After the earthquake and tsunami, many people here in Japan told me they were lying low, and staying in rather than going out. I can relate. In the weeks following the March 11 disaster, almost everyone I ran into wanted to talk about the earthquake and the tsunami and the radiation. It’s a conversation I’ve had too many times already.
On those days you’d rather stay inside, but still want to look at some beautiful art work, the solution is easy: Turn to your computer and head to the websites of the world's top two major auction houses—Christie's and Sotheby’s. You might have to be a multi-millionaire to bid on some of the works, but looking is free and you can dream about having them in your own collection.
The site that I think is the absolute best is Christie's. On it there's a lot more than just auction information. You’ll also see information about their lectures, their videos and their educational programs. And you can even do a search based on your collecting tastes and the amount of money you’d like to spend. Try entering different amounts and see what turns up.
If your taste is in Japanese works from the 1800‘s, take a look at the Japanese Art & Design auction scheduled for May 11 in London. You’ll get a great introduction to the prices and the range of works available.
Christie's has their Asian, Chinese and Southeast Asian auctions in Hong Kong at the end of May and you can soon see information about the works available. Some will already have estimates (suggested bids) of over a million dollars.
In the past, you had to subscribe to auction catalogs—that cost about $30 to $50, plus postage, or go to the actual auctions to see such works. Now, all you have to do is visit the websites.
Christie's Hong Kong auctions are held at the same time as the Hong Kong Art Fair. The art fair's website will connect you with more works on each participating gallery’s website. This is the event that brings in the high-end galleries and collectors from New York and Europe. I like the videos that are on this site as well. You can find ‘video tours’ of auctions led by Christie's specialists, interviews with collectors and talks by artists. The high production value of these videos is particularly impressive. They might end up YouTube, but are more suitable for display in a museum—They’re that good and that interesting.
Cai Guo-Qiang is a contemporary Chinese artist who produces ‘gunpowder paintings’ on Japanese paper, and his video shows how he creates these spectacular works.
Sotheby’s website is a bit harder to negotiate, but there’s still a lot to see. To begin with, on it is one of the most talked about works in the art auction world today: the Pink Panther sculpture from Jeff Koons, which has an estimate of $20 to $30 million. It goes up at auction this week so we’ll know soon how much it actually fetches. Prices are sky high in the American contemporary art world. Asian contemporary art prices seem reasonable by comparison. Sotheby’s Asian auctions were held in April in Hong Kong, and information and images for the works auctioned off and the prices they sold for are available now.
There are some wonderful videos on the Sotheby’s website as well. I liked the video introducing the sale of Arab and Iranian works led by Sotheby’s specialist, Dalya Islam. I’d previously seen works by Farhad Moshiri—an Iranian artist who once lived in California—but her explanation brings the works to life. You don’t have to know Arabic to appreciate the beauty of Farhad’s works, but Dalya’s explanation helped me gain a fuller understanding of the significance of these paintings.
Images: Christie's website (top), Cai Guo-Qiang's gunpowder paintings, by ChapsRLZ (bottom).