In a week that saw record prices in nearly every field of Asian art, sales of Japanese art were robust and attendance at the numerous gallery exhibitions held by local and out-of-state and foreign dealers was up significantly over Asia Week 2010, according to an informal survey conducted by the Japanese Art Dealers Association (JADA) and information gathered from published reports.
Overall, JADA estimates sales totals of over $20 million, including $8.5 million in the Christie’s New York auction of Japanese art in its March 23 sale of Japanese and Korean art, over $4 million in sales at JADA 2011: An Exhibition by the Japanese Art Dealers Association, an exhibition held from March 19 to March 23, and the $1.4 million Bonhams Japanese Works of Art auction on March 22.
The market for Japanese art, which experienced an extended lull after the bubble of the Japanese economy burst in the early 1990s, is now demonstrably back on track.
In addition to the strong sales, traffic by collectors, curators, art historians, and aficionados of Japanese art climbed. The number of visitors to JADA 2011 grew by 25% over the preceding year, when JADA’s members also exhibited at the Ukrainian Institute of America on 79th Street and Fifth Avenue during Asia Week.
Works in the JADA exhibition spanned over 2,000 years, starting with an ancient Jōmon era “flame” deep pot, which sold to a private collector for a price in the mid-six figures. The ornately designed pot was offered by Mika Gallery. Among the ceramics on offer was a highly rare Arita-ware porcelain figure of a seated beauty, notable for the exquisite enamel work. The figure, offered by Sebastian Izzard LLC Asian Art, sold for over $200,000.
(At the request of gallery owners, prices for sales at private galleries are ballparked out of respect for the buyers, both private and institutional, who wished to remain anonymous.)
Other highlights in the exhibition included two recently discovered paintings by the late 18th/early 19th century ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). Young Beauty Holding her Kitten, which depicted a squirming cat held to the chest of a geisha, went to a private collector for a price of over $600,000 through Izzard. The artist’s Dragon in Clouds, a finely rendered and highly atmospheric ink-on-paper drawing, was sold by Leighton R. Longhi, Inc. Oriental Fine Art, for a figure in the low-to-mid six figures. Longhi also sold a dazzling pair of monumental ink-on-gold leaf screens, Waves and Rocks. Attributed to Momoyama-period artist Hasegawa Togaku, the pair of screens, which measured nearly 24 feet in width, sold to a private collector for over $1 million.
Overall, sales during JADA 2011 totaled over $4 million, excluding sales of works put on reserve during the exhibition and the participating dealers’ sales of works of art not in the exhibition. Among the latter category was a print by the genius of portraiture Toshusai Sharaku (act 1794-95), which sold was sold by Izzard for a price in the low six-figures.
Some of JADA’s members also held exhibitions in their galleries. Five out of seven works on view at Koichi Yanagi Oriental Fine Art’s Kokon Biannual: Spring 2011 found buyers, with the total sold approaching the low seven figures. Among these, a screen depicting Ama no Hashidate, a famous scenic location; a portable shrine singled out as exceptional in the New York Times; and an iron tea ceremony kettle, sold almost immediately.
Erik Thomsen Asian Art presented Golden Treasures: Japanese Gold Lacquer Boxes, a select collection of 20 Japanese gold lacquer boxes dating from ca 1800 to 2009. The majority of the works in the exhibition sold during Asia Week to Western collectors and museums for an aggregate total in the mid-six figures.
Galleries that are not members of the Japanese Art Dealers Association also reported strong sales.
London Gallery, of Tokyo, exhibited Japanese ceramics in Izzard’s gallery and reported sales of a number of ceramics and paintings, with one significant group currently on reserve. London dealer Sydney Moss Ltd, claimed sales of lacquer ware totaling $750,000; Scholten Gallery reported success with its sale of Japanese prints and paintings; and Carole Davenport successfully sold a number of works in her exhibition, as did other members of the trade. During Asia Week New York 2011, over 20 galleries exhibited Japanese art, including United States galleries from Missouri, New York, and Washington State and galleries from London, Milan, and Tokyo.
At auction, Christie’s Japanese department had its strongest auction in years, including a remarkable pair of six-panel screens depicting the arrival of the “Southern Barbarians,” or Portuguese. One of the finest examples of this type of screen to have appeared on the Western market, the screens realized $4.8 million, the highest auction price ever achieved for a Japanese painting sold in the West. Other strong areas were Meiji bronzes and Japanese prints, where a number of high prices were achieved. The sale’s total of $8.5 million was one of the highest in this category for a number of years.
The March 22 auction of Japanese art at Bonhams New York totaled $1.4 million, including an important mixed metal box and cover by Unno Moritoshi (1834-1896), which brought $170,000. During Asia Week, Bonham’s announced that it would donate five percent of the collected buyers premiums to the disaster relief effort in Japan.
Asia Week New York 2011 was held on the heels of the tragic Pacific tsunami and earthquake, the effects of which are still being felt in Japan. In response to the devastation, on March 12, 2011, Japan Society created the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund. As of April 17, Japan Society had received 13,494 donations totaling over $4.6 million for distribution to non-profit organizations in Japan.
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