Showing posts with label China. Show all posts
Showing posts with label China. Show all posts

November 18, 2015

Price and Provenance

Record prices were achieved at auctions last week with Chinese billionaires leading the way.

On the 11th of November, a Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau bought an exceptional 12 carat blue diamond, known as the Blue Moon for CHF 48.634 /US$ 48.5 million at Sotheby’s in Geneva, the highest price ever paid for a gemstone at auction, adding to his already large collection of art, jewellery and fine wines. 

On the 9th of November, Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couché was sold in New York for US$ 170.4 million, achieving a record for the hapless artist ranking in the top ten list of the most expensive paintings ever sold.  The name of the bidder from China was revealed to be Liu Yiqian, a Shanghai billionaire collector, who is already famous for his Ming Dynasty “Chicken Cup” bought for HK$ 281.24 million / US$36.05 million  in April 2014, the highest price ever paid for Chinese porcelain at an auction. 

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), ‘Nu couché, painted in 1917-18

Modigliani was the artist of the week. Only a few days earlier on 4th November, another painting by Modigliani Paulette Jourdain was sold for US$ 42.8 million, well above its estimate, at Sotheby’s otherwise lacklustre sale of the collection of its former owner A. Alfred Taubman. Sotheby´s identified the buyer as a private Asian collector. 

Before these trophy items go behind the thick security doors, residents and visitors in Hong Kong had a chance to inspect them in person a month earlier together with other luxury collectables, exhibited as part of the auction houses’ highlight tours to stimulate the region’s increasingly eclectic taste in art. The costly campaign of the rivalling auction houses probably paid off. 

Anyone who fancies a Modigliani nude, yet are without the wherewithal needed, can still decorate their walls with a lookalike copy, skilfully handmade in Southern China. The chance that your friends may spot it as a reproduction is probably about 10%, as with the case of the fresh copy of the 18th century portrait Young Woman by Jean-Honoré Fragonard of bought online for GBP£ 70 for the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s project ‘Made in China’ project earlier this year. Even the Gallery’s curators were marvelled at the skill of the Chinese copyist although they insist that we should be able to easily spot the difference with closer scrutiny. 

But can we really?

It is a bitter fact that many large-scale conspiracies such as Beltracchi and Knoedler/Pei-Shen Quian were not uncovered for more than a decade. In China, it took nearly 10 years until someone eventually spotted at a Hong Kong auction house that a former librarian, Xiao Yuan, stole 143 Chinese master paintings from the library of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and replaced them with his copies. His copies were again substituted for further fakes. 

Living artists’ works can also be copied. Recently a Chinese auction house withdrew a living artist’s painting from its sale in Hong Kong after the artist himself challenged the authenticity of the work, which was presumed to be destroyed in 1989 and allegedly repainted in 1992, according to the very artist’s letter provided by the seller. As demonstrated in this case, it can be difficult to prove authenticity even for contemporary art in the Chinese art system, where credible documentation is often not in place. The distinction between a copy and a forgery is not fully recognised in the local culture, nor is the importance of a work's collection history, often referred to as an artwork's provenance. As demonstrated in the recently concluded exhibition “Copyleft Appropriation Art in China” at Power Station of Art in Shanghai, the concept of appropriation may be very different between China and the West. 

The free port that is Hong Kong has become one of the world’s largest art marketplaces and is consolidating its status as the region’s main art hub with the expected opening in 2019 of an iconic new public museum M+. Overshadowing the luminosity, Hong Kong also has a reputation as a playground for the illicit trading of counterfeits and smuggled artworks, many of which are transported in bulk from Mainland China. 

Recognising this growing issue, one which has been undermining the credibility and further development of the region’s art market, a group of experts with respective backgrounds in art, insurance, forensics, crime prevention, security and commercial risk management founded a local art risk consultancy TrackArt in 2011. Based in Hong Kong, it is the first and, currently, only provider of forensic DNA coding services for artworks in Asia. 

Together with cataloguing and recovery assistance services, TrackArt’s DNA coding secures the artwork’s onwards chain of provenance and validates future identification, which works most effectively in the primary market if applied in the artist’s studio. Using licenced technology from a UK technology partner, TrackArt offers more than one format of DNA suitable for various types of materials and surfaces of paintings, works on paper, antiquities, ceramics, etc. 

It’s high time the art market learnt the importance of securing the provenance of artworks, both now and in the future.

Here is a link to TrackArt’s website

-----
(Selected information sources)

Dulwich Picture Gallery ‘Made in China’ Project
http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/about/press-media/press-releases/fragonards-young-woman-revealed-as-replica-in-made-in-china-project/

Chinese curator’s forgery
http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/22/china/china-art-forgery/

Geng Jianyi’s claim
http://theartnewspaper.com/market/art-market-news/159750/

Shanghai’s Power Station of Art’s current exhibition, Copyleft
http://www.powerstationofart.com/en/exhibition/detail/735erz.html

Is it plagiarism or is it ‘shanzhai
http://theartnewspaper.com/news/159569/




July 19, 2015

Editorial Essay: Toby Bull's perspective in "The Grape War of China: Wine Fraud and How Science is Fighting Back" in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

In the editorial essay "The Grape War of China: Wine Fraud and How Science is Fighting Back" Hong Kong police officer Toby Bull presents his perspective in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crimeedited by Noah Charney (with Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis) and published by ARCA:

There has been wine made from grapes – as opposed to grain - in China for thousands of years (Kjellgren, 2004). Indeed, Wang Renxiang (1993) considers it to be at the very heart of China’s culture and identity. Vine cultivation goes as far back as the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1100-256 BC), where indigenous vines within the royal gardens were said to have existed. The first documented account of Western viticulture coming into contact with the Middle Kingdom is found in a First Century BC history book, Shiji, where an emperor’s envoy sent to the lands west of what is now the Sino-Uzbekistan border area, saw “grapes that were used to make wine...the oldest was kept several decades without getting spoilt” (cited in Kjellgren, 2004). The envoy, duly impressed, returned with some cuttings and, not long afterwards, Chinese vineyards from a Eurasian grape varietal were established, eventually producing wine fit for the imperial palate (Kjellgren, 2004). And so wine became associated with the rich and high-born: a luxurious and desirous product, and with it, perhaps, the earliest recorded case of a “wine crime” occurring in ancient China.


Li Hua (2002) mentions an official bestowing a gift of (grape) wine - the equivalent of 20 liters – in order to achieve a high position and win favor at court. Hua refers to this as “the first time an office was bought with wine” – a neat symmetry to the modern-day practice referred to in China as “Elegant Bribery:” the art of bribing officials with gifts, normally of art or expensive Grand-Crus. China’s recent anti-graft measures, a decree by the current president, are seeing some changes to this method, although the Chinese still buy wine, lots of it, both for gift-giving and personal consumption, but are now spending less (Luo, 2014). Thus, whilst the West can look to the writings of Pliny the Elder from 1st century Rome for early references to the relationship between the wine trade and the shenanigans sometimes associated with it, so too can China look to its past, for the concept is not a new one.
Toby J. A. Bull was born in England and educated at the famous Rugby School. He holds three academic degrees, including a BA (Hons) in ‘Fine Arts Valuation’ and a MSc in ‘Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management’. He continued his studies in the arts by becoming a qualified art authenticator, studying at the Centre for Cultural Material Conservation and graduating from the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has extensive knowledge in forensic art authentication methods, as well as in the more theoretical and academic studies surrounding art fraud. His main interests include the topic of fakes and forgeries of Chinese ceramics and the problems of smuggled illicit antiquities emanating out of China. He has subsequently seen his work on this subject published in “Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art Market” (Praeger, 2009), as well as in “Cultural Property Crime” (Brill, 2014). Since 1993, he has worked for the Hong Kong Police Force. His expertise in the field of art crime have allowed him to be an advisor, as well as an Honorary Professor to the “Association for the Research into Crimes Against Art” (ARCA) for their postgraduate certificate program on “Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.” He has lectured extensively to the art trade and beyond on topics surrounding ‘Art Crime’ to the likes of Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Christie’s Education, The World Congress of Forensics and at Asia Art in London, as well as to ARCA's ‘Art Crime & Cultural Heritage Protection Conference’ held annually in Italy. He recently Chaired the Forensic DNA panel at the 2014 World Gene Convention where he presented a paper on synthetic DNA security coding and its application to the art and fine wine markets in helping to combat fakes. Seeing the disparity between public and private involvement in the field of art crime and its associated spin-offs, Toby founded TrackArt in 2011– Hong Kong’s first Art Risk Consultancy. Toby is a Member of The Worshipful Company of Art Scholars.

Here's a link to ARCA's website about access to The Journal of Art Crime.

December 4, 2014

Review: Ai Weiwei “Zodiac” sculptures on tour to promote awareness of contested cultural heritage

By Hal Johnson, 2014 ARCA student and DNA Consultant

Few contemporary artists are more socially and politically conscious than Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei. His world views are often expressed in his work, which has become his most powerful means of communication now that the Chinese government has curtailed his attempts at free speech. He was once a celebrated artist and architect in his country and arguably still is. However, he ran afoul of authorities after criticizing the government’s handling of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the massive earthquakes in Sichuan Province that same year. He was an outspoken blogger – the forum where he expressed many of his frank political opinions – until it was shut down by the state. In 2011 he was detained for 81 days; upon his release his passport was revoked and he was slapped with charges of tax evasion. Undeterred, Mr. Ai continues to speak out whenever possible and has an active role in the exhibition of his work abroad. His sculpture group “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads” is on tour to raise awareness of contested cultural heritage.

The twelve animal heads are inspired by similar bronze sculptures that originally adorned a fountain at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. In 1860, the fountain heads were looted during the Second Opium War when the palace was sacked by British and French troops. Over the years the heads ended up in several private collections. The two most famous pieces were the Rat and the Rabbit, which were owned by Yves Saint Laurent. After the fashion icon’s death in 2008, they went up for sale at Christie’s along with the rest of his art collection. Their status as war loot was common knowledge and the auction proceeded despite protests from China. Chinese bidder Cai Mingchao staged his own protest by winning the heads (with a bid of $19 million each) and then refusing to pay. They were later repatriated to China in 2013 by billionaire François Pinault. Several more heads from the old fountain remain in private hands outside of China.

Ai Weiwei is well aware of the history of the zodiac heads and that they have become a figurehead for contested cultural property. But true to form, his tour is also meant to highlight the inconsistency, even hypocrisy, of China’s efforts to reacquire its heritage: “They never really care about culture. This is the nature of a communist, to destroy the old world, to rebuild the new one. We’re not clear about what is most important in those so-called traditional classics. The Zodiac is a perfect example to show their ignorance on this matter.” Indeed, countless Chinese cultural property was wantonly destroyed by the Chinese themselves during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960’s. How much more has been sacrificed by China in its transformation into an economic superpower?

Mr. Ai’s “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads” is actually several sculpture groups on separate tours – the 3-meter tall freestanding Bronze Series and the much smaller Gold Series. One of the Bronze Series is currently on display in Chicago. I visited them earlier this fall (see photos). They are aptly placed facing the Adler Planetarium on Chicago’s scenic lakefront, where they will remain on display until April 2015. A Gold Series is currently part of a large Ai Weiwei retrospective exhibit at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, UK. For more information on the “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads” tour and the artist himself, please visit the following link: http://www.zodiacheads.com/index.html.

August 21, 2013

2013 ARCA Art and Cultural Heritage Conference: Senior Police Inspector Toby Bull on “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”

Toby Bull
ARCA’s Art and Cultural Heritage Conference (June 21-23, 2013), held in the ancient Umbrian town of Amelia, began with cocktails for presenters and students at Palazzo Farrattini on Friday evening. The next morning, The conference opened at the Chiostro Boccarini with an introduction to a panel moderated by Marc Balcells Magrans, a Fulbright scholar and criminal lawyer.

Toby Bull, a Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force since 1993, presented “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”. Mr. Bull, a Fine Arts graduate, art historian and a qualified art authentication expert, recently founded TrackArt, an Art Risk Consultancy based in Hong Kong. In 1996, he attained detective status and is currently working within the Marine Police, whose role in the main is in dealing with anti-smuggling. The Hong Kong Police Force has no art crime squad, but has given Mr. Bull permission to lecture and do art consultancy work through his private consulting firm. Mr. Bull has been one of ARCA’s longest supporters and, like many of the lecturers & presenters on the course, was one of the contributors to ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the dark side of the art world edited, by Noah Charney.

Inspector Bull discussed the black-market antiquities trade and the free port of Hong Kong, often used as a ‘way station for much of China’s exported artifacts on their journey to collections abroad:

Looted antiquities are typically smuggled across porous borders, often acquiring fictitious provenance along the way. Documents claiming false authenticity and providing assurances that the items have not been looted, as well as outright fakes of antiquities are also common occurrences.

The worldwide popularity and high prices for Chinese archaeological artifacts have encouraged illegal excavation and smuggling of cultural property. Although Chinese authorities have intensified their efforts to crack down on smuggling and illicit excavation, it continues practically unabated. This huge demand for Chinese cultural artifacts has caused serious damaged to China’s cultural heritage.

Inspector Bull described the extent of the problem of looted artifacts in Hong Kong and the issue of fakes. He also raised the question as to whether or not “greater due diligence or some form of regulation amongst the local dealers could be brought in to help diminish and eventually stop the trade in illicit antiquities.”

According to Inspector Bull, criminal networks know how to move stolen art or illicitly dug-up antiquities because they already have the knowledge of the best ‘routes’ to get the illicit merchandise across the HK border, thanks in large part to their experience from drug trafficking.

"The idea that these are art-loving criminals is risible, as they are only interested in the money that comes from their various nefarious activities," Inspector Bull said. "The trade in antiquities (be they real or fake) is part of highly organized criminal enterprise structures. The people perpetrating these crimes are your commonplace criminals – no more, no less, but businessmen too, as they have realized that there is still a lot of money to be made in this type of trafficking and far less harsh penalties if caught than with drugs, for example. China is a source nation, bleeding its cultural heritage to the rich market nations. Tomb robbing in China involving diggers, equipment, and fences (middleman to sell the objects) and requires a multi-layered network.

High priced art is even used as a tool in bribing officials in China, according to Bull. "In 1997, many art dealers fled Hong Kong fearing the change of sovereignty, believing the harsh and strict export embargo of the Chinese system would be applied to Hong Kong and kill the trade," he said. "Once the announcement was made that Chinese laws on the protection of art relics would not be applied to Hong Kong (the world’s 3rd busiest cargo port), business carried on unabated with the reputation for Hong Kong being the place to buy Chinese artifacts and antiquities solidified.

However, that brings with it the problems of Hong Kong being a Freeport: “If it’s (the artifact) not proven to be stolen, objects can be legally exported, changing from illicit to licit,” Inspector Bull said. “Once entered into auction catalogues, the objects are often shown to be from a private collection in Hong Kong.”

Inspector Bull highlighted the problematical way that the police regard art crime and their lack of proper referencing within databases, making true statistics nigh on impossible to get; a frustrating fact for any criminologist looking to study this subject. Other incidents of art crime involve fake authenticity certificates for objects; smuggling paintings back into China to avoid taxes; and smuggling of fake objects. Inspector Bull also explained the correlation between art crime and money laundering and "the surprising, but sad fact", of how Hong Kong was woefully under prepared and at risk – despite its reputation as a top international finance sector with very tough anti-money laundering measures in place for the financial sector (just not for the totally unregulated art sector).


Inspector Bull conducted some of his own original research: “Out of 25 mainstream galleries in the main antiques area of Hollywood Road in Hong Kong, only four returned a 14-question survey questionnaire about the condition of the art market – and even those four that did answer did so with rather spurious replies,” Inspector Bull said. “There is absolutely no interest from the art trade to self-regulate, nor is there any lead from the Government to clamp down (or even recognize) the problem. There is simply too much money at stake. The Hong Kong Government is now looking to make the city an ‘art hub’ – seen by the recent arrival of the mega Art Basel exhibition in May. There is a real danger that more genuine smuggled pieces will find their way in Hong Kong, as well as more fakes flooding the market”.

With this in mind, one of the aims of TrackArt  is education to the art market & those closely tied to it to highlight the problems that were addressed in Inspector Bull’s insightful and entertaining presentation : he had brought with him from Hong Kong a “1st Class Fake” of a Tang Dynasty ceramic horse bought especially for its inconsistencies by Bull to be used as a lecture prop and which was passed around the audience – showing, indeed, the dangers of buying Chinese antiquities in Hong Kong. "Buyer Beware! Yes, most definitely."

October 12, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "Repatriation via the Art Market: A New Type of Recovery, New Trends Coming from China" by Johanna Devlin

In the Fall 2012 electric edition of The Journal of Art Crime, Johanna Devlin writes on "Repatriation via the Art Market: A New Type of Recovery, New Trends Coming from China":
The aim of this study is to highlight new trends in the art market and the different ways in which issues concerning ownership of cultural objects have been revealed. In investigating the reasons behind the repatriation of Chinese art via the art market and analyzing its impacts on the art market, this paper will try to uncover what lies behind this new type of recovery.
Ms. Devlin is a graduate of the ARCA Post-Graduate Certificate Program and King's College London. she has worked at Christie's and has studied in China.  She is currently based in Paris.

Here's a link to ARCA's website and information regarding subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime.