Asian art sales are eastern delight in NY

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From a record-breaking classical Chinese painting to strong prices for edgy modern fare from India, Asia Week art auctions got off to a strong start Tuesday in New York.

Shrugging off the crippling effects of the financial crisis on the international art market, the 1692 painting by Bada Shanren "Two Mynas on a Rock" fetched 2.994 million dollars at Sotheby's, a US record for classical Chinese works.

The pre-auction estimate had been just 400,000-600,000 dollars.

A US record was also set for Chinese calligraphy with the sale of Bada Shanren's "Calligraphy in Xing Shu (Running Script) After Zhong Yao's 'Zhang Le Tie'" for 482,500 dollars, about four times the pre-sale estimate.

Art markets suffered major losses at the height of the US recession and global economic turmoil in 2008-2009. However there are signs of steady recovery - partly due to a return to high bonuses and pre-recession spending power among Wall Street workers.

However, the market remains wary and more interested in quality than risk-taking, auctioneers said.

Henry Howard-Sneyd, vice chairman for Asian Art at Sotheby's said Tuesday's records demonstrated an "appetite for fresh-to-the-market works priced conservatively."

Sotheby's rang up 9.6 million dollars in the first morning session of its two-day Asian art sale, exceeding by nearly two million dollars the pre-sale high estimates.

Arch-rival Christie's also opened the Asian sales strongly, starting Tuesday with modern and contemporary south Asian art and classical Indian and southeast Asian works. The sales end Thursday and Friday with Chinese works.

The first day made 15 million dollars, compared to 9.7 million dollars in last September's modern and classical south Asian sales.

Highlights included a million dollars for the geometric-patterned "Gestation," a large acrylic painting from 1989 by Indian artist Syed Haider Raza that had been estimated to sell for 600,000-800,000 dollars.

Few paintings failed to make their reserve prices and a heavy proportion easily cleared intentionally conservative estimates.

A spectacular 1999 oil painting of a goddess and a lion by India's Manjit Bawa sold for 360,000 dollars, double the high estimate. An oil painting in blue of a woman with a lamp by Maqbool Fida Husain sold for 150,000 dollars, compared to the 80,000 dollar high estimate.

Another by Maqbool Fida Husain fetched 210,000 dollars, compared to the 120,000 dollar estimate.

"It is a very smart market... It's not crazy - it's spot on," said Hugo Weihe, international specialist head for Christie's.

"People recognize quality," he told AFP. "The Raza selling at one million is fantastic, but for us it was clear: this was a seminal work by the artist."

Asia Week in New York features open house exhibitions by galleries, as well as special events at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the China Institute and others.

The sector is enjoying a growth period, according to City Arts newspaper. "Though Asian art fairs are not new to the city, at no time has the Asian Art Dealers Association... made such a concerted effort to arrange appealing events for the public."