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Collecting art and investing in a dynasty

Marketplace Staff Oct 9, 2007

Collecting art and investing in a dynasty

Marketplace Staff Oct 9, 2007


Doug Krizner: The art world appears alive and well, in spite of the recent credit crunch. Sotheby’s completed its four-day auction of Chinese art in Hong Kong today, Total proceeds will likely top $100 million.
Among the rarities sold: Chinese relics from the Qing dynasty. Kate Woodsome reports.

Kate Woodsome: It took Sotheby’s months to track down 34 pieces for a rare collection called “Lost Treasures.” It included Chinese imperial seals, paintings, sculptures and calligraphic albums.

The relics have been well preserved in private collections around the world, but it took ’em a while to get there. Back in 1900, British, French and American troops ripped off a lot of these treasures from the Qing emperors’ collections. And their storied history only adds to their value.

Nicolas Chow of Sotheby’s says the pieces generated fierce competition among buyers.

Nicholas Chow: We have a lot of interest, mainly from Mainland Chinese and from Taiwanese as well. Both actually have a strong sense of owning their history.

China’s past is full of humiliating attacks by colonial forces that pillaged their prized relics. Because of that, the Sotheby’s sale has been a touchy subject for cultural preservationists.

They were really worried about the fate of a bronze horse head stolen from an ancient palace in Beijing. It’s one of 12 sculptures cast in the form of a Chinese zodiac animal. Only seven have been recovered.

A local casino tycoon saved the horse head from going abroad. He bought it in a private sale before the auction. But that was only after he promised to return it to China.

Professor P.K. Cheng is with the Chinese Civilization Center at the City University in Hong Kong. He says not all art collectors are driven by a sense of history.

P.K. Cheng: People are finding ways and opportunities to invest. So it’s no longer an appreciation of art, but it’s a channel for investment.

Cheng says since China’s economy took off 10 years ago, the stock market has seen a buying frenzy. And now, local auction houses are, too. More than 200 of them have popped up on the mainland, tapping into China’s nouveau riche.

With no signs of an economic slowdown, China can expect to see its newfound relics whisked into private collections as they were a century ago.

In Hong Kong, I’m Kate Woodsome for Marketplace.

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