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editorials - September - October 2003

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ARTS OF ASIA can justly claim to have spent no less than thirty-two years in preparing the ground for this Indonesian edition. Researching my own records I find that it was first proposed in a letter to the appropriate curatorial authorities as early as 1971 (and I have the original copy of that letter in my office records that proves it). Since then we have had regular Indonesian coverage of art areas from time to time, but nothing to compare with this issue’s grand effort.

The Arts of Asia team and I made several special trips to Indonesia, the most recent to discuss and refine the curators’ original drafts.

I am happy to introduce to our international readers near the beginning of my Editorial, Dr Handojo Susanto whose help has been invaluable in the preparation of this splendid Indonesian number. He is the gentleman seated on the second right in our first picture (1) taken by us last summer with a group of National Museum Jakarta curators briefing me on the issue’s progress. Also appearing in the first photograph sitting closest to me is Dra Suhardini. She is seen with Director Endang Sri Hardiati and her fuller team of curators in the photograph on page 45 in the Director’s Introduction.

Dr Susanto has been a member of The Himpunan Keramic Indonesia (HKI) or The Indonesian Ceramic Society since the late 1970s and a regular Council member during the last fifteen years. He is the current HKI Chairman and will step down from his position at the end of the year. A fluent Dutch speaker, he is by medical career a specialist neurologist and psychologist. He graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Airlangga Surabaya where he also took his Master’s degree in Psychiatry and Neurology in 1974. Amongst his many outside activities he regularly plays bridge for Indonesia’s Senior Team which last year won the Pacific Asia Bridge Championship in Bangkok, and is a serious collector of Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese ceramics. He also collects Chinese, Indonesian and Vietnamese paintings. No less, I have known him as a regular visitor to Hong Kong attending major auctions and visiting dealers’ art galleries and my own offices. I count him amongst my personal friends.

To ensure the highest pictorial standards expected of Arts of Asia, we commissioned a talented young Indonesian photographer, Punto Adjie. During one whole week he took over four hundred photographic frames on the large transparencies we brought from Hong Kong. We have carefully selected some one third for use in the articles. I note that Executive Editor Robin Markbreiter made a final solo trip to the National Museum to supervise the photography, and was very warmly received by Director Endang, her helpful curators and other staff.

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Seen with me in our second photograph (2), in the living room of her Jakarta home, is Mrs Sumarah Adhyatman with a group of her like-minded collector friends. (From the left: Dr Handojo Susanto; Dr Boedi Mranata, Council member and Honorary Treasurer of HKI; Mrs Sumarah Adhyatman; myself; the late Mrs Susy Hud who had long been HKI Honorary Secretary; Mr Fabianus Yan Utama, former Chairman and now Vice-Chairman of HKI; and Mr Sardjana Sumichan, Council member.)
Mrs Adhyatman was formerly curator of the Adam Malik Museum in Jakarta and co-founder of The Indonesian Ceramic Society in 1973 with the former Vice-President of Indonesia, His Excellency Adam Malik. The Indonesian Ceramics Society has approximately one hundred and twenty active supporters besides honorary and overseas members. Usually there are meetings once a month and in addition to local speakers they have also invited international speakers such as Rosemary Scott of Great Britain, Professor Trinh Cao Thung of Vietnam, Professor Liu Liang-yu of Taiwan, Mrs Cynthia Valdez of The Philippines and Barbara Harrisson of The Netherlands.

As written by a respected Asian ceramics authority and collector, the article “Vietnamese Ceramics in Jakarta” by Mrs Adhyatman graced the cover of our March-April 1986 magazine (long out of print). It is still notable for its record of ceramics in the Adam Malik Museum, the Jakarta National Museum and the Adhyatman, Baron and Abdul Ganie private collections, amongst several others at a time when Vietnamese ceramics were generally unappreciated. Reviews of several of her books have appeared in the magazine, including Antique Ceramics found in Indonesia, 1981, Kendi, 1987, and Martavans in Indonesia, 1977, revised 2nd edition, 1984.

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To supplement the excellent photographs that appear elsewhere in this issue, I illustrate the Martavans in the second hall, where Ming and Qing Chinese ceramics are displayed in the original old showcases in the background (3). I was particularly pleased to see the young schoolchildren enjoying the early stone sculpture sheltered in the verandahs of the classical building surrounding the sculpture garden courtyard (4).

My main reason for flying to London in June was to visit the first London Asian Art Fair held from 11th-14th at The Commonwealth Centre, Kensington High Street with fourteen London and European dealers participating.

It was run in conjunction with The International Ceramics Fair & Seminar (including seventeen exhibitors), both shows being organised by Brian and Anna Haughton, with one entrance leading to the two events. I was pleasantly surprised that it conveniently took only twenty minutes to reach by taxi from the Westbury Mayfair Hotel where I was staying.

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My first visit was to the stand of Erik Thomsen (5), which featured Japanese art. For the occasion Erik had brought one of his favourites, a pair of 18th century genre six-panel screens showing street scenes in Kyoto with many artisans at work (individual panel size 79 by 25.5 inches). Erik has since told me his overall reactions to the fair:

“It was very well organised and publicised and the attractive venue was open and airy, without any narrow corridors. The attendance was wonderful on the opening day and I noted that the visitors were very knowledgeable, including museum curators from the USA, England, Holland and Germany and serious collectors from everywhere.

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“Sales were good and I was especially pleased to sell many tea ceramics, including two Karatsu tea bowls from the early 17th century. Exhibiting in London for the first time, I was also happy for the many new contacts and I plan to return to the fair in 2004.”

Erik was also showing Japanese Meiji period bronzes. One by Oshima Joun (1858-1940), with fine details of a boy on a buffalo playing his flute under an inlaid gold crescent moon, was much admired by Arts of Asia subscribers, Mr and Mrs Patrice Tedjini who live in Madrid, Spain.

I made a special point of talking to another of our supporters, David Priestly of Priestly & Ferraro. He was busy wrapping a work of art he had just sold when I found him. But he gamely stopped to pose for his photograph in front of his stand (6). David told me at the time he was very pleased to attend the fair and was already confident that he would meet collectors and be able to sell many of his pieces. So when I returned to Hong Kong I called David long-distance to comment on the results, which he confirmed as follows by fax:
“Although the new London Asian Art Fair at the Commonwealth Centre was competing with Olympia and Grosvenor House fairs, we were surprised with the number of serious buyers and new collectors who attended the event. All agreed that the new venue was a vast improvement on the Park Lane Hotel and that the layout ‘in the round’ gave a pleasant atmosphere and made each stand more accessible. Although sharing the same space as the International Ceramics Fair, the organisers had made a clear distinction between the two with gateways between the sections and by colour-coding stands in red for Asian Art and black for Ceramics. Overall we feel that this first year of the London Asian Art Fair proved that this is a new fair with a great deal of potential and we hope that more people will participate next year to consolidate the event.”

I also asked Anna Haughton, fair organiser with her husband Brian, to tell me how they felt about their new event: “You know how happy we are that you are such a good supporter of our fairs, and over many years have given us wonderful editorial, and we know how influential Arts of Asia is in the Asian art world. We were so delighted that you were able to come to London to the fair in June. We were very happy with the fair and know that it was very well received by the public. The dealers were very happy with the new space, as it was easy to see everyone, enabled them to have more space than previously without extra costs, looked elegant and was cool. We are hoping to have more international exhibitors next year. The Ceramics Fair with its Asian content has always had a very strong and faithful attendance and this year, the attendance was increased due to the addition of the London Asian Art Fair.

“Among those attending the fairs was a large contingent of museum curators such as Sir Timothy Clifford, head of the National Museums of Scotland. There were also representatives from the Getty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The British Museum, The Ashmolean, Art Institute of Chicago, Fitzwilliam, Sèvres Museum, Wadsworth Atheneum, Winterthur, Ariana Museum of Geneva, and the Schloss Nymphenburg, among others. As you know, this year the opening of the new gallery at the Peabody in Salem took place on the last day of the fair, which prevented some curators and collectors being able to attend this year. However, we will not have this clash next year.” (The dates for the 2004 International Ceramics Fair & Seminar and London Asian Art Fair have been set for June 10th-13th and again will be held at the Commonwealth Centre.)

While in London, as well as visiting many dealers’ galleries as part of Asia Week, I also attended the Bonhams New Bond Street and Sotheby’s London auctions reported in this issue by Colin Sheaf (pages 116-117) and Julian King (pages 118-119). For the results of the recent Christie’s Hong Kong auction see Robin Markbreiter’s report (pages 120-122).
On July 9th, the day Christie’s Hong Kong auction closed, Robin and I flew to Beijing to attend the China Guardian and Huachen auctions. We were invited by Mr Chen Dongsheng, Founder, and Ms Wang Yannan, President of China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd to attend their cocktail party to celebrate China Guardian’s tenth anniversary on July 10th at the garden of the Beijing Kunlun Hotel (7). Over six hundred people attended the party (8) including important government officials, Chinese and overseas collectors and international art dealers. Many friends of Arts of Asia came too and I am seen with Mr Chang Wei-Hwa from Taipei, and Drs Feng-Chun Ma with her son Paul who live in Amsterdam (9). Feng recently left Sotheby’s where she was a Director of the Amsterdam auction house to start her own company specialising in Chinese and Japanese art. In the next photograph Mr Chen is seen in the auction room for Chinese oil paintings and sculptures with Silvia Lam, Cathay Pacific Inflight Service Manager, Hong Kong collector Linus W.L. Cheung, PCCW Deputy Chairman, and artist Hung Hoi, Vice-Chairman of the Chinese Painting Committee, Hong Kong Artist’s Association.

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In his welcoming speech at the China Guardian cocktail party Mr Chen told guests that over the last ten years his auction house has mirrored his country’s surprising economic development. The boom has successfully led to the growth of art collections in China and he expects the strong Chinese economy to continue to develop very well in the future. He also warmly thanked the many government leaders, specialists, art dealers and friends who gave their support that helped his company grow. However, he also wanted to express that they will continue to be humble and cautious. “Ten years is a very short time in our lives. Although we have made an achievement over the last ten years I feel that China Guardian still has not done enough and there is a big difference from the international auction houses. There is room for improvement. With all your support the market for Chinese art and culture can grow well and fast.”

The tenth anniversary China Guardian sale was the best ever in the company’s history achieving a grand total of RMB194 million, or US$23 million, which was beyond expectations. Yannan Wang explained, “Because of our tenth anniversary we made a special effort to collect better pieces. All our departments tried their very best and our clients consigned their best pieces to ensure success. I appreciate this support very much. We are very grateful that we have been recognised to have a good team. This is so fulfilling and gives me a sense of achievement, but there are so many things to work on and we still have a long way to go to be truly international. We already have good support in China.” The majority of the pieces in their auctions come from China, with 30-40 per cent from overseas and mainly consigned from Asian countries. However, some also come from America and Europe.

Ms Wang noted, “The highest prices for Chinese paintings are achieved at Beijing auctions. Nowhere in the world is there so much love and appreciation for Chinese paintings. Porcelain, works of art and oil paintings are also going up. The resources in China for ceramics are not as good as for paintings but we are hoping that the ceramics and works of art will develop like the paintings market. We have no plans at the moment to expand with overseas sales. Our aim is to focus in China. Our strength is within China, however, maybe in the future we can expand.”
Huachen’s Beijing July 11th and 12th auctions of Chinese paintings, porcelain and works of art were also well attended and their Chairman and President, Mr Gan Xuejun (10), was very pleased with the results. The highlight was their cover lot, a dark green nephrite jade imperial Kangxi seal measuring 9.5 cm long, 9.5 cm wide and 8.3 cm high (11). Mr Dai Dai, in charge of porcelain and works of art, before the sale expected this large seal to achieve RMB4 million. There was a lot of interest in the auction room and it was finally purchased by a mainland Chinese bidder for RMB6.6 million including the 10 per cent buyer’s commission. Other top selling lots included a handscroll painting titled Flower by Zhu Da (also named Ba Da Shan Ren) and an underglaze blue and copper-red vase with Yongzheng seal mark and of the period, each selling at RMB3.3 million.

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I have been doing so much travelling recently it has become a way of life. My next project is to visit France, if at all possible, for long enough to be culturally valuable. Alternatively to make a shorter stay to visit Asian Autumn 2003, in Paris this October, which already they have told me has a number of London dealers signed up to participate who are supporters of Arts of Asia from time to time.

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Myrna Myers (11 rue de Beaune, 75007, Paris) will be showing from October 3rd to November 15th a selection of striking Chinese costumes and textiles of the 11th through the 18th centuries in an exhibition which she has titled “Chinese Costumes and Textiles from the Liao to the Qing Dynasty”. The accompanying illustrated catalogue is by John E. Vollmer, the foremost independent scholar of Ming and Qing textiles in America.

I do applaud Myrna Myers and her husband Samuel for their excellent choice of material. Space permitting I will end the page here with an illustration of her Qianlong period emperor’s jifu or semi-formal court robe with the symbols of imperial authority (12).


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