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Panorama Archives: 2000
Asian Art on Exhibit in London & Birmingham
By John Hutchinson
London and Birmingham have just seen the biggest celebration of Asian
and Far Eastern art, culture and commerce ever organised in the
Chinese dragons at the British Museum, rare 13th and 15th century
ceramics at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) and auctions of Japanese,
Oriental, Indian, Korean and Islamic art and textiles were among the
highlights of Asian Art in London during November.
At Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre (NEC) the recent Mega Mela
Festival offered five pavilions of fashion, "Bollywood" stars and advice
on health, beauty, food and business management.
It attracted over 40,000 visitors from the Indian, Pakistani and Sri
Lankan communities resident in the Midlands and North of England. In
1998 they spent 1.85 million pounds sterling and the 1999 event was
Drawing attention to the dynamic interaction of two great
civilisations - the spiritual East and the scientific West - and
their influence on one another down the centuries, both events
confidentially acknowledged the artistic and commercial ties that
still bind them together.
The London occasion was organised by 50 art dealers, three of the
capital's leading auction houses and major art galleries. Asian Art
made its point effectively with fashion shows, lectures, seminars and
social gatherings on an unprecedented scale demonstrating the
extraordinary alliance between academia and commercial concerns
unequalled in British contemporary history.
London's rich heritage of scholarship, collections and dealers in
Asian and Oriental art spanning more than three millennia is regarded
as pre-eminent in staging the annual event.
With their auctions of Japanese and Chinese objets d'art - ceramics,
Netsuke prints and paintings, carvings, textiles and fans -
Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips realised in excess of 5.5 million
A record price of 326,000 pounds sterling was paid at Sotheby's for a
500-year-old polychrome Vietnamese bottle-shaped vase decorated in
iron-red, bright green and cobalt blue. London dealer Jules Speelman
bought it after fierce bidding. At Christie's a private buyer paid
408,500 pounds sterling for Thomas Daniell's oil on canvas, Shipping
at Whampna, China.
The 50 participating galleries selling ancient silk, Asian and Far
Eastern carpets, Nepalese sculpture and rare porcelain attracted
buyers, curators and scholars from all over the world. The galleries
did not reveal their takings which are known to be substantial.
The success of Asian Art in London has reinforced the decision of the
organisers to stage a similar event from 7-18 November, 2000. A
spokesman said confidently that the experience offered would be just
as extensive and fascinating.
Asian Art was preceded with the British Museum's Gilded Dragons:
Buried Treasures from China's Golden Age exhibition commemorating the
50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China
and the state visit to Britain of its President Jiang Zemin.
The exhibition, which emphasises the Silk Road that linked East and
West in ancient times, includes treasures from the Han and Tang
dynasties recalling the oldest civilisation in the world.
Highlighting renewed cultural ties with China, Princess Alexander was
among the 400 guests who dined among the Elgin Marbles to raise funds
for the Museum's Asian Educational Programme and the new Clore
The Museum also hosted cocktail parties and fashion shows by
Mikimoto, the London and Tokyo jewellery company, and Pearls of
Tahiti. The Gilded Dragons exhibition, already enormously popular,
continues until February 2000.
Like the British Museum, the V&A has an enormous collection of Asian
art, textiles and sculpture largely inherited from the East India
Company's 19th century collection of artefacts.
Indian art inspired English furniture, porcelain, architecture,
textile and wallpaper design reaching its apogee in Victorian times.
It is now reasserting itself with the UK's growing Asian and Far
Eastern community which numbers in excess of two million.
The V&A's exhibitions included Mao: From Icon to Irony, which looks
at the range of images the Chinese leader inspired; Fashioning Mao
showing how the fashion industry has ``commodified'' that image, and
Prestigious Pots - rare ceramics from the Yuan and early Ming
The exhibitions coincided with two new books considering the life of
the Chinese leader - Mao by Jonathan Spence, and Mao: A Life by
Partridge Fine Art, the pre-eminent Bond Street dealer founded in
1891, staged a stunning Vision of the East exhibition setting Chinese
and Japanese exotic curiosities and great rarities in a brilliantly
lit, aubergine-walled hall in which the gold, greens, whites and reds
of the highly decorative exhibits glittered invitingly.
The exhibition marked the 70th birthday of the gallery's chairman
John Partridge and showed how original works of Chinese and Japanese
designs influenced European craftsmen. It included one major example
of French 18th century chinoiserie, David Roentgen's Louis XVI
marquetry secretaire. Measuring 99.5cm wide by 163cm high, the
secretaire is decorated with exquisite pictures in a variety of
golden and coloured marquetry depicting ladies playing music and
entertaining their children.
Other items in the exhibition ranged from porcelain vases, nodding
figured candelabras, clocks and lacquered cabinets to Cloisonne
cockerels, quails and elephants exported to the West from Japan and
China during the 1700s.
Although silk and cashmere Pashmina shawls and Nehru shirts and
jackets featured in the London fashion shows, at the much more
commercial Mega Mela many were not only designed by UK-born Asians
but also modelled by them.
With a spending power of between eight and nine billion pounds
sterling, the UK's Asian population has had a major impact on English
eating and dressing. Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine can
now be found in every major high street and although tea has been the
favoured English drink since the 17th century, a much wider variety
of Indian and Sri Lankan blends is now readily available.
The most popular events at Mega Mela were numerous competitions to
find the most talented Asian personality of the year in fashion,
fashion design, modelling and music. Among the Bollywood celebrities
were Govinda, Bad Boy Guishan Grover, Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Kapoor
and Kabir and Karan Johar.
The Birmingham show coincided with an "electronic shop corner" created
for and by the UK's Asian community. The Internet service www.asianartinlondon.com
traders offering a wide range of commodities from cut-price Sri Lankan spices to denim fromDelhi in a global bazaar.
The website also proffers Bollywood movies, classes in Urdu, Asian
dating agencies and the latest news from the subcontinent.
Mega Mela was sponsored by Jaguar Cars, British Gas, Express
Newspapers, The Prince's Trust, the UK's three armed services and the
Metropolitan and Midlands police services.
The event, also in its second year, was covered by the BBC's Asian
network dedicated to the Midland's Asian community and one of 11
stations now being broadcast digitally.
Asian Art in London
2-5 Old Bond Street, 2nd Floor, London, United
Kingdom, W1X 3TB
Telephone: +44 171 499 9190
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