Collecting Asian Art with Expert Daphne Lange Rosenzweig

Daphne Lange Rosenzweig, Ph.D, ISA CAPP is a professor of Asian art at the Ringling College of Art and Design and a certified appraiser of personal property specializing in Asian art. Trained at Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University, she spent two years at the National Palace Museum in Taipei on a Fulbright Fellowship and has published over 55 articles, books, and catalogues. Here, she shares her tips for the best buys in Asian art and antiques.

What first attracted you to study the arts of Asia?

As an undergraduate I studied Asian economic history and geography and in graduate school segued into East Asian art and archaeology. Once you get involved in Asian studies, it is hard to leave—there is so much to learn and it is so interesting!

What advice do you have for someone who is just beginning to collect Asian art and antiques? What types of items would you recommend a new collector look for?

Currently, extraordinary auction prices achieved for mark and period (a term for when the mark on a piece corresponds to its actual date of creation) later Chinese ceramics, white jades, older Buddhist bronzes and cloisonnes, certain types of hardwood furniture, top-quality snuff bottles, and large coral carvings rule those fields out for most beginning collectors. Chinese paintings and prehistoric-early historic materials are very problematic collecting areas even for the advanced collector because of rampant authenticity issues; testing and consultation may be required to verify dates and artist hands. Chinese scholar’s table objects have risen in value recently but some will be within reason and after a period of doldrums; celadons are gradually rising. Chinese export ceramics, which used to have their own dedicated auction sales, now largely appear in “Americana” or “Decorative Works of Art” type auctions, and generally are affordable. They do represent an “outside” field, however, in Asian art collecting, attracting a different audience.

Apart from several specific fields, such as armor, swords, modern ceramics by Living National Treasures, and cloisonnes or Meiji metal sculptures bearing certain signatures, Japanese art in general appears undervalued. As with Chinese paintings, authenticity issues arise with Japanese paintings, but the paintings currently are so relatively inexpensive that they do provide a good starting point for the appreciation of this field. Imari is a good value for beginning collectors since Imari and other Japanese porcelains are readily accessible and relatively inexpensive. Modern and contemporary Japanese prints offer a excellent entry point for beginning collectors as prices are reasonable, the quality can be outstanding, there is a style for everyone, and authenticity can be readily confirmed with consultation. Of course, the prints should be viewed out of the frame for examination of condition and any marks which might have been obscured by mats. Though extraordinary results have been achieved by certain modern and contemporary painters and potters, the Korean market remains challenged.

What other things should people take into consideration?

In collecting anything Asian (as in other fields) provenance and condition are important factors, as is the object’s impressive display quality (or cunning miniature dimensions). If there is a fitted stand, is it old, intact, or routine? If there is not a stand, does the work need one? All collectors of Asian art need to be cognizant of rules regarding traffic in certain natural materials. Ivory carvings have disappeared from major auction house auctions in the last few months, due to current and pending government restrictions on ivory, which has led to an unsettled market. Interestingly, as a consequence of this, wood netsuke and other netsuke materials appear to have a heightened appeal.

What are some of your favorite resources for those looking to discover Asian art?

Visiting museums in person, museum websites, fine galleries, auction house viewing days when objects may be handled, magazines such as Arts of Asia, Asian Art Newsletter, and other fine publications, libraries—there are so many resources! Travel to Asia with dedicated archaeological, ceramic, craft, and other small-group focused tours led by experts, and attendance at the regularly-scheduled auctions and Asian art fairs in New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, and elsewhere are excellent sources of information, and they also allow time to develop a relationship with reputable dealers and other collectors. Additionally, there are societies for certain specialties, such as the International Snuff Bottle Society, the International Netsuke Society, Japan Society, and others, with informative annual conventions and lectures.

In America, the annual February Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is an excellent resource for handling various types of jade—learn how to discern British Columbian jade from Central Asian, Wyoming, Australian, or New Zealand, etc., sources of the rough, which is exported to China for carving in the modern workshops. The Tucson show always has large selling booths with other hardstone and jade substitute materials as well, providing an opportunity to view the latest workshop carvings.

Stay tuned for Part II of our interview with Dr. Rosenzweig, in which she gives us the inside scoop on one of Asia’s most revered materials—jade.