HEADING MY Editorial is
an illustration of Emperor Kangxi (1) (1662-1722) who as
far as I can tell from Emperor of China: Self-Portrait
of K'ang-hsi by Jonathan D. Spence, was born in May 1654,
began his reign in 1661 and died on December 20th, 1722.
I presume recorded Chinese emperors' enthronements start
with the Chinese New Year, but I will be happy to be corrected,
as it is never too late to learn! The illustration comes
from Christie's Hong Kong November 2nd, 1999 catalogue, "Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong:
Imperial Wares from the Robert Chang Collection",
page 14, where the accompanying article by Rosemary E.
Scott, Christie's Senior Academic Consultant, Asian Art
Departments, is recommended. Discreet enquiries
elicited the information that the anonymous painting was previously illustrated
in Court Painting in the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of the Palace
Museum, Cultural Relics Publishing House, 1992, plate 15.
This edition features the spectacular cover
Innovations-Imperial Porcelains of the Kangxi Era" by Anthony
Lin, who is Chairman of Christie's Asia (2). The ex-Robert Chang
famille rose ruby-ground "lotus" bowl seen on our cover
sold for HK$12,120,000 in November 1999 at Christie's in Hong
Kong. It has been described by Anthony Lin as "a triumph
of technology and artistry with the bright and pastel shades
of blue, pink, yellow and white and green in admirable balance."
Incidentally Edward Dolman, CEO, Christie's International, has sent
me his summary and thoughts on the Spring 2001 auction season at
Christie's Rockefeller Center New York:
"It got off to a spectacular start on March 20th when our Fine
Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale set a world auction record
for an Asian work of art. The piece in question was a masterfully
cast bronze ritual wine jar, a fanglei, from the late Shang/early
Western Zhou. It was a magnificent object and immediately provoked
a fierce battle between two collectors bidding on the phone. The
bidding started at US$2.6 million and jumped in US$100,000 increments
until the hammer came down on the record price of US$9,246,000, selling
to a private collector and breaking the previous record of US$8.5
million that was achieved at Christie's New York in 1996 for a Korean
"Another highlight of the sale was the group of forty-seven
pieces of Tang sancai pottery from The Collection of Alan and Simone
Hartman. In order to keep this exquisite collection intact we decided
to offer it as a single lot and it was bought by a European collector
for US$1.38 million.
"Overall the sale was a brilliant success totalling an impressive
US$13.9 million-the highest total ever achieved for a sale of Chinese
Works of Art in New York. Throughout the sale bidding by collectors
from both the West and Asia was steady in all categories and the
atmosphere was positive. Collectors around the world continue to
respond to works of art of impeccable quality, provenance and condition,
and I believe this sale is a portent of events yet to come in the
2001 international auction season."
In more than thirty years in the specialised fields
of Asian art Suzanne Mitchell (3) has been a graduate student
(Japanese art history at the University of Michigan), museum
curator (Detroit Institute of Arts), auction house executive
(Sotheby's New York), and an owner and president of a private
gallery (Suzanne Mitchell Asian Fine Arts) since the last five
years. I interviewed her at her gallery at 17 East 71st Street
on my last trip to New York because her prices are attractive
for professional people, younger executives and new collectors:
Tuyet Nguyet-When did you leave Sotheby's?
Suzanne Mitchell-I left Sotheby's in 1996 to begin my own business
and have been at this location for four years. I specialise in Japanese
and Korean paintings with a fairly broad range of screens and hanging
scrolls. Our price range is equally broad with screens priced between
US$15,000 and US$400,000 and hanging scrolls from US$10,000 to US$300,000.
Americans have a decided preference for screens; I think it's that
grand format which is so impressive. However, these large pairs require
at least twenty-one running feet for proper display, so smaller pairs
of two-fold screens have been most popular among private collectors.
The larger pairs are in demand by our museum clients.
My business is split almost equally between institutions and private
collectors; and while we are familiar with the more established collections,
it is the new collector whom we would like to also reach. Some of
our new acquaintances come from Toraya, the wonderful Japanese tea
room on the first floor of this building. When you think about it,
it's perfectly logical that anyone keen enough to come in to eat
traditional Japanese sweets must have some knowledge or affinity
for Japanese culture.
The business is also very active in Korean art. Although my formal
training was in Japanese art, Korean art has been a great interest
of mine for the last twenty years or more. When I was a curator in
Detroit I bought my first piece of Korean art in 1979; back then
there were far fewer museums actively acquiring in this field. Since
its peak in the mid-90s, the Korean market has been a bit erratic,
particularly in the ceramics area. This has not affected me much
since I work more in the paintings area and painting prices have
been more stable, probably because demand remains high and far outstrips
I am constantly looking to add to our inventory and travel all over
to find the right pieces. Sometimes a promising trip will yield nothing
and be so disappointing but then the next trip will reap a bounty
of good pieces. I really think it is more difficult to find Korean
art, partly because there was far less produced than in larger countries
such as China, and also because so much of it has not survived. Japan
is a large repository for Korean works although much of it is already
in museums and unavailable. Here in the US many museums have Korean
ceramic collections but need to build in the paintings area.
T.N.-What is the best way to hang Japanese scrolls?
S.M.-Think of them as temporal additions to a space; that is, enjoy
a piece for a period of time and then rotate it for another and give
the painting a rest. Enjoy a painting for its seasonal aspects or
hang it to celebrate a special occasion. Unlike our custom with Western
paintings, scrolls aren't meant to be permanently on display and
that is part of the fun. I think many times people hang a painting
and after a few weeks they really don't see it anymore, so aside
from the importance of conserving the work of art, it also keeps
the eye fresh. Just remember that light and dryness are your two
biggest enemies, so keep paintings out of direct light and invest
T.N.-How do you visualise the future of the Japanese art market?
S.M.-The Japanese market is a stable one and offers a terrific opportunity
for collectors because great quality is still affordable. Within
the Asian fields, it is a market that is not nearly as big as the
Chinese area and never will be. I feel that Japanese art is still
markedly undervalued and provides unique opportunities for building
a really wonderful collection.
T.N.-Where in America can one go to study and learn more about
S.M.-Visit museums. Every region of America has solid representations
of Japanese art so no one is terribly far away from a good resource.
The Japanese collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is probably
the best known worldwide but there are also great collections at
the Freer in Washington, the Cleveland Museum, the Seattle Art Museum,
and the Metropolitan in New York. There are really excellent collections
in or near almost every major city in this country-we are so fortunate.
T.N.-Why do Americans enjoy Japanese art?
S.M.-During the occupation years of the 50s some spectacular Japanese
art came into both museums and private collections in this country.
This continued into the 60s and 70s and was augmented with top-notch,
special exhibitions of Japanese art sent by the government of Japan
to various museums here in the US. As a result, many Americans have
had access to the finest Japanese art. We have also been exposed
to many aspects of it, from the pared-down, minimal approach associated
with Zen expression, to the highly decorative works of the Meiji
period that were much in vogue at the turn of the century.
There is really no single face to Japanese art and the fun is in
finding exactly that niche which is most appealing to you and running
with it. It reminds me a little of my own career. I've been through
three reincarnations and in the first two, I had to manage large
and diverse inventories. Now, in this third phase of my career as
a private dealer, I work with far fewer pieces but I can personally
select the art I want around me and take the time to thoroughly understand
it. This is the best yet and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I note a movement of gallery owners to New York. While Kagedo's
primary offices and collections are still at Seattle, they have also
opened in May by appointment at Kagedo Japanese Art on East 71st
Street, just off Park Avenue. Greg Lulay is the assistant director
to contact (tel: 212-628-8038). For information about Kagedo's collections,
upcoming exhibitions or recent catalogues call 206-467-9077 or visit
their website at www.kagedo.com
Linda Wrigglesworth has specialised in Qing period
costume and Imperial textiles at her London gallery (34 Brook
Street) for more than twenty years. As visiting curator and adviser
she has worked with museums as well as collectors throughout
the world. With scholar Gary Dickinson she is author of Imperial
Wardrobe, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California, 2000. The full-length
19th century Manchu Imperial consort's Chaofu robe (4) in Linda
Wrigglesworth gallery's collection is embroidered with golden
dragons and iridescent clouds and waves on a beautiful greenish-yellow
Once again Margaret Duda, a professional
writer, photographer and jewellery designer, from State College,
Pennsylvania, presents a new collecting subject for our eager
readers. With the title "Grooming Kits and Fragrance Carriers in Qing
China", these include a large variety of silver artefacts
such as: spoons for incense, tobacco bowl cleaners, personalised
seals, moustache combs, tongue scrapers, needle cases and religious
charms. Earpicks and toothpicks are common in several variations.
Illustrated here are four rectangular fragrance carriers, described
on page 56 (5).
Gerald Yong Yu-Li, author of the article "The Theme of Youth
in Dehua and Shiwan Art: Mao Period 1955-1976" on pages 62-73
of this issue has told me that it was difficult to present given
the sensitive nature of the politics in its day. In reporting his
researches in conversations on the mainland with Chinese potters
who were present as youths and are now middle aged, he has found
it hard not to appear like an official mouthpiece when repeating
quotations of the period. His article is illustrated with a wide
range of blanc de Chine examples from Dehua and glazed and painted
pottery figures from Shiwan. Mr Yong explains their relevance to
the official literature and politics of the period and provides useful
For his fifth historic photographic exhibition in Hong Kong, Dennis
George Crow announces that it will be held on October 22nd to 28th
at Galerie E, 7th Floor, AON China Building, 29 Queen's Road Central.
He promises to bring rare and early photographs of Hong Kong and
China by John Thompson, Milton Miller, W.O. Floyd, Felice Beato,
Thomas Child, William Saunders, Afong and others. The dating for
the majority of the photographs is between the late 1850s and the
1870s and they come from private collections and dealers in Europe,
the US and Australia. I notice this is a return to his early policy
relating to date, which for his fourth show, held in April 2001 at
the same venue, several came from a much later period, for example
a 1957 gelatin silver print of the late Chairman Mao at work while
travelling in a railway carriage, with cigarette in one hand, pen
in the other, and tea mugs nearby.
How women have changed! Supreme examples
could be seen in two Hong Kong exhibitions held in April/May
2001. From April 26th to May 13th China Art, G/F, 15 Hollywood
Road, Central, Hong Kong, were showing an exhibition of over
700 Shanghai posters which, although they existed in China
as early as 1885 as calendars, reached a peak in the 1930s. "Foreign
companies coming to China during the early 20th century pinpointed
calendar posters as an effecting marketing tool. However they
were not as effective as they had hoped. The big bang came
when they employed well-known artists painting attractive Chinese
ladies (6). Instantaneously they became the new and popular
marketing media as well as a means of combining art and commercialism."
It was in 1986 that Alisan Fine Arts, 315 Prince's Building, 10
Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, held their first Walasse Ting exhibition.
Walasse Ting was born in Wuxi, China in 1929, studied at the Shanghai
Art Academy, moved to Hong Kong in 1946, arrived in Paris in 1950,
moved to New York in 1958, became an American citizen in 1974 and
currently lives in Amsterdam. Known for his colourful acrylic on
Chinese ink paintings, at his latest Alisan Fine Arts exhibition
on April 27th to May 25th, mainly of women, we were shown his "Black
and White World".
"We were very pleased with the
results of the exhibition", says Alice King, the gallery
owner who is seen with the artist (7). This was the first show
in Hong Kong consisting solely of his black and white ink paintings
and it generated a good deal of excitement. Sales reflected
this. Quite a few people commented on the strength of these
paintings. The absence of colour allows the eye to focus on
the quality of his brushwork, and acknowledges more clearly
his Chinese roots.
"A visit from Walasse Ting is great fun. He is larger than life, unpredictable,
and has a sly sense of humour. Sometimes it takes a moment to figure out whether
he is joking or serious", Alice King notes.
Although Mr Nguyen Lai, Artist-Director of Nam Song Art Gallery,
41 Trang Tien Street, Hanoi, Vietnam (Tel: 84-4-8262993) claims in
his introduction that they are honoured "to introduce a number
of contemporary painters-from the old age ones who were graduated
from Indochina Art College in the first decades of the 20th century-with
their selected works of national and modern styles made on different
material like lacquer, wood carving, oil painting, gouache and pastel",
I was a little disappointed to see that for their show, "With
Heart and Soul and Mind", held in May, 2001 at Galerie E in
Hong Kong, exhibits were confined to fourteen contemporary artists
who were born in Hanoi, Vietnam between 1943 and 1973 and/or studied
at the Hanoi Fine Art Institute. So work from the old generation
was not seen.
However, the influence of Bui Xuan Phai (1921-1988), "one
of the best known and best loved artists both inside and outside
Vietnam", is reflected in the works of two Nam Son Gallery
artists-Pham Duc Phong (born 1943) and Nguyen Thi Minh Thu
(8) (born 1969)-in their country village and small town street
While more obviously Pham Binh Chuong (born 1973)
in his similar subject oils is closer to realism, Pham Mai Chau
(9) (born 1953) in his posed portraits is surely a photo-realist.
He graduated from Ontario College of Art, Toronto, Canada in
1989 following earlier studies in Hanoi's academies.
One must expect to find lacquer
paintings in such a representative art show. In Arts of Asia,
September-October 1971, I wrote on this subject myself (perhaps
for the very first time in English) in an article I titled "Peaceful Vietnam-A
School of Lacquer Painting", at that time as always looking
ahead to the future. Although the lacquer style was already called "Hanoi
painting" in the South it dated to Thanh Le, who set up
his factory in Thu Dau Mot in 1940. Most notable were Thanh Le's
lacquer interior decorations for the French super-liner, the
Normandie, before the Second World War. Many of his earlier trained
students and apprentices set up their own ateliers near him.
To explain the variety of possibilities in lacquer "Hanoi
painting", illustrated are a still life by Bui Huu Hung
(10) (born 1957), and "Before the Wedding" by Cong
Quoc Ha (11) (born 1955).
On May 25th I rushed to Shanghai to attend the opening ceremony
and banquet dinner on the following day for the Shanghai Museum's
exhibition "Treasures from Snow Mountain-Gems of Tibetan Cultural
Relics" (see the article by Chen Kelun in this issue on pages
130-133). I was pleasantly surprised to find Shanghai a much cleaner
and greener city. The people are fashionably dressed and look happy
and hopeful towards the future. I was told that Shanghai residents
earn the best salaries within China and the city is an autonomous
metropolis with a population of 15 million. It is not related to
any province, except being supported by two beautiful cities: Hangzhou
and Suzhou. Famous Chinese politicians such as President Jiang Zemin
and Premier of the State Council Zhu Rongji are former Mayors of
In the morning of the exhibition opening I had
the pleasure of meeting in his office Professor Chen Xiejun,
the new Director of the Shanghai Museum (his photograph was taken
in Tibet) (12). Also present was Arts of Asia contributor Chen
Kelun, Deputy Director of the Shanghai Museum, and Mr Zhou Yan
Qun, Executive Chief, Cultural Exchange Office, and Associate
Curator of the Shanghai Museum. Following a personal tour of
the exhibition they took me to a very good lunch at the museum
In the afternoon at the opening ceremony Director Chen in concluding
his speech briefing his exclusive invited guests said, "The
success of this exhibition owes a lot to the strong support from
the Tibetan and Shanghai governments and other related departments.
This exhibition marks friendly cooperation between the cultural relics
unit of the two regions in the context of grand development scheme
of West China. Chairman Lek Chok and Mayor Xu Kuangdi contributed
the Foreword and Message to the exhibition, which added to the importance
of the exhibition. Vice-Chairperson Tsiram Zuoga showed great concern
to the selection of exhibits and transportation of the exhibition
and gave a great help to solve problems. The Shanghai Museum sent
personnel in eight shifts to Tibet for investigation and exploration
and they were strongly supported and well received by various cultural
relics units of Tibet. As a conclusion, I would like to extend my
sincere gratitude to leaders and units concerned."
Important people from Hong Kong in both the business
and the art world came for the exhibition opening including generous
donors such as T.T. Tsui. From the auction houses, present were
Henry Howard-Sneyd of Sotheby's and Anthony Lin and Hugo Weihe
of Christie's. I am seen with Mr Jam pa kal Sang, Director of
the Administrative Office of the Potala Palace, Mr Chen Kelun
and Gay Co, a lama from the Potala Palace (13).
Gay Co was in charge of bringing the famous Tibetan cultural relics
to the Shanghai Museum exhibition. I was the only English language
Asian art publisher who was invited and attended the opening ceremony
and enjoyed the delicious banquet that followed.
I wish both China and Tibet well.