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2000 Archives

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 United Kingdom.
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 much larger.

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 pounds sterling.

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 Education Centre.

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 dynasties.

The exhibitions coincided with two new books considering the life of the Chinese leader - Mao by Jonathan Spence, and Mao: A Life by Philip Short.

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 unites Asian 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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