March 19, 2012 / 1:55 AM / 7 years ago

Auction houses poised for marathon of Asian art sales

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bronze Buddhas, modern art, hanging scrolls and even a trove of carved rhinoceros horns featured on the popular television show “Antiques Roadshow” are among highlights at Christie’s and Sotheby’s semi-annual Asia week sales starting on Monday.

With thousands of works, including ceramics, ancient calligraphy, furniture and more on offer and estimates totaling well over $100 million, stakes are high for the two powerhouses of the auction world as they conduct their sales of Asian art in New York.

Asian art, which officials say is a key driver in the global market, has seen strong activity in the past year, and enthusiasm for it is still growing, especially among Chinese collectors.

Asian art has begun to outpace even the once-indomitable Impressionist and modern category. Christie’s Asia sales a year ago achieved $117 million, its highest-ever in New York.

Last fall it took in over $75 million, and several works at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s carry pre-sale estimates of more than $1 million.

Christie’s president of Asia, Francois Curiel, has affirmed that its long-term strategy is to continually reinforce its presence in Asia.

The sales kick off on Monday with Sotheby’s auction of South Asian modern and contemporary art, led by Sayed Haider Raza’s “Village With Church,” which once graced the collection of Asia Society founder John D. Rockefeller III, a noted collector along with his wife.

The Rockefellers “were two of the most important early champions of modern Indian painting in the United States,” said Priyanka Mathew, head of the Sotheby’s sale. “Their patronage and support was key in introducing the work of the Progressive Artists’ Group in America, of which ‘Village With Church’ is such a significant example.”

The vibrant abstract work is estimated to sell for $1.5 million to $2.5 million, the top lot at Sotheby’s series of four sales which are expected to total $30 million to $40 million.

At Christie’s, where seven sales over four days are set to take in about $50 million to $80 million, the top lot is a massive gilt bronze figure of Vairocana from the Ming dynasty, expected to fetch $2 million to $3 million at its two-day fine Chinese ceramics and works of art auction at week’s end.

Two of Christie’s’ other top-priced works hit the block at Wednesday’s South Asian modern and contemporary sale.

An untitled work by Tyeb Mehta subtitled Figures with Bull Head carries a $1.5 million to $2 million estimate, while Akbar Padamsee’s “Cityscape” is poised to sell for about $1.5 million.

Christie’s also expects strong interest in its offerings from the Robert H. Blumenfield collection of Chinese carvings, scholar’s objects, scepters and furniture, which is expected to total more than $5 million on Thursday.

Another private collection, sculpture and paintings from India, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia and Gandhara assembled by gallerist and collector Doris Wiener, carries a $7 million to $11 million estimate. A circa 11th century bronze group of Somaskanda from South India is poised to fetch about $1 million.

At Sotheby’s, a widely anticipated sale of five carved rhinoceros horn cups from the Qing Dynasty could bring in $1 million or more, after the collection assembled by Douglas Huber since 1979 for about $5,000 received the highest evaluation in the history of the television show “Antiques Roadshow.”

The show appraised the cups to be worth $1 million to $1.5 million, but Sotheby’s said it estimated the grouping in line with results for similar recent offerings. They will be sold on Tuesday at the fine Chinese ceramics and art auction.

Another top lot at Sotheby’s will be offered at its classical Chinese painting sale on Thursday - a hanging scroll, “Landscape After Lu Guang” by Hongren, a leading artist of the late Ming Dynasty estimated at $1 million to $1.2 million.

“Eagle Perching on a Pine,” by 20th-century master Qi Baishi, is estimated even higher, $1.2 million to $1.5 million.

Sales of Japanese, Indian and Korean art, and a collection of Chinese mirrors at Christie’s, round out the sales.

Highlights will be on view at both auction houses throughout the week.

Editing by Paul Thomasch

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