By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK, March 15 (Reuters) - Rare bronzes, contemporary masterpieces, museum-quality furniture and antiquities dating back more than 3,000 years are among thousands of art objects hitting the auction block in New York next week during Christie's and Sotheby's Asia week sales.
The four days of auctions, estimated to take in anywhere from $74 million to $106 million, begin on Tuesday with Sotheby's sales of contemporary Indian art and Chinese ceramics and art, and Christie's Indian and Southeast Asian sale, which includes some of its higher-priced works.
The semi-annual sales of Asian works of art have become an important driver in the global market, with strong activity in recent years. But a recent report found art spending by Chinese collectors fell 24 percent last year because of slowing economic growth and a lack of availability of top-quality works.
"Just as we've seen in the overall market, we're seeing a focus on quality" within Asian art collecting, Christie's international director of Asian art, Hugo Weihe, told Reuters.
"And there's a deeper level of scholarship now, so we have been selective in what we offer," he said.
This season, Christie's has more extensive offerings, with eight sales over four days expected to take in between $44 million and $62 million. Sotheby's four auctions over three days should total from $30 million to $44 million.
Among highlights is a towering, Tibetan bronze figure of a bodhisattva from around the ninth or 10th century that reaches nearly 4 feet (1.2 metres) and is expected to fetch about $2.5 million at Christie's.
"Buddhist art in general has become an increasingly big focus," Weihe said.
"The old collection pieces have become incredibly desirable, especially for Chinese collectors who are seeking to acquire these cultural objects back."
Sotheby's sales include its first private collection of Indian art in over a decade, consigned by the owner, Amrita Jhaveri.
Featuring Sayed Haider Raza's 1982 canvas "Rajasthan I," estimated to fetch $600,000 to $800,000, and an untitled Tyeb Mehta work expected to sell for $800,000 to $1.2 million, the sales proceeds will underwrite a project at New Delhi's Khoj International Artists' Association.
At its classical Chinese paintings sale, Tang Dai's "Stream-Laced Mountain After Snow" is likely to fetch about $500,000.
Top offerings at Christie's include a 12th/11th century B.C. Chinese bronze ritual wine vessel ($800,000 to $1.2 million), and a 17th/18th century painters table nearly 15 feet (4.6 metres) long, which is expected to fetch as much as $2 million.
Officials said another top lot, a large-scale, intricate Tibetan Buddha painting estimated at $600,000 to $800,000, would likely sell for much more, given the results for a similar work last year and interest generated by the previously unseen work.
Sales of Japanese and Korean art, jade carvings, Chinese snuff bottles and rare porcelain round out the auctions.