Asia Week Auction Recap: A ‘Great Wave’ Bidding War and More

The annual 10-day celebration of Asian art in metropolitan New York continues to be a jewel of the spring auction calendar.

Men carry bundles and women wash herbs near a waterwheel
Christie’s Japanese and Korean Art sale featured Katsushika Hokusai’s Onden no suisha Asia Week New York

Wrapping up its 14th year, Asia Week New York has again proven itself a locus of Asian art in the spring auction calendar. The annual 10-day event for collectors, curators, scholars and enthusiasts features gallery and museum exhibitions and special lectures presented by international art experts–along with a stellar lineup of auctions across major metropolitan houses.

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Asia Week New York 2023 may have been smaller than in some previous years but was larger than the 2022 event, which saw combined gallery and auction sales totaling close to $99 million. This year’s participating auction houses included Bonhams, Doyle, iGavel, Christie's and Sotheby’s, and the latter two houses reported in-person and online auction sales that outpaced estimates, pointing to the staying power of the Asian art market mid- and post-Covid.

SEE ALSO: A Pair of Early Ming Dynasty Bronze Figures Are Expected to Fetch $11M at Sotheby’s

Chinese fine art and antiquities alone generated $7.4 billion in global auction sales in 2021, the most recent year analyzed in Artnet’s Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report. Last year, Christie’s Asian Art Week sales totaled more than $67 million, with three record-breaking sales and 11 lots above $1 million.

This latest Asia Week New York’s auction calendar commenced with viewings at Bonhams, Christie’s, Heritage Auctions, iGavel and Sotheby's on March 16th, followed by the first auctions at Bonhams and Sotheby’s on the 20th.

Christie’s Asian Art Week Auction Highlights

Christie’s Asia Week auctions kicked off with the Japanese and Korean Art sale, which netted $11.4 million, followed by the Indian, Himalayan, and South Asian Works of Art and South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art sales, which brought in $2.95 million and $11.9 million, respectively.

The two-part Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction on March 23rd and 24th featured more than 260 items, including a rare lion-handled Tang Dynasty ewer (9th-10th Century) estimated to bring in $4,000 to $8,000 that sold for $18,900 and an “unusual” 12th Century Yaozhou celadon censer, which was expected to fetch between $25,000 and $35,000 but sold for an astounding $115,920. Ultimately, the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale netted a grand total of more than $18.4 million.

A three-legged ceramic censer with animal-form feet and two raised handles in front of a wooden box tied with ribbon
A 12th Century Yaozhou celadon censer sold for $115,920. Christie's

Sotheby’s Asia Week Auction Highlights

Sotheby’s also produced a strong showing from sales in its online and live auctions of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian works. The Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art auction yielded impressive sales results of more than $11.9 million. This was followed by the Important Chinese Art auction, which included several notable porcelain pieces, early ceramics, jades and furniture from private and museum collections and brought in more than $12.2 million. One noteworthy item, a Neolithic jade ceremonial axe from the Guennol Collection, was estimated at between $400,000 and $600,000 but sold for more than $1 million.

Another impressive item, from the Qianlong period–often referred to as the golden age of China, was a finely-carved white jade ‘figural’ circular table screen. The screen was estimated at between $100,000 and $150,000 but sold for $381,000. The Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art sale also included Maqbool Fida Husain’s masterwork 1961 painting, Bulls. The piece was expected to sell for between $1 and $1.5 million but sold for $2.78 million.

An abstract painting of a bull with a handprint on its flank in front of a stark landscape
Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art sale included Maqbool Fida Husain’s 1961 painting, Bulls Sotheby's

Sale of Note: The Great Wave

One of the most exciting moments to come out of Asia Week New York was the March 23rd bidding floor battle at Christie’s for a spectacularly sharp and well-preserved print of the famous 1831 woodblock Under the Well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai–one of 10 Great Wave prints sold during the week, according to Apollo Magazine. Christie’s predicted the print would go for between $500,000 and $700,000, but six bidders drove up the price over a dramatic 13 minutes before it sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $2.8 million, the Wall Street Journal reported. The figure marks a new record high for the particular print, which last sold for $1.6 million, and is a record high for any work by the famed Japanese artist, according to a Christie’s spokesperson.

Note that while Asia Week New York 2023 may be over, the New York City and global arts calendars still have plenty to offer Asian art collectors and enthusiasts. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the auction house in Asia, Sotheby’s Hong Kong is hosting a series of spring sales featuring classic and contemporary Asian art pieces. Christie’s Hong Kong Spring Sales will include classical and modern Chinese paintings, furniture and jewelry. Meanwhile, Ippodo Gallery’s exhibition of intricate raden lacquer pieces, Terumasa Ikeda: Iridescent Lacquer, is open through April 20th, MIYAKO YOSHINAGA’s exhibition of painter Manika Nagare’s Spectrum of Vivid Moments runs through April 22nd, and Fu Qiumeng Fine Art’s special presentation of Chinese artist Fung Ming Chip’s Number Series and shufa works remains on view until May 20th.

Asia Week Auction Recap: A ‘Great Wave’ Bidding War and More