Friday, 28 November 2014

Triumphant Return

This prized thangka sold for $45 million

Do you know who Liu Yiqian is?

He stunned the auction world this week when he came out victorious in successfully bidding for a Ming dynasty silk wall hanging for HK$348.4 million ($45 million) after a 22-minute intense competition at Christie's auction in Hong Kong.

Usually bidding ends in mere minutes, but he was on the end of the phone line represented by Christie's China president Cai Jingjing, and the other bidder was represented by Francois Curiel, chairman of Christie's Asia Pacific.

Billionaire Liu was ecstatic about his latest possession, saying he was looking forward to bringing it back to China.

Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei
"Before our country wasn't very strong or prosperous, so many things were lost to overseas buyers," Liu said. "Now that we have accumulated wealth, we need to deepen our own cultural sophistication. So we are buying Western art, to say nothing of our own art."

The rare 600-year-old embroidered silk Buddhist thangka depicts Raktayamari, the red Conqueror of Death embracing his consort Vajravetali, trampling Yama, the Lord of Death.

According to antiques dealer Hon Lau, owner of Hollywood Galleries in Central, said the thangka was a series of three, with the other two in Jokang Monastery in Tibet.

The price of the thangka has been steadily rising, having been sold for $1 million in New York 20 years ago, then HK$30 million to a US collector in 2002.

Lau says the 10-fold increase in the price is because Buddhist art has been undervalued in the past.

"This thangka is a magnificent piece of historical artwork made of top-notch craftsmanship," said Lau. He said the imperial mark of "Yongle" [commissioned by Emperor Yongle in the 15th century] added great value to the piece.

"I have had collectors telling me that they wouldn't want to trade this even if they were given 10 chicken cups," he said.

Liu sips tea from his newly acquired "chicken cup"
Lau is referring to the HK$281.24 million ($36.3 million) Liu spent in April to acquire the Meiyintang Chenghua "chicken cup" at the Sotheby's Hong Kong auction.

Liu raised eyebrows when he paid for the cup by maxing out several credit cards and then had tea poured into the cup which he drank for reporters and photographers.

Liu's story is that he used to be a taxi driver and then hit the jackpot playing the stock market, while his wife is Wang Wei claims to be an art expert. They have a collection of traditional and contemporary Chinese art that is displayed in their privately-owned Long Museum, in two locations in Shanghai.

It's interesting that Tibet Buddhist art is highly appreciated and yet the current situation in the region is far from calm...

He seems to take pride in this kind of cultural colonialism, which may be quietly endorsed by Beijing.

So where did he get over HK$500 million to snap up these two pieces this year? Or did he hit the super jackpot?

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