Ming Dynasty jewellery, Dingling Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Mlogic
Karl E. Myer, The Chinese Want Their Art Back, The New York Times, 20 June 2015
Over the course of five days in March, Christie’s auctioned off the holdings of the dealer Robert H. Ellsworth, who, before his death last year at age 85, filled his 22-room apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with what was said to be one of the world’s most comprehensive private collections of Asian art, earning him the nickname “King of Ming”. The sale fetched $134 million, nearly four times the presale estimate of $35 million.
Chinese art has become a prized liquid asset for superrich collectors, who, instead of putting their treasures on display, often deposit them in carefully guarded, climate-controlled warehouses. But the media’s emphasis on the white-hot market for contemporary Chinese works overlooks a more interesting story: the effort by the Chinese government, state-run companies, private collectors and even, quite probably, some criminal networks to bring Chinese antiquities back home.