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An Art Dealer Forges His Path with Priceless Objects from Ancient China

Interview with British-Iranian entrepreneur Nader Rasti

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“The Song Dynasty (960-1279) was one of the most influential periods in Chinese history. It produced some of the highest forms of Chinese art.”

—Nader Rasti

Nader Rasti was born in the UK into a British-Iranian art collector family. When other kids were out playing sports, he was exploring ancient sculptures and art with his parents. 

Later on, Rasti began working at Christie’s London, the renowned fine art auction house, where he eventually became Director of the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Department.

Now he runs Rasti Fine Art, a company that curates precious Chinese jade, hardstone carvings, and sculpture. Rasti recently presented a highly acclaimed collection of fine frescoes spanning the Song to Ming dynasties. For this issue, we had the chance to sit down with him to hear the stories behind the rare pieces in his collections.

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Nader Rasti, curator of precious Chinese jade, hardstone carvings, and sculpture.

How do you decide what type of collection you want to curate?

When I put exhibitions together, I don’t particularly go with the market or what’s popular. I try to highlight works that haven’t been appreciated enough. 

For example, it took me about seven years to collect the frescoes and stucco pieces for my 2019 exhibition Arcane Realms – Buddhist and Daoist Art Collection. There are no other pieces like them because they’re unique to that time period. They’re a fantastic buy for collectors, especially since there’s a very limited number of them and they’re also remarkably well-preserved. Many frescoes from this period retain their colour because they were originally in temples, far from sunlight.

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Left: A dry lacquer head of a luohan from the Southern Song Dynasty (1128-1279). Right: A large white marble head of a luohan from the Song Dynasty.

Do you have a favourite piece from this exhibition?

There’s a white marble head of a luohan (an enlightened being in Buddhist tradition). About 18 years ago, I sold it to a famous collector who is also a friend of mine. I pestered him to sell it back to me, but he refused. 

A couple of years ago, we had lunch together. After a few glasses of wine, he said, “Okay, how about I sell it back to you?” Before he even told me how much he wanted, I said, “I’ll buy it.” 

It’s one of my favourite pieces. It’s an incredibly good sculpture from the Song Dynasty. A lot of these pieces from that period were modelled on real people, so they have this presence that no other sculpture from any other period has. You feel as though someone is in the room with you. 

There’s also another luohan head made of dry lacquer in the same catalogue. It’s even more real. There are no sculptures from any other period representing that lifelike quality as much as those from the Song dynasty. They’re special and hard to find.

The Song Dynasty (960–1279) was one of the most influential periods in Chinese history. It produced some of the highest forms of Chinese art, including many literati paintings. 

Song ceramics, for example, are simple but beautiful. In fact, the simpler an object, the more difficult it is to execute. That’s because if you make a mistake, it’s more evident to the eye.

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A Song Dynasty jade figure of a blindfolded boy made from black and white stone. The artisan cleverly used the black portion to act as a blindfold.

Any other special pieces that stand out from your collections?  

There’s one Song Dynasty jade figure of a blindfolded boy. It’s made from black and white stone, and the artisan cleverly used the black portion to act as a blindfold covering the boy’s eyes. 

I was at an auction in Japan a number of years ago and noticed this piece. But I had to get on a flight the next day, so I asked a friend to bid for me at the sale. The estimate was about $100 or $150. I gave him $22,000 just to make sure that I got it. 

Order the Magnifissance print edition to read the full story.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 113

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