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Auction to test Asian art market health

Source :by Sebastian Smith for

Art markets took a hit from the global recession, but Christie's experts say Asian art auctions next week in New York will show the region is still a pretty picture.

Hugo Weihe, international director of Indian and Southeast Asian art at Christie's, said volume and estimated prices were down, as in every other corner of the art world.

"We tried to get estimates as conservative as we can. Prices have been adjusted a little bit," he told AFP at a preview of the Asian Art Week auctions Monday through Thursday. "Volume is definitely lower."

But Weihe said that Asia's emerging economies and relatively undiscovered art riches meant it was only a question of time before profits rose.

"It's a no-brainer these things will go up again."

Weihe said the strongest performers are Chinese art, boosted by wealthy collectors in China turning to Western markets, and Indian art, "which has collectors everywhere in the world."

Highlights of the auctions range from the powerful drama of contemporary Indian artist Tyeb Mehta's "Mahishasura," estimated to sell at between 600,000 and 800,000 dollars, to ancient Buddhas, ceramics, and Japanese tea utensils.

The auctions start Monday and Tuesday with sales of Chinese ceramics and other art.

An off-white vase from the 17th-18th centuries is estimated at 600,000 to 800,000 dollars, while a Ming Dynasty 14th-15th century "Narcissus" bowl is estimated at 300,000-500,000 dollars.

Michael Bass, at Christie's Chinese art department, said the market was vibrant for Chinese works. A March auction in New York was the strongest ever, despite the deep recession, he said.

"Chinese art is also small, so you can keep collecting," he said, pointing to cabinets of delicate vases, bowls and statues.

Wednesday sees the Indian and Southeast Asian sales, including Indian miniature paintings and a huge variety of Buddhas in bronze, stone and wood.

The contemporary south Asian art sale will feature, in addition to Mehta, such well-known artists as Francis Newton Souza and Ram Kumar.

Perhaps the most startling work is from Pakistani multi-media artist Rashid Rana, whose "Red Carpet-2" is estimated at 120,000-180,000 dollars.

The work resembles a traditional red-tinged carpet with geometric patterns. Only on close inspection does it reveal itself to be composed of hundreds of tiny images of goats being slaughtered.

Korean and Japanese art will go on the block Thursday, the main pieces including a 13th-14th century tea leaf jar named "Chigusa," or Myriad of Flowers.

The jar, estimated at 100,000-150,000 dollars, is unusual in that it comes with an accompanying letter from Sen no Rikyu, a 16th century tea master.

Korean ceramics will also be in the auction, as will a characteristically small painting by modern artist Park Sookeun.

"Three Women" depicts women seated in traditional Korean clothing and is estimated at 350,000-400,000 dollars -- a world away from the 10 or 15 dollars paid by American visitors to Seoul during the artist's impoverished life.

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