Not Paying for the Bronzes

I’m catching up on all of the reactions to the decision by Cai Mingchao, the general manager of Xiamen Harmony Art International Auction Co. and the winning bidder on the two Chinese bronzes which were recently sold at Christie’s Yves St. Laurent auction in France.  Art Observed does a great job collecting many of the reactions which appeared in the press.

Tom Flynn asks the right question I think, “Are we entering an era of guerilla activism, where sabotage of art auctions becomes another weapon in cultural heritage repatriation disputes?”

I think Christie’s is scrambling along with other major auction houses to make sure something similar cannot or will not happen again.  Mingchao is of course subject to civil penalties under French law, perhaps even criminal as well.  If Christie’s pushes that approach, they may risk a difficult public relations battle, as Mingchao has quickly become a sort of national hero in China.  But it is hard to see how they can just do noting.  If one bidder can disrupt the process in this way, all a nation of origin needs to do is enlist a wealthy or sympathetic bidder to disrupt the process of any future object which might be similarly sensitive. 

I think it is another indication of the increasing role that nations of origin are playing in the heritage marketplace.  I’m not sure how many wealthy bidders would be willing to stake their reputation or future ability to bid on such a move in the future, but this was a cunningly simple, very shrewd strategic move by Mingchao and the Chinese.  They wanted to disrupt the market in these objects which had been looted, and did a brilliant job doing so. 

From AlJazeera English:

 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

1 thought on “Not Paying for the Bronzes”

  1. I am afraid there may be more similar actions, not limited to auctions, which may probably be in the making as more governments in Asia and Africa realize that museums, art dealers, and others in the West do not take seriously the claims for the restitution of stolen/looted cultural artefacts. Above all, the arrogance of many Western museum directors and dealers is not likely to pacify those who feel that military might has been employed to deprive them of important elements of their culture. Nevertheless, the present situation as regards restitution of stolen/looted cultural objects needs not lead to disruption of settled methods of transfer of ownership or possession if those concerned and their governments would show some understanding for the position and feelings of non-Western countries. So far as I can tell, there is not much indication that there will soon be a change in the condescending attitude of the West. On the contrary, the recent lecture by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, ( http://www.modernghana.) and the latest article from James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago,(www.museum-security) clearly demonstrate that Western museums, or leading museum directors, are not trying to reach a position on restitution of stolen/looted cultural objects which will take into account the needs and feelings of others. They are rather desperately seeking argumentation which will bolster their well-known positions that have been generally disputed.

    When non-Western governments, their lawyers and their economists turn their attention to these issues, there will be many interesting ways they can affect the unrestricted transfer and possession of cultural objects. If this is what some are aiming at, they are well on the way. The time will surely come when one may wonder whether the rigid and disdainful attitude is a positive contribution to harmonious international relations.

    Kwame Opoku.

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