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From Christie's House . . . to Yours

November 26, 1998|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the first time, Christie's will hold an auction devoted entirely to treasures of the Tang Dynasty of China. Set for Dec. 4 at 10 a.m., the sale features a range of objects, from stone to pottery to metal work, that typified one of the most artistically exciting periods in China's long history.

"We chose Los Angeles for this sale, not only because it's an important business center for the Pacific Rim, with a sophisticated buying audience, but also because people here seem to enjoy life with much mystical elan," said Michael Hughes, head of the Asian Art Department at Christie's, which has U.S. auction houses in New York and Los Angeles.

"In California there is a long-term commitment to the Eastern spiritual world and we hope this Tang material will plug into it in some way."

The Tang Dynasty ruled China for almost 300 years (618-907 AD), a cosmopolitan period when foreign embassies, pilgrims and merchants thronged to the great centers of Xian, Canton and Loyang in a rich explosion of cultural, political and religious exchange.

The Christie's sale, said Hughes, will feature a small number of the most famed wares of the dynasty, including the large sancai (three-color) lead-glazed tomb figure of animals and humans.

Buddhism flourished, particularly during the first two centuries of the dynasty, and Christie's Buddhist objects range from small gilt-bronze images (estimated at $7,000-$10,000) to a massive sandstone torso of a Bodhisattva ($150,000-$200,000).

Camels were used in many ways--as military courier service, local transportation and the "ships of the desert," which linked China to other continents. The sale includes two large models of braying Bactrian camels ($200,000-$400,000).

The items are available for viewing Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the auction house, 360 N. Camden Drive in Beverly Hills. The public is welcome to the free viewing sessions, said Hughes. "Obviously we want people to buy, but at least half our visitors will come only to look. We also treat these sales as a chance to educate."

Christie's is also offering a daylong symposium, with experts discussing "The Arts of the Tang Dynasty" on Monday. The fee is $125. Information on all events: (310) 385-2600.

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