The Financial Times looks at the quiet force driving the market for Chinese Works of Art:
Poly Culture is a curious beast. Its stated aim – beating swords into ploughshares – is laudable and straightforward. A loosely controlled army of agents trawl global galleries and auction houses hunting for specific cultural items. Three thousand-year-old bronzes are highly sought after, as are stone Buddhist sculptures from the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries AD – a high point in Chinese civilisation.
Early Buddhist stone sculptures are equally prized as an umbilical cord to ancient Chinese history and culture. Many are inscribed with the date they were commissioned or carved for a named temple, and can be identified fairly easily. British and French collectors photographed the relics in situ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That makes those relics surviving colonial appropriation and the violence of the Cultural Revolution easier to identify in their original locations.
When items come up for auction, Poly jumps in. Its agents know their budget is virtually limitless: PLA cash, generated through the sale of everything from tanks to exocet missiles, mostly to Africa, Pakistan and south-east Asia, is pumped as needed into Poly Culture. “Poly’s pockets are bottomless,” says James Hennessy, director of London-based Littleton & Hennessy. “They have the financial clout to acquire anything they want.” […]
Poly continues to buy, skewing prices wherever it goes. A well-respected Hong Kong-based dealer notes that many of Poly’s acquisitions are made quietly, in private sales rather than public auctions. “If I had a nice bronze that I thought the PLA would like, and it was worth $1m, I would say to the owner: ‘Sell it for $2.5m, and see if you can get more. Poly will pay’.” One of the highest prices paid by the group was $8m for a Bronze Age jar whose cover survived intact in China throughout the Cultural Revolution.
And as Poly grows, it issues new shoots. Beijing International Poly Auction, barely 10 years old, is a powerful player on the mainland art scene along with China Guardian Auctions, with Beijing Council International Auction (BCIA) further back.
Chinese Artefacts Come Home (Financial Times)