"This week, many of New York's auction houses, art gallerys, and cultural institutions have teamed up to present the annual spring Asia Week, with focused programming and exhibitions related to art throughout the continent. Reports on Asian art generally focus on the more extravagant works and prices (remember the $85-million fish vase?), which these days tend to be in the Chinese art category, but the high-end of traditional Chinese art is only a sliver of the commerce going on in New York's robust Asian art scene. True, Chinese traditional and contemporary art are two of the largest categories, but there are also specialists in Japanese, Korean, and Indian works, both past and present, all of them with amazing treasures to offer. Even within the national categories there can be a huge variation in the types of pieces available.
After conferring with a variety of New York-based dealers and specialists, along with keeping a close watch on the recent Asia Week auctions, ARTINFO has compiled a very brief and partial guide to the Asian art markets — directed toward the new-but-interested collectors and curious observers. The guide covers, broadly, the major objects in each category, what the collector pool is like, and how much you can expect to pay if you are thinking of dipping your toe in the water.
The Basics: Japanese art can be an affordable category for the interested collector, as it isn't enjoying the heat that the current Chinese art market is. At last Fall's Asia Week, Christie's sale of Japanese and Korean art was only 59 percent sold by lot and a dismal 41 percent sold by value — making it a likely buyers' market. At the Joan B. Mirviss gallery on the Upper East Side, the dealer is selling the collection of Brewster Hanson, a lifelong fan of Japanese art, who died in 2008. At the time Hanson was collecting prints, his tastes were supposedly more Japanese than European, meaning he obtained many rare, top-quality prints without competition, according to Mirviss. However, the pendulum has swung, it seems. Before the show even opened Mirviss reported that half of the catalogue had been sold, mostly the more expensive (and more rare) prints.
It is worth noting that there is a relatively thin contemporary art market in Japan, which lacks a large gallery infrastructure. According to a recent article in the Economist, this is partially because the Japanese have not bought into their own contemporary art scene. Takashi Murakami, who is represented by Gagosian Gallery and commands prices well above $1 million, is more the exception than the rule. "
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