Patriotic collectors eye NY Asian Art Week

Asian collectors rediscovering their roots are expected to be among the big buyers at New York auctions next week highlighting ancient and modern works from Asia.

Christie's leads Asian Art Week, which takes place in March and September, with 1,200 lots from India to Japan auctioning at an estimated collective price tag of between 46 and 65 million dollars.

Rival auction house Sotheby's follows suit with pre-sale estimates of 21.9 to 31.2 million dollars for 738 lots, while more than a dozen city galleries are hosting exhibitions and sales of their own.

Hugo Weihe, head of Christie's Indian and southeast Asian art, said the modern and contemporary auction on Wednesday was expected to raise more than 10 million dollars, with works by big-name artists including Francis Newton Souza and TV Santhosh.

Tuesday could see an intriguing sale when India's ancient output goes on the block, ranging from Himalayan gilt bronze sculptures to rare silver from the 1st century BC.

Indians - similar to the rich Chinese actively buying their nation's treasures back from Western collectors - are expected to be a big force.

"We see increased interest in India now for the antiquities, which of course has happened in Chinese art," Weihe said.

"Once any economy gets strong, literally you buy into your heritage," Weihe told AFP. "China is doing that in a very strong way. We were very surprised, 'why hasn't India done that more?' Well now we're seeing very strong signs."

Parallel to the sales, Christie's is hosting an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art co-organized by a branch of the Chinese culture ministry.

The "Trans-Realism" collection of 29 works by 17 artists offers a modern view of Chinese art far from the typical delicate, pre-communist ceramics or even socialist realism - although with nods to both, plus a twist of European influence.

"The range of (Chinese) art works represented in the international market is still very limited. We'd like to bring more Chinese art to the international audience," said Pan Qing, a curator from the National Museum of China.

Christie's auctions run from September 14 through 16. The Sotheby's sale is on September 16 and includes a collection of snuff bottles estimated to sell for between four and six million dollars, and works of art from China and South Asia.

Other exhibitions at smaller New York art dealers include "Literati Musing: Inscriptions on Chinese Paintings," "Buddhist Lives," and "Flights of Fancy," a collection of porcelain contemporary masterworks from Japan.