Magazine article The Spectator

Eastern Promise

Magazine article The Spectator

Eastern Promise

Article excerpt

Supply fuels demand in the art market. Anyone wanting proof of this inversion of economic first principals should have gone to New York for Asia Week. What a few years ago was simply a typical week of preview parties and auctions in the salerooms has been transformed into the focal point of a booming global market.

At the end of a week of some 11 specialist sales came the third International Asian Art Fair, that rare thing among art and antiques fairs, an instant success, and the lively bazaar of an Arts of Pacific Asia Show. Running concurrently was a handful of major exhibitions in the commercial galleries staged by London, Paris and New York dealers. Last year's International Asian Art Fair alone was rumoured to have achieved sales of $150 million.

This year it seemed that New York was filled to the brim with Asian, and more particularly, Chinese, works of art. On view at the Guggenheim Museum was the epic China: 5,000 Years, a sweeping blockbuster survey featuring loans from the People's Republic spilling over into the Museum's SoHo exhibition space. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art was When Silk was Gold, a spotlight on Central Asian and Chinese textiles from the 8th to the 15th centuries. These two outstanding shows not only testify to the phenomenal increase of interest in the arts of China in America, they go some way in explaining it.

The Guggenheim offered a taste of the kind of artefacts excavated in China in vast numbers in recent years, from complex cast bronze ritual vessels several thousand years old to elegant Han and Tang dynasty pottery figures and monumental Buddhist sculpture. Such items, along with, most notably, almost minimalist classical Chinese furniture of the Ming and Qing periods, began to trickle out on to the Western art market, via Hong Kong, in the late Seventies, obviously with the collusion of highranking government officials. A decade later, this trickle of antiquities had turned into a flood. Originally the big buyers were the Japanese. For the last six or seven years they have been American, institutional and private.

American museums, unlike their European counterparts, bought avidly, apparently on the basis of buy now and ask questions later. As Western scholarship and collections grew, so did a market structure and interest among the American artbuying public, the most serious of whom benefit from curatorial advice in return for financial help or promised gifts. And there has never been such a widespread compulsion to acquire works of art among the American professional classes - or such unimaginably vast disposable incomes, courtesy of Wall Street and Hollywood, with which to do it. …

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