Wang Guangyi, 118 ¼ x 78 ¾ inches, 2005, right background, and Lot 197, "The Doomsday - Da Xian," by Huang Yong Ping, 1997, foreground bowls

Two other artists Wang Guangyi (b. 1957) and Huang Yong Ping (b. 1954) were also born in the 50s and have a similarly disillusioned but more humorous response to homogenization. While "Great Criticism, No Pop Art," Lot 22, a 2005 painting by Guangyi, takes on the "forbidden" western subject matter of the Chinese cultural revolution, Huang Yong Ping's gigantic Dada-esque fiberglass bowls are an interrogation of history. "The Doomsday - Da Xian" was conceived as an installation to commemorate Hong Kong's return to Chinese jurisdiction by the British in 1997, with British flag, government buildings and stylized Chinese patterns decorating traditional Chinese bowls filled with expired food products. Lot 22 has an estimate of $400,000 to $500,000. It sold for $481,000. Lot 197 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $349,000.

"Out of Darkness" by Chen Yiffei

Lot 16, "Out of Darkness (Suzhou)," by Chen Yiffei, oil on canvas, 33 1/2 by 41 3/8 inches, 1986

Several modern Chinese artists offer a romantic counterpoint to the engaging grins, caricatures and glitter with two romantic paintings by Chen Yiffei (1946-2005). Lot 13, "The Cellist,"a lush oil on canvas that measures 53 1/8 by 37 1.4 inches and is in the tradition of John Singer Sargeant. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $2,281,000. A blue toned waterscape, "Out of Darkness (Suzhow)," Lot 16, which recalls the atmospheric noctures of Whistler. "Out of Darkness" has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $181,000.

"Yellow Wall" by Wei Luan

Lot 107, "Yellow Wall," by Wei Luan, oil on canvas, 76 by 76 inches, 1984

A nostalgic "Yellow Wall," Lot 107, by Wei Luan (b. 1957), was exhibited at the landmark exhibition "Beyond the Open Door: Contemporary Paintings from The People's Republic of China, 1987," organized by David Kaminsky. Henry Kissinger wrote the forward of the catalog of this exhibition. It has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for $63,400.

Fleshing out the theme of disillusion and cynicism - literally - is a gigantic "Chandelier" by Ai Weiwei (b. 1957), a dramatic contemporary sculpture symbolizing the competitiveness of Beijing's 21st century master-builders, vying for greater ostentation and opulence intended to lure China's new found wealth and power - and conspicuous consumption. "Chandelier," Lot 63, epitomizes the excesses of the nouveaux riches anywhere in the world, but is hard to imagine such a glittering, over-the-top sculpture in a Communist state, an irony that Wei brilliantly conveys. The 2002 work measures 216 by 159 inches and is from an edition of two. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $657,000.

Another super-sized depiction is "Dictionary," Lot 36, by Liu Dan (b. 1953), which is the artist's expression of aggregating and organizing individual units to form a meaningful whole. A dictionary catalogues units of language, the foundation of human culture: on their own, catalogued words are dry and devoid of life, but used together they are meaningful. The ink and color on paper 1991 work measures 81 1/8 by 120 inches and resembles an open dictionary. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,00. It sold for $713,000.

"Red Guards" by Jiang Shuo

Lot 81, "Red Guards, Going Forward," by Jiang Shuo, bronze, each 63 by 53 by 27.5 centimeters, 2007

Lot 81 is an amusing pair of bronze sculptures by Jiang Shuo (b. 1958). The lot is entitled "Red Guards, Going Forward" and each of the two sculptures measures 64 by 53 by 27.5 centimeters. The work was executed in 2007 and has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold for $97,000.

"Children in Meeting" by Tang Zhigang

Lot 2, "Children in Meeting," by Tang Zhigang, oil on canvas, 44 7/8 by 57 1/2 inches, 2000

Lot 2, "Children in Meeting," is an amusing oil on canvas by Tang Zhigang (b. 1959) that was executed in 2000 and measures 44 7/8 by 57 1/2 inches. The catalogue entry by Johnathan Goodman notes that the engaging humor of the artist's works is interesting as he grew up in an army family and pursued a career in the army, adding that "His scenarios reveal more than a passing familiarity with both the wiles of children and the seriousness of adult activities. And in his absurd juxtaposition of the two, one has the feeling Tang finds the state mechanisms of today's China a bit ridiculous, communicating a gap between reality and the sharply honed niceties of public presentation." The lot has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $313,000.

The Arts of the Buddha

Gilt copper Maitreya

Lot 38, "A Highly Important Gilt Copper Maitreya inset With Silver and Semi-Precious Stones," Tibet, 13th Century

Rewinding the tape far back in time, there are beautiful artifacts representing the ancient masters of India, China, Nepal and Tibet, including Lot 38, "A Highly Important Gilt Copper Maitreya Inset With Silver and Semi-Precious Stones," Tibet, 13th Century , 21 11/16 inches high. It has an estimate on request. It failed to sell.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This exceptional statue of Maitryea, the Buddha of the Future, is the quintessential example of Nepalese artistic influence in Tibet at this time, and is evidence of the absolute mastery of the Newar artists. The image is among the very finest Buddhist sculptures to have surived from the period, and to have survived in such pristine condition....The Newar sculpture aesthetics of grace and sensuous modeling imbue the statue with serentiy, while the Tibetan love for opulence is seen in the depth and variety of color in the jewels and the sumptuous silver beading of the necklace and crown."

Tibet group gilt sculpture

Lot 39, Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi, gilt sculpture, Tibet, 14th Century, 12 9/16 inches high

Lot 39 is a Tibetan 14th Century gilt sculpture of Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi that is described in the catalogue as "spectacular" and "dramatic and powerful." "The statue," the entry continues, "serves as a device for the visualization of the Chakrasamvara tantra, literally Circle of Bliss. The tantra is a secret treatise with its origin in medieval eastern India, and is used by practitioners to increase their ability to attain the ultimate goal of Enlightenment." The statue is 12 9/16 inches high and has an estimate of $100,000 to $120,000. It sold for $181,000.

Lot 31, Avalokitesvara, China, painted wood, Yuan Dynasty, 31 1/4 inches high

Lot 31 is an impressive painted wood Chinese sculpture of Avalokitesvara from the Yuan Dynasty. It is 31 1/4 inches high and was once in the collection of C. T. Loo and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $541,000. The catalogue entry notes that "it is likely that the iconography of the present figure resembling a noble lady serenely reclined, is derived from the picture of the Water-Moon Guanyin created by the Tang painter Zhou Fang, and later made popular among sculpture during the Song period."

Bodhisattva statue, Tianlongshan

Lot 13, Tianlongshan head andt orso of a Bodhisattva, sandstone, China, probably slightly earlier Sui/Early Tang Period, late 7th/Early 8th Century, 44 inches high

Lot 13 is an impressive sandstone head and torso of a Bodhisattva from Tianlongshan, China, probably slightly earlier Sui/Early Tang Period, early 7th/early 8th Century. The work has been restored and is 44 inches high. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $145,000. The catalogue suggests that the torso may be about 80 years earlier than the head, which the catalogue describes as "clearly a masterwork of High Tang production of the mid-eighth century." "Such improper and historically anachronistic association of Tianlongshan fragments was typical of their emergence onto the open market during the first quarter of the twentieth century," according to the catalogue.

A fine accompaniment to large sculptures and Buddhas are drop dead gorgeous paintings, thankas and bronzes in wonderful condition from China and Tibet, including Lot 36, an exquisite Tibetan thanka, "A Fine and Rare Painting on Cloth Depicting the Mandala of Manjuvajra," created in the 15th century. It has an estimate of $100,00 to $150,000. It sold for $241,000. Another memorable thanka is Lot 37, "A Fine and Rare Sakya Order Vajravali Painting," also from the 15th century in Tibet. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $277,000. It is wonderful to see such quality come to auction.

Chinese Ming thanka

Lot 35, "Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi," Thanka, Chinese, Early Ming, 1416-1435, 26 3/4 by 22 inches

Lot 35 is a rare and important Early Ming thanka depicting Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi. It measures 26 3/4 by 22 inches. It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,161,000.

Imperial Chinese Painting

Lot 33, "A Rare and Highly Important Imperial Painting on Silk Depicting the Lohan Chudapanthaka," China, 31 1/4 by 22 1/4 inches, 1402-1434

Lot 33 is a "rare and highly important" Chinese Imperial painting on silk of the Lohan Chudapanthaka. It is dated 1402-1434 and measures 31 1/4 by 22 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. According to the catalogue, this painting is one of only two commissioned by the Yongle emperior and the other is in the Robert Rosenkranz Collection. The pair,"defined by a mastery of restrained elegance and formality, survives form a set of sixteen, or possibly eighteen, the remaining paintings now lost or unrecorded." It sold for $1,609,000.

Indian Art

"Pagan Mother" by Husain

Lot 12, "Pagan Mother," by Maqbool Fida Husain, oil on canvas, 70 ¼ by 47 inches, 1956

Works by legendary Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915) features prominently in the sale of Indian Art while a younger generation of artists like Atul Dodhya, Chintan Upadyay, Rashid Rana, Ravinder Reddy, Subodh Gupta, and T.V. Santhosh are also commanding serious attention in India and internationally.

Husain is the most recognized artist in India today, most commonly for his horses, but "Pagan Mother," Lot 12, steals the show for sheer monumentality and gorgeous coloring.A 1956 oil on canvas, it measures 70 1/4 by 47 inches and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $658,600. Richard Batholomew and Shiv S. Kapur described the "Pagan Mother" as "an earthly creature with a terracotta off-spring between her thighs, but she is as warm and as blue as the high sky of a clear Himalayan day." The catalogue entry notes that "it is clear that his first-hand encounters with the paintings of Klee, Matisse and Picasso during his travels to Europe in 1953 had a decisive impact on his art."

"Horse" by Hussain

Lot 11, "Horse," by Maqbool Fida Husain, oil on canvas, 50 x 80 inches

Lot 11 "Horse," by Husain is an oil on canvas that measures 50 by 80 inches. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000. It sold for $313,000.

Tyeb Mehta currently holds the record for the highest price for an Indian painting sold at auction, (Christie's, September 2005, $1,584,000), while Anish Kapoor holds the record for the highest price paid for an Indian sculpture sold at auction when his "Untitled" sold for a staggering $2,256,000 at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale in November, 2006.

Ravinder Reddy's super-sized heads of South Indian goddesses, with one "Untitled," Lot 10, included in this sale, are equally compelling as are Rashid Rana's gargantuan digital prints, like "The World is Not Enough," Lot 20, that borrows its title from popular culture, the movies. Lot 10 has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $70,000. Lot 20, which measures 90 by 120 inches, has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $91,000.

Untitled by Syed Haider Raza

Lot 23, "Untitled," by Syed Haider Raza, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, 1976

A luscious abstract painting by another leading modern Indian painter, Syed Haider Raza (b. 1922), is untitled and it is a personal favorite because it explodes with the life, light, colors and beauty of India. An acrylic on canvas, it measures 48 inches square and was executed in 1976. It has an estimate of $280,000 to $380,000. It sold for $409,000.

Untitled painting by Ram Kumar

Lot 69, "Untitled," by Ram Kumar, oil on canvas, 32 x 37 inches, 2004

A buoyant recent work by yet another great veteran Indian artist, Ram Kumar (born 1924), Lot 69, "Untitled," is one of several very fine abstractions by the artist in the auction. It is a 2004 oil on canvas that measures 32 by 37 inches and has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It failed to sell.

"Spring" by Ram Kumar

Lot 24, "Spring," by Ram Kumar, oil on canvas, 35 by 51 inches, 1966

It contrasts with an earlier work, Lot 24, "Spring," an oil on canvas that measures 35 by 51 inches. Executed in 1966, it has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $181,000. The catalogue entry notes that the artist's "bleak cityscapes of the 1950s convey his deep disillusionment with the unfolding complexities of India's post-independence polity." The catalogue also includes the following quote from Lait Kala Adademi: "Paintings from the mid-1960s onwards document the artist's steady progression towards completion abstraction....The artist addressed himself to the formal aberrations of mismatched planes, jamming the horizontal perspective against top views inspired by site mapping and aerial photography, and locking the muddy, impasto-built riverbank constructions into Cubist geometric analysis."

"Untitled" by Bhattarjee

Lot 64, "Untitled," by Bikash Bhattarjee, oil on canvas, 34 ¾ x 46 ¾ inches, 1976.

Lot 64, "Untitled" by Bikash Bhattacharjee, (1940-2006), features the buildings and rooftops of his native city, Calcutta, a constant inspiration for the artist. An oil on canvas, it measures 34 3/4 by 46 3/4 inches and was executed in 1976. It has an estimate $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $121,000.

See The City Review Article on Asia Week Fall 2007 at Christie's


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