Nov 1, 2011

New Publication on Later Japanese Buddhist Visual Culture

The Visual Culture of Japanese Buddhism from the Early Modern Period to the Present,” Religious Compass 5/8 (2011): 389–411, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2011.00294x.  This is an online journal available by subscription, that publishes summaries of recent research with extensive bibliographies of the topic, mainly sources in English.

Oct 10, 2011

Scams Abound in the Chinese Art Auction World

Today, National Public Radio aired an insightful story about wide scale scamming by Chinese who sell and bid at auction for their country's art: In China's Red-Hot Market Fraud Abounds
Among the scams described are fakes selling for huge sums, auctions being used as conduits for bribes, and refusals to pay for high priced goods won at auction by bidders. I think it made some excellent points and closed with a great one: "One major issue is that Chinese auction houses are not responsible for the authenticity of the goods they sell, as long as they issue a disclaimer. But the problem is that the fakery is endemic. In all too many cases, the art is fake, the bids are rigged, the experts are crooked, and the bills are never settled. It's difficult to know what is real, aside from the corruption."

All this makes it hard to trust the validity of Chinese auction results, which I need to use as comps when doing appraisals. Therefore, I always check to see if objects similar to those I am appraising have sold at auctions in the West (which are also inundated by Chinese buyers, so that can be problematic too) and what prices are for these things in private galleries.

Oct 7, 2011

Another Record Chinese Sale!

Sotheby's Hong Kong sale of Chinese art from the renowned Meiyingtang collection on October 5, 2011 set another record for porcelain, this time for Ming blue and white wares. A beautiful meiping shaped vase from the Yongle era sold for HK$168.7 million (US$72 million). For more on this see the Oct. 7, 2011 article at Reuters: Ming Vase Smashes Record at Mixed Chinese Sale
A related article on the current Chinese art market appeared in the Wall Street Journal today: Art Market: The China Factor

This article advised readers on what are more affordable alternatives for would-be buyers of Chinese art than those that sell for record-smashing prices. But while the article accurately notes what types of art fit into these less pricey categories, buyers still need to be wary if their intention is to buy art as an investment, which really is a gamble. There is much fine quality art available for low prices because it is not the height of fashion or whose prices are in the doldrums due to economic factors and there is no telling when the situation will change -- I am thinking especially of the situation for JAPANESE ART, and in particular, most types of screens, scrolls, lacquers, and ceramics, which are all great buys today.

October 27, 2011 Lecture in Chicago

I'll be presenting a lecture to the Japan-America Society of Chicago on Thursday Oct. 27, 2011.


6:30-7:15 pm PRESENTATION
7:15-7:30 Q and A

Masuda Funai Eifert & Mitchell, Ltd.
203 N. LaSalle Street, 25th Floor Conference Room
Chicago, IL 60603
$15 JASC Members/$20 Non-Members

The production of copies is part of the tradition of East Asian visual culture. Not all copies are fakes and many have monetary value, sometimes more than the original. Artists from Korea and Japan were often inspired by Chinese art, and Japanese artists also copied certain types of Korean arts, such as Buddhist painting. Consequently, distinguishing the original from the copy is often challenging. Understanding the different contexts in which copies were produced helps understand how to evaluate them. Emphasizing the tradition of copying in Japanese arts, this presentation also addresses copies in Chinese and Korean arts, showing how some are copied for legitimate reasons, and others for deception.

The talk draws on Graham's experience as both a scholar and appraiser of Asian art, using examples of objects she has seen and studied over the years, including Japanese secular paintings, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Buddhist painting and sculpture, Japanese prints, ceramics, cloisonné, Peking glass, jade, and netsuke. She will compare different sorts of copies and fakes, and discuss their relative values in the marketplace. Currently, the issue of forgeries is particularly pertinent and vexing because these have increased substantially in recent years, especially in China, although the use of scientific examination techniques is often used effectively to discern them.

Jun 23, 2011

The tricky business of recognizing fakes

In a prior post on connoisseurship references for Chinese and Japanese arts, I cautioned about the prevalence of forgeries and the difficulties of recognizing them, even for experts. There I listed a number of useful reference works for specific types of arts. Now I want to point out a new effort that is based on science, a collaborative forensic research project being jointly undertaken by Cranfield University in the UK and Bonhams auction house. The online journal, ART RADAR ASIA, recently did a story on it.

Apr 25, 2011

Pat's New Publications, Spring 2011

I have two new publication out this spring.

The first is "Craftsmanship in Japanese Arts,"
chapter 6 of: Reading Asian Art and Artifacts: Windows to Asia on American College Campuses, edited by Paul K. Nietupski and Joan O'Mara. Lehigh University Press/Rowman & Littlefield, 2011, 123-148.
In this essay, I seek to define the special character of Japanese art, examining both the way Japanese artists approach art production and the appearance of the arts in general. I focus on the high value placed on exquisite craftsmanship in various arts that results from unique cultural and religious factors which encourage patience and diligence by makers, an avid embracing of new technologies, and a penchant by artists for working together in groups.

The second publication is an article in the May 2011 issue of Orientations magazine, 
“Compassion, Craft, and Connectedness: Shinji Turner-Yamamoto’s Cincinnati “Global Tree Project.”
It focuses on the artist's installation of an intertwined live and dead tree at Cincinnati's decommissioned historic Holy Cross Church, and his concurrent exhibition at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

The Booming Chinese Art Market

I have been inundated lately with queries from collectors who have Chinese art they are interested in selling. No wonder, the astronomical prices Chinese art is now commanding is regularly in the news. Prices are especially high for later Chinese porcelains with imperial reign marks of the most esteemed Qing dynasty emperors (Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong). But other types of Chinese art are also doing quite well.

 In fall 2010, records were set for Qianlong porcelains:
A vase sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong for US$32.4 million in October.

A vase found in an attic in the UK sold at a small London auction house, Bainbridge's, sold for £43 million or US$69.3 million (£53.1 million or US$85.9 million including the buyers' premium), in November (estimate was US$1.3~$2 million). HOWEVER, THE CHINESE BUYER REFUSED TO PAY FOR THIS! (this is not the first time this happened) So this is really a false and misleading public sales record.
UPDATE NOTE Oct. 10, 2011: some reports indicate that finally, the vase has been paid for. Such a delay is customary for Chinese culture, says the Wall Street Journal in an article Oct. 7, 2011. But a story on NPR Morning Edition on Oct. 10, 2011 indicated that the auctioneer and the seller had to go to China to collect the money, and that in May, one British newspaper reported the buyer had made a deposit on the vase of 2 million pounds, but how much of the selling price has actually been received by the auction house is unclear--no one is talking.
UPDATE NOTE ON JANUARY 14, 2013:Today Bloomberg reported that this vase has been sold for less than half the price the original purchaser failed to pay, an undisclosed price between 20 million pounds and 25 million pounds. The private transaction was brokered by the London-based auction house Bonhams. The vase has now been exported. The new owner has been identified by dealers as an Asian collector. See the article here.

Then at the NY auctions in March, many lots exceeded estimates by huge amounts. These surprises included:

An apparent Republican period (early 20th century) vase that buyers obviously believe was of 18th century date, sold for $18 million (the estimate was $800-$1,200).

 Another surprise was a 19th century jardiniere that sold at Doyle's for $80,000 (estimate was $5,000-$7,000)

Lastly, a fine 15th-16th century large (20") bronze statue of the Daoist deity Zhenwu, sold at Christie's for $2,210,250 (estimate was $250,000~$300,000)

How to make sense of all this? You must understand that the buyers are wealthy Chinese with deep pockets, for whom buying at auction affirms their status among their peers. Their preference for big, impressive objects associated with eminent imperial reigns affirms their ties to the pinnacle epochs of Chinese history. The fact that Chinese buyers reneg on commitments and fail to pay when winning an exorbitantly high bid for a piece at auction serves as a warning to auction houses worldwide to more carefully ascertain the intent and secure advance credit from would-be buyers.

Note though that there is one category of Chinese art these Chinese buyers will not buy -- funerary art (such as grave goods like tomb figurines) -- because they are superstitious and so shy away from art associated with death. Nevertheless, there are many forgeries of these materials on the market. Furthermore, excavated materials are not allowed to be publicly sold  within China.