Ancient ritual wine vessels, modern paintings, and masterpieces representing Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Shintoism are among the highlights of Asian art sales in New York this week.
The Asia Week auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's will feature thousands of items in a series of sales that could top US$100 million in value.
"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 we also have material from other parts of Asia as well."
Weihe said that in addition to the aesthetic appeal of the works, collectors viewed 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 [at] the way prices have risen, it is a very good proposition," he said.
The global art market totalled US$65.9 billion last year, according to a report by the European Fine Art Foundation. Although the United States is the biggest art market with an estimated US$25 billion, sales in China were nearly US$16 billion, a rise of 2 per cent on the previous year. It accounts for about 24 per cent of global art sales, the figures showed.
Weihe said a Chinese "Min" fanglei, a bronze ritual wine vessel, which sold for US$10 million previously and dates to the 12th-11th century BC, was the top lot of Christie's March 18-21 sales.
At Sotheby's, a Chinese bronze owl-headed ritual wine vessel dating to the 8th-7th century BC could fetch US$6 million.
"You can use it both as a vessel and you can treat it as a sculpture," said Tao Wang, head of Sotheby's Chinese works of art department in New York.