It follows that any Asia Week New York (AWNY) demonstrates not just the depth and diversity of this vast field but also the received wisdom as to what sells best in Manhattan.
Across a decade this has evolved. If Hong Kong is now the place for the best Ming and Qing porcelain and jades, then the Big Apple majors on earlier Chinese ceramics and bronzes, classical Chinese paintings, art by modern masters from the Indian subcontinent, plus sculpture and thangkas from south-east Asia.
Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams have each assembled a clutch of sales – all squeezed in a tight schedule between March 19-24 – that play hard to these perceived strengths.
In contrast with the single Chinese art catalogue offered by the auctioneer in London last November, Sotheby’s AWNY offering numbers more than 1300 lots, 10 (yes, 10) catalogues and is backed up by two selling exhibitions.
A raft of named collections includes Kangxi porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang collection assembled by Jeff Stamen; and the Chinese art collection formed by Gerson and Judith Leiber since a first purchase in Budapest in the 1940s.
Also: Tibetan thangkas spanning six centuries acquired over five decades by Nobel Laureate Richard Ernst and his wife Magdalena; Himalayan bronzes from the collection of Edwin and Cherie Silver; plus nearly 80 lots of classical Chinese paintings and calligraphy assembled by the Chew family of Carmel, California.
On March 20 is a catalogue numbering just four lots titled Jingyatang: Treasures of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture.
Ranging in date from the Northern Wei to the Sui Dynasty, this quartet of stone sculptures from an Asian private collection include a well-provenanced grey schist relief carving of an Apsara last offered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 1997. It carries an estimate of $1.2m-1.5m.
Christie’s will offer close to 500 lots across six ‘bricks and mortar’ sales held from March 20-23 – supported by the spring Art of China online sale that is run out of London.
The potential AWNY highlight is the March 22 sale titled The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: The Linyushanren Collection, Part III, the final one of a three-part sale series from a Japanese private collection.
It gives an idea of the target market for this material that it arrives in New York after touring Tokyo, Taipei and Hong Kong (but not Europe).
The Linyushanren Collection was formed with a focus on the ceramics created during the Song dynasty (960-1279AD) at the kiln sites active across China at the time, including Ding, Jun, Ge, Longquan and Cizhou. Part one was sold in December 2015 in Hong Kong, the second in New York in September 2016, when an ‘oil spot’ Jian tea bowl, sold for $10.1m.
The predicted top lot of this month’s sale is a Ding bowl with distinctive splashed ‘partridge feather’ decoration (estimate on request). Acquired by the notable American collector Eugene Bernat in the 20th century, and then by the Manno Art Museum, Osaka, it has been widely exhibited and published.
This series of sales – collectively one of the most comprehensive private collections of Song ceramics ever to appear at auction – has been instrumental in correcting some of the financial gulf that existed between early ‘Japanese taste’ material and the pomp of the Qing. Expect more of the same.
Bonhams’ five AWNY sales begin with snuff bottles (the second part of the Dr Sylvan and Faith Golder is offered on March 19) but will major too on Buddhist sculpture and thangka – fields in which the auctioneer has enjoyed particular success in recent years.
A highlight is a 2ft 2in (68cm) gilt copper alloy figure of Avalokiteshvara (lord of compassion) that – as mentioned in the sculpture’s extraordinary inscription – was made c.1430 by the hand of a master craftsman, Sonam Gyaltsen, on the completion of the Jamchen monastery in central Tibet. It is pitched at $1m-1.5m.
Bonhams ploughs a lone furrow in championing Japanese works in NY.
Smoking accoutrements and sagemono from the Arno Ziesnitz collection head the March 21 sale.
It is followed the same day by a Japanese and Korean Art sale including an ink painting by the celebrated – near-mythical – 15th century monk painter Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481). Rock, Orchids and Bamboo from the collection of George Gund III, and formerly owned by the Kataoka family, is estimated at $150,000-250,000.