By Steven Meyers
For 10 consecutive days each Spring, the world’s premiere Asian artists, art dealers, collectors, and enthusiasts gather in Manhattan for Asia Week New York. The event celebrates a range of rare and fine Asian cultural artifacts, paintings, sculptures and drawings thanks to a collaboration of major auction houses and specialists.
While Asia Week New York is celebrated for its offerings and recognized as a touchstone for evaluating trends in the Asian art market, 2016 struck a much different tone. During this year’s events federal agents seized more than a half dozen antiques allegedly smuggled from overseas and brought to art sellers. The raids seek to rightly return stolen items to their country of origin.
According to Reuters, 2016 also reflected an economic slow-down in Chinese art buyers. Sotheby’s reported that total sales dropped to their lowest since 2013, and Christie’s noted significant decrease in profits as well.
This stands in stark contrast to last year’s Asia Week New York, the event’s most successful year ever when sales reached an incredible $360 million. There were many factors contributing to last year’s unprecedented success – including some of the most prestigious works in Asia Week New York’s history.
Christie’s alone sold $161,142,063 in 2015, achieved in ten sales from March 15 to 21. Their auction included the Robert Hatsfield Ellsworth Collection which is considered to be one of the greatest private collections of Asian art ever assembled.
Also of special note last year was “Ink Lotus,” made by His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III that was sold at auction for $16.5 million. The drawing was bought by an American collector following intense bidding between American, European and Asian buyers.
His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III is widely recognized as the third incarnation of the original Buddha and the most highly realized practitioner of Buddhism. He is a celebrated figure across Asia and the entire world, so the works were highly anticipated and caused a major stir within the art community.
According to the auction house that handled the sale, “Ink Lotus, with two artist seals, contains the artist's statement in calligraphy that translates as: An utter chaos strewn with broken strokes: a peculiar sight, yet wondrously endowed with soul-soothing charm.” The work is mounted, ink on paper, and ten square feet in size. This is somewhat customary for His artistic creations; original art works all feature a three-dimensional fingerprint as authentication. Experts predict that His paintings will become increasingly valuable as He plans to focus solely on Buddhist activities, and will no longer pursue painting.
Such special works of art are emblematic of Asia Week New York, which has grown tremendously and now serves as a unique art market barometer. The culturally dedicated week began in 2009, when 16 galleries on New York City’s Upper East Side presented open house week-long gallery exhibitions. A year later the group grew to include a total of 31 galleries and major auction houses, museums and cultural institutions began offering additional programs.
Regardless of the unfortunate and potentially criminal acts that sought to take advantage of the value in Asian art and artifacts this year, Asia Week will continue to be a special chance to see and even own some of the rarest Asian fine art known to man.
Steven Meyers received his bachelor’s degree in Chinese language from Brown University, where he graduated magna cum laude. After graduating, Mr. Meyers spent a year at the Stanford Center in Taiwan furthering his study of the Chinese language. Later, he received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan and is now an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of California. He has been providing legal advice to California non-profit corporations since 1996. His current focus is translating Buddhist material from Chinese into English.