Asian Art in London (AAL) is an annual event that has embraced the academic and commercial worlds with its museum exhibitions, gallery shows, lectures and seminars for 15 years. This year AAL launched on 30 October 2014 at the British Museum, which included a view of the current exhibition: Ming – 50 Years that Changed China, and it concluded on 8 November 2014. Coinciding with the autumn Asian art auctions, this years’ event featured over 60 dealers, auction houses and museums celebrate Asian art spanning over six thousand years: from antiquities to today. Ceramics, furniture, glass, jade, manuscripts, paintings and textiles are just a few of the many cultural objects to see and buy.
Given the rise of China in recent years—projections of Xi Jinping’s rulership, protests for proper democracy in Hong Kong and debates about the Confucius Institute (government-funded centers around the world that promote Chinese culture)—AAL is a timely event. And London is a key city for it: London has some of the world’s top museums, hundreds of galleries and a multilingual population. Indeed, AAL’s website states it is the only art event to incorporate an entire city’s art community.
Of the many dealers, museums, galleries and auction houses to view objects and artworks, there are a few noteworthy examples.
1. Sagemonoya Netsuke Gallery
This is Japan’s only antique shop that specializes in netsuke and sagemono. Netsuke, intricately carved toggles or stoppers, are hung from the sash of Japanese kimonos to prevent dangling items (sagemono) from falling to the ground. An example from this gallery includes the Shishi with Ball (unsigned, ivory, 5.2cm). A shishi is a lion dog that originated in China, and it is commonly found in decorative arts.
Japanese men wore netsuke during the Edo period (1615-1868), and they functioned as a means of fashion, expression and personal aesthetics. Early netsuke were often plain. Made from wood or stone, they merely served a functional purpose. Later pieces became increasingly elaborate, taking on a variety of forms and materials: wood, ivory or porcelain. Typically less than five centimeters in height, netsuke carvers demonstrated skill, creativity and attention to detail. As a result, netsuke communicated personal taste, wealth or humor.
2. Vanderven Oriental Art
Vanderven Oriental Art is considered a leading international dealer in Chinese export porcelain and early terracotta. It includes a permanent display of Chinese export porcelain, Han and Tang pottery and Chinese and Japanese works of art at the gallery location. One of their many pieces includes the Large Blue and White Jar & Cover Decorated with Dragons (early Kangxi period 1662-1722; circa 1690). This jar stands 78.5cm, and includes an image of an ancient dragon. This powerful Chinese image is symbolic of fertility and was thought to have brought rain; the dragon also represented rank and power.
3. Sotheby’s Auction House
On 5 November 2014, Sotheby’s Auction House sold A Gilt-Bronze Figure of Manjushri Yongle Mark and Period, with an estimate of 100,000-150,000 GBP and sold for 266,500 (GBP) (hammer price with buyer’s premium). The figure of Manjushri, a Bodhisattva associated with the wisdom of Buddha, was stylistically influenced by Tibetan art. Sotheby’s notes that during the previous Yuan dynasty, Mongol rulers associated with Tibetan Buddhist and Lamaist rituals. Thus, this piece could have been a gift from the Ming emperor to sustain good relations with Tibet’s religious hierarchy.