7 Ways to Kick-Start Your Asia Week Art Tour
New York’s annual festival of Asian art has returned to full strength. Our critic selects seven of the most eye-catching works to anchor your itinerary.
The annual convergence of Asia-themed auctions, gallery shows and museum exhibitions known as Asia Week New York is back, and it has returned to full strength. It may be a little smaller, but it still boasts a fantastic range of Mughal miniatures, shell necklaces, painted screens and contemporary works on canvas and paper from China, India, Korea and Japan — much of it being shown by out-of-town dealers here only for the week. These seven distinctive art works, listed by gallery or museum location from north to south, will get you started, but don’t forget to browse the website for details to see what else catches your eye.
‘Jade Inlaid Vermilion Sky’
Modernism didn’t hit Asia quite like it did the West. Despite the tide of cultural innovation — not to mention wars and revolutions — genres like Chinese landscape painting survived the 20th century close to intact. So Peng Kang-long, who studied ink painting at Taipei National University of the Arts, can take inspiration from 17th-century monks as well as from a more recent predecessor like Huang Binhong (1865-1955); the lush scenes that result feel like contemporary rejoinders to an ancient conversation. “Jade Inlaid Vermilion Sky,” a triptych in which white peonies float across a glowing pink sky, is one of more than a dozen richly colored paintings showing with Ink Studio at the Ukrainian Institute of America (2 East 79th Street).
Bold, deceptively subtle paintings by Takeo Yamaguchi, who turned to abstraction after World War II, are presented by the Kyoto gallery Shibunkaku at Joan B. Mirviss, Ltd. (39 East 78th Street, 401). Primary-colored circles dodge in and out of simple black nets in Yamaguchi’s charming watercolors, while his oils on board, including “Hi,” or “exposure,” use thick applications of a deep red or brownish yellow to erase the distinction between color and texture. The crinkled, complicated surfaces make a beautiful complement to Mirviss’s concurrent show of ceramics, particularly a black and red “Wind and Grass Patterned Vessel” by Wada Morihiro (1944-2008).
‘Mitsukuni Defies the Skeleton Specter’
Nineteenth-century Japanese woodblock prints were commercial products — vivid, appealing and reprinted as often as the market would bear. That doesn’t mean they translate perfectly to photographs. You’ll need to visit Sebastian Izzard LLC (17 East 76th Street, third floor) in person to appreciate the deep, earthy red of Katsushika Hokusai’s famous “Red Fuji”; the ghoulish but weirdly endearing skeleton looming over an intrepid imperial emissary in “Mitsukuni Defies the Skeleton Specter Conjured by Princess Takiyasha,” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi; and the rest of the gallery’s spectacular roundup of images.
Terumasa Ikeda makes Japanese lacquerware boxes. Instead of decorating them with the traditional mother-of-pearl flowers or leaves, though, he inlays them with tiny numerals laser-cut from abalone shells. The works in his glittering black “Error” series, so called for their intentional cracks and pits, look like ancient alien computers, but also like polished stone; combining familiar forms with contemporary references, they have a transporting, if not slightly unnerving, sense of timelessness. In Japan, demand for them is so high that buyers are chosen by lottery; at Ippodo Gallery (32 East 67th Street, third floor) on the Upper East Side, he’s showing overseas for the first time.
‘Yue Frog-Shaped Jar’
The Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection of Chinese Ceramics, on view this week at Zetterquist Galleries (3 East 66th Street, 2B; by appointment only), comprises more than 50 pieces from the 4th to the 14th centuries. It includes the clean white and celadon green finishes you’d expect, along with plenty of gourd-shaped ewers and stocky jars. But there’s also a surprising range of unusual colors and textures, like a black vase whose incised lotus pattern looks almost Art Deco, and an ancient amphora with a loose pattern of green and orange glaze. There’s also a squat, pale green jar adorned with gills, legs and the resigned face of a frog who’s been keeping silent and still for the better part of two millenniums.
“Death Is Not the End,” a thought-provoking matchup of Buddhist and Christian treatments of death at The Rubin Museum of Art (150 West 17th Street), features a 19th-century Mongolian painting of a Buddha in a bubble of holiness beside a Belgian engraving of Christ in a similar bubble, as well as a Tibetan bowl, drum and trumpet all made from human bones. The piece that stayed with me was a small wooden statue of Yama Dharmaraja, the god of death. He dances atop a writhing victim and wears a belt of severed heads, but his grimace is so theatrical that it’s oddly reassuring — it’s like a discreet wink suggesting that the whole karmic cycle is just one big, elaborate game.
‘Hamza and His Men Attacked by a Sea Creature’
Since the pandemic, a few galleries have participated in Asia Week only virtually. While I’d normally recommend sticking to work you can actually stand next to, one image posted by Art Passages of San Francisco is just too good to resist. An illustration of the “Hamzanama,” a fanciful epic about the Prophet Muhammad’s uncle Hamza, painted in 17th-century Rajasthan, India, it shows a giant, crocodile-like creature emerging from swirling, inky water to swallow half of Hamza’s boat and several of his men. The bright colors, the delicate details, the elegant composition and, above all, the way the monster’s head floats against the water with no sign of its body, combine to give the scene a bewitching kind of magic delightfully at odds with its drama.
Asia Week New York
March 16-24, various locations, asiaweekny.com.