Jake Turcotte/AP photo
An auction this week at Christie’s of the Yves Saint Laurent collection raised a whopping $478.8 million for charity and AIDS research.
So, could Pierre Bergé, the late designer’s partner, have done without the $35.9 million for two Chinese national treasures? The sale of the two bronzes, a rat and a rabbit’s head looted from Bejing by British and French troops in 1860, unleashed a torrent of protest from Chinese lawyers, bloggers, students, the government, and even Jackie Chan. (Click here to read about China's efforts to reclaim stolen relics.)
The growing spat hits at a long-disputed question: Should the West return looted artworks?
The calculus seems unclear. In December, Christie's decided at the last minute to pull a pair of 3,000-year-old earrings from Iraq off the auction block in New York, pending investigation on whether the jewelry had been stolen. (See the Monitor’s report on that here.) But the auction house defended its sale of China's bronzes, saying their legal ownership had been “clearly confirmed.”
Jackie Chan begs to differ. “They remain looted items, no matter whom they were sold to,” the kungfu movie star said in Hong Kong Wednesday, adding that he’s now planning a film about a quest for stolen Chinese relics. Guess how it ends…
Mr. Bergé had thrown a verbal punch of his own as the three-day auction began Monday, saying the bronzes would be returned “when China establishes human rights.”
China dismissed the comment and hit back Thursday by ordering officials to “scrutinize artifacts” that Christie’s takes in and out of the country. The auction “will have serious effects on Christie’s development in China,” the State Administration of Cultural Heritage warned.
Not sure if that will ease – or inflame – tensions in the centuries-old dispute over looted treasures.