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China Fumes As Bronze Relics Sold At YSL Auction

PARIS: Mystery bidders paid millions of dollars for a pair of ancient Chinese bronzes at the record-smashing Yves Saint Laurent art auction in Paris, sparking angry protests from China on Thursday.

The precious Qing dynasty fountainheads, looted from the imperial Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860, were snapped up for EUR15.7 million (US$20.3bn) each on Wednesday.

The sale came at the end of a three-day auction of gems that graced the homes of Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge that fetched a total of EUR373.5 million, making it the biggest private art sale in history.

But Beijing immediately lashed out at Christie's for selling the bronze rat and rabbit heads, vowing to place tougher checks on the auction house as it accused it of repeatedly selling smuggled Chinese relics.

"In recent years, Christie's has frequently sold cultural heritage items looted or smuggled from China, and all items involved were illegally taken out of the country," the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said.

In another statement, the agency said the auction had "harmed the cultural rights and hurt the feelings of China's people and will seriously impact (Christie's) development in China."

China had demanded the relics returned, but the French government said it had received no official request, and a Paris court threw out a last-ditch bid to remove the bronzes from the sale.

"The State Administration of Cultural Heritage resolutely opposes and condemns all auctions of artefacts illegally taken abroad. Christie's must take responsibility for the consequences created by this auction," the agency said.

The agency said it did not recognise the objects' "illegal owners" and warned it would use all "necessary channels to recover all relics stolen and illegally exported throughout history."

AFP calls to Christie's offices in China went unanswered on Thursday.

The 18th-century bronzes went on the block along with more than 700 other treasures including Roman marbles and Egyptian antiquities 2,000 years old collected over five decades by the late fashion designer and his partner.

They were among the last items to go under the hammer at a sale that defied the credit crunch, smashing 25 records as buyers sent prices for contemporary art, old masters, antique silver and Art Deco gems through the roof.

Bids poured in throughout the sale from 1,200 well-heeled seated buyers who flew in from around the world, as well as collectors bidding through 100 telephone operators.

A business tycoon, arts patron and committed left-winger, Berge opted to sell the collection amassed over a lifetime after Saint Laurent's death last June aged 71. Berge is offering the proceeds to fight AIDS and to a foundation honouring Saint Laurent's work.

"I am very happy tonight. I am certain that all those who acquired these works of art will cherish them," Berge told reporters.

"If I had the money I would've built a museum," he added.

"I always believed art belonged to no one, and that these works were with us in transit though we were very, very lucky to live with them."

"The time had come to separate from them."

Neither he nor auctioneers Christie's agreed to identify the buyers of the Chinese pieces or even state whether both were acquired by the same person.

Groups of Chinese students handed out leaflets condemning the sale of the prized relics outside the vast Grand Palais exhibition hall where the auction took place.

Shortly after their sale, Liu Yang, a Chinese lawyer who spearheaded efforts to have the pieces returned to Beijing, warned that the failure to return them would not soothe Franco-Chinese ties, frayed over the sensitive issue of Tibet.

"I will not comment on diplomatic relations," he said.

"But it will certainly harm relations between the peoples of both countries." (AFP)

MySinchew 2009.02.26

 

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