November 2, 2012 6:39 pm

London gets an Asian twist

Focus on Chinese ceramics; hurricane Sandy chaos; an end to auction anonymity in New York
A Yuan Dynasty scroll jar

Yuan Dynasty scroll jar, to be auctioned by Bonhams

The annual Asian Art Week gets into high gear in London this weekend with openings until 9pm at all the participating dealers. On Saturday evening Kensington galleries are all open. On Sunday it’s St James’s turn, followed by Mayfair on Monday.

The event is now in its 15th year. As the leading Chinese art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi recounts in his newly published book, A Dealer’s Hand, he and fellow specialist Roger Keverne got together in 1997 to find a way of putting the limelight on London with museum shows, dealer exhibitions, lectures and seminars. “It seemed silly to organise an Asian art fair when we all have galleries,” says Eskenazi. “We wanted to bring in museums and auction houses too, and the formula has really worked, and always attracts a lot of visitors from mainland China.” However, with travel from the East coast badly hit by hurricane Sandy, plus the presidential election, dealers are expecting fewer Americans this year.

Most of the dealers are putting on special shows, from Mughal sandstone carvings (at Sam Fogg) to contemporary Chinese landscapes (at Soka Art). Eskenazi is showing 20 pieces of imperial Qing porcelain from the Shimentang collection, put together by a London-based aficionado mainly in the 1980s and 1990s. Ceramics from this period (1644-1911) are hugely prized by Chinese collectors for their technical prowess and often colourful decoration, particularly when they come from the three great emperors – Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. One rarity from the Qianlong reign is a moonflask decorated with a writhing dragon in iron-red, on an underglaze blue base. Such works are super-pricey – in the region of £1.2m for the vase – but no pressure, it has already sold. At a more affordable level, Roger Keverne is showing a Da Ji cloisonné vase from the 18th century (£22,000) while new exhibitor, Manuel Castilho from Portugal, has a charming porcelain dog from Japan (17th/18th century) for €14,000. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams will be holding sales of Chinese and Japanese works of art (illustrated, Yuan dynasty vase at Bonhams on Thursday), while Woolley & Wallis will be previewing highlights of its Asian art sales, to be held in Salisbury the following week, in Brian Haughton’s Duke Street gallery. Full programme at asianartinlondon.com.

. . .

Terrible news from New York. Lower Manhattan and Chelsea galleries have been devastated by hurricane Sandy, with many spaces flooded waist-high or more and thousands of artworks ruined. Because of the massive disruption and damage, many exhibitions have been postponed, including the opening of the International Fine Print Dealers Association fair – but it will be on this weekend at the Armory. Sotheby’s moved its major autumn impressionist and modern sale to Thursday instead of Monday, “in consideration of the significant travel delays into New York”, said the firm in a release.

A Tang Dynasty Buddhist figure

Tang Dynasty Buddhist figure, also to be auctioned by Bonhams

The 68-lot sale is over $170m and will be led by Picasso’s “Nature morte aux tulipes” (1932, est $35m-$50m), said by dealers to be consigned by the Las Vegas collector and gambling mogul Steve Wynn. It is effectively pre-sold, as it carries an “irrevocable bid” symbol meaning that someone has agreed to buy it, but at an undisclosed price.

Christie’s is maintaining its Wednesday date for its $250m sale, which includes a Monet “Water Lilies” (1905), estimated at $30m-$50m – proceeds to a New York school – a Kandinsky study ($20m-$30m), and a $10m-$15m Brancusi.

. . .

Still in New York, the Supreme Court has dropped a bombshell. In a recent judgement, it ruled that New York auctioneers will have to reveal the names of both consignors and buyers to ensure a sale contract is binding.

Until now, such information was covered by the sacrosanct “confidentiality” clauses of the auction houses, and revealing it could be a disaster for them. Remember that the art trade is supply-driven, dependent on wooing vendors, who are the shyest of beasts. For various reasons – fiscal, family matters and so on – they generally insist on the deepest anonymity when they put something up for sale. In addition, auction houses can be vendors as well – they sell material they have acquired through failed, guaranteed sales, and they certainly wouldn’t want to publicise that either.

All this has come about after the Chester, New York auctioneer William J Jenack sold a Russian box to dealer Albert Rabizadeh for $460,000 in 2008. When Rabizadeh didn’t pay up, Jenack took him to court, and won. But Rabizadeh appealed, invoking a commercial law – which originally dates back to medieval England – which states that the vendor’s name must be on the contract. Jenack, following the usual saleroom practice, had just put a number for the seller, #428.

The judge found for Rabizadeh, agreeing that the commercial law imposed the naming of buyers and sellers. Now Jenack is appealing the ruling and has been joined by Christie’s, which was not involved in the original case. This shows how seriously the firm is taking this matter. “We take issue with the Court’s opinion and are reviewing our legal options,” Christie’s said, declining to comment further.

. . .

A painting of ‘A buffoon looking through a casement window’

‘A buffoon looking through a casement window’ (c1600) at Paris Tableau

Paris Tableau, a niche fair for Old Master paintings, is being held for the second time in the small but elegant premises of the Palais Brongniart – the former Paris stock exchange. Small but elegant is also an apt description of the event, with just 23 dealers, all noted specialists in their fields. They include Paris’s Giovanni Sarti (gold-ground works), London’s Rafael Valls and Madrid’s Caylus (Spanish painting), as well as Mark Weiss (early British portraits). Even if sales were uneven last year, the event was popular with exhibitors: “You know that all the visitors are interested in Old Masters, and so we’re back again this year,” said Pieter de Boer, who is bringing a trompe l’oeil image of a court jester from about 1600, one of just five known of the subject (in the region of €85,000). Runs from November 7-12.

. . .

The Fra Angelico painting, a fragment of a larger work cut up in the late 18th or early 19th century and which sold in Marseilles last Saturday, made €552,000 (estimated at €200,000-€400,000). This price might have seemed a little underwhelming for such a rare work, but it was small and had workshop participation as well as restoration. It went to a French buyer underbid by British and Italian dealers.

Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

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