Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Unkei at Christies

Art history buffs know that there is no Japanese sculptor more celebrated than Unkei. He's even called the "Michaelangelo of Japan" due to the sheer virtuosity of his work, and the realistic and emotional power he gave each of his pieces. Active in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, Unkei is perhaps best known to tourists for the mammoth "Ah" and "Un" statues guarding Todaiji.

It came to my attention recently that a previously unknown Unkei statue of Dainichi Nyroai is for sale at Christies, the venerable auction house, which is just about to enter Asia Week, a yearly gathering of dealers and collectors interested in Far Eastern antiquities. There hasn't been much coverage of the Unkei piece, though it is expected to fetch an unprecedented high sum. Japanese press has covered the statue a little, mostly to say that officials fear that valuable work of art "will leave Japan (I assume this means the newly rich Chinese will get possession of it).

I've somehow ended up invited to a private viewing and lecture series on this sculpture and cannot wait to go. Once upon a time I did take graduate courses in art history and I hope my rusty brain will be ready to handle the information. If you are in New York, please do check out Asia Week, and perhaps find some time to visit Christies to see this rare work of art.

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