Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"The Empress"

The International Herald Tribune has a fascinating story about China's People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s intensive efforts to "repatriate" China's art heritage from collectors worldwide (including efforts to buy back work from the likes of Ronald Lauder, Tsui Tsin-tong, Jack Wadsworth, and Leon Black) and their interactions with their virtually James-Bond-esque nemesis in this competitive field, she of the infamously clandestine methods: the powerful Belgian dealer and expert on Chinese art, Gisele Croes, better known in Asian circles as "the Empress."

"The People's Liberation Army is very rich, very powerful and all-knowing," Croes said. "You must keep looking over your shoulder. This is an exceedingly jealous business, and I find pieces that others can't find, I know people they don't know."


"The Chinese art market is a $1 billion-a-year trade and it can be dangerous and frightening," she said.


She said her market was also long on cloak-and-dagger. "I've been accused of being everything from a smuggler to an agent for the Chinese secret police," Croes said. "The mystery of my reputation is only painful when it's a lie."

Colin Sheaf, 53, deputy chairman of Bonhams auction house in London and the company's Chinese art specialist, spoke of Croes's reputation in the trade....

"Gisele is remarkable at finding treasure," Sheaf said. "She's part of the world's most elite group of dealers, handling a quality of Chinese merchandise that auction houses can only dream about."

Despite her skills and connections though, Croes is up against some stiff competition. Well, her and virtually ever other dealer in the masterpiece business, it seems: the PLA reportedly has access to funds totalling $711 billion for these efforts, and it's not just Chinese works they have their eyes on:

Facing an acute art shortage, the Chinese government plans to construct 1,000 new museums by 2015, including 32 in Beijing in time for the 2008 Olympics and 100 in Shanghai before the opening of the 2010 World's Fair, according to reports in China's government-controlled media.

The People's Liberation Army, or PLA, has so far targeted only Chinese art.

Analysts say the army's strategy over the next five years is to dip further into China's foreign-currency reserves - about $711 billion, the second biggest after Japan, and growing - to buy and barrack celebrated Western masterpieces, often at prices above their auction-market value.
And here I was worried about the effect of Alice Walton's art buying.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been a lurker for a long time and I like your blogs very much. However, I do not understand why PLA's moves worry you. Can you hint at what it is that bothers you? (You don't even have to wonder, I'll readily admit to being quite naive when it comes to art, preserving art etc.)

Also, if PLA does hold it in their musuems then would it not give a better chance to enjoy the masterpieces for almost 1/6th of the world's population!!

10/18/2005 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for de-lurking Anonymous 1.

The issue is what the PLA can do to the market. How they can artificially inflate prices, if they're willing to get work at any cost, even "above their auction-market value."

We saw this in the 80's with the Japanese paying silly prices for Impressionist works, just to have to sheepishly sneak them back to auction when their companies folded and accept much less than they paid for them. It caused prices to rise for everyone else who was buying responsibly and left everyone else paying far more for what they wanted than it was worth at the time.

If China wants to participate responsibly in the market as it exists, then I say, "Welcome...come spend and spend." But they're not buying like everyone else is, with care and measure. They're reportedly gobbling up everything, uninformed, and in a way that will make others anxious and possibly skew the real value of work at this time.

10/18/2005 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

They're reportedly gobbling up everything, uninformed, and in a way that will make others anxious and possibly skew the real value of work at this time.

This sounds like the critique commonly raised against the "investor collector" set. How is it any different than the overheated NY contemporary art market? Does it conflate? Is it different because it is a unified state behaving like a mob as opposed to a mob of investors behaving like a big dumb single-minded entity?

10/18/2005 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

How is it any different than the overheated NY contemporary art market?

Well, in a nutshell, at least there you have one entity trying to regulate the prices for the good of the artist: the gallery.

10/18/2005 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger maswey said...


5/16/2008 07:43:00 AM  

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