By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ancient ritual wine vessels, modern contemporary paintings and masterpieces representing Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism and Shintoism are among the highlights of Asian art sales in New York next week.
The Asia Week auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's will feature thousands of items in a series of sales that could top $100 million. Last spring's auctions totaled more than $130 million in sales.
"We've got collectors coming from China, Hong Kong and India and Europe, of course," said Hugo Weihe, Christie's International director for Asian art.
Asia has become a dominant player in the global art market, particularly in post-war and contemporary art sales.
"I think one of the most wonderful and fascinating things about Asia Week is that it covers literally the whole of Asia," said Henry Howard-Sneyd, vice chairman of Asian art at Sotheby's.
"We offer art from predominantly China and from India, but of course we also have material from other parts of Asia as well," Howard-Sneyd said.
Weihe said in addition to the aesthetic appeal of the works, collectors view art as an alternative asset class.
"People see it as something beautiful you can live with, but it is also going to hold its value over time. And if you look historically the way prices have risen, it is a very good proposition," he explained.
CHINA SECOND LARGEST ART MARKET
The global art market totaled $65.9 billion last year, an increase of 8 percent and the highest level since 2007, according to a report by the European Fine Art Foundation.
Although the United States is the biggest art market with an estimated $25 billion, sales in China were nearly $16 billion, a rise of 2 percent from the previous year. It accounts for about 24 percent of global art sales, the figures showed.
Weihe said a Chinese "Min" fanglei, a massive bronze ritual wine vessel, which sold for $10 million previously and dates to the 12th-11th century BC, is the top lot of Christie's March 18-21 sales.
Another highlight is Indian artist Tyeb Mehta's "Untitled (Bull)," a 2000 painting of a falling, flailing bull, which has a pre-sale estimate of up to $3 million.
Paintings, sculptures, manuscripts representing Asia's various religions and drawings by the Indian artist Francis Newton Souza will also be featured.
At Sotheby's, a Chinese bronze owl-headed ritual wine vessel dating to the 8th-7th century BC could fetch as much as $6 million.
"It's designed with the combination of owl and also a very abstract form. And, so you can use it both as a vessel and you can treat it as a sculpture," said Tao Wang, the head of Sotheby's Chinese works of art department in New York.
"The Cantilevered Road to Shu," a huge landscape painting by Chinese artist Yuan Yao, who worked in the mid-18th century, could sell for upwards of $2 million.
Painting No. 3 by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, considered one of India's leading abstract painters, has the same pre-sale estimate.
(Additional reporting by Tony Pyle; Editing by Eric Kelsey and Marguerita Choy)