The New York Times looks at Christie’s relationship with the Chinese government as the auction house tries to manage the burden of Yves Saint Laurent sale and the disputed bronze heads from the Summer Palace Zodiac clock. What’s remarkable about the story is the way that Chinese government has scapegoated Christie’s for being the vendor of the works.
China has made no attempt to resolve the issue of the heads through any mechanism that might resemble restitution. It has no leverage over the owner of the works, Pierre Bergé. So, instead, it leans on the one institution that remains eager to expand its business in China:
In an e-mail, a spokesman for Christie’s said he couldn’t cite a similar effort by the auction house, though it does work regularly with quasi-governmental organizations to promote art. He also declined to say how much Christie’s is spending on the planned shows. The agreement has already drawn sharp criticism from some art experts, who say Christie’s decision to promote artists the Chinese government selects alters the role of the auction house and could undermine its credibility with collectors. […]
Organizing the exhibitions “is clearly a political move,” said Joan Lebold Cohen, a New York art collector and an expert on Chinese contemporary art. “This is to get back in the government’s favor.”
But other experts say Christie’s is following virtually every other global corporation in trying to expand in China by cozying up with Beijing, which wields tremendous power over how businesses operate here. […] “This would be unthinkable for a museum,” said Melissa Chiu, director of the Asia Society and Museum in New York. “But as a business, this is acceptable. Most people accept that Christie’s is first and foremost a business. And Christie’s is clearly trying to forge a relationship with the government.”
Christie’s and China: An Artful Diplomacy (New York Times)