The Pinault family participated in a ceremony to return the disputed bronze zodiac heads from the Yves Saint-Laurent/Pierre Bergé sale to China today. Christie’s has already received a valuable concession for the gift in the form of the right to hold sales directly in Shanghai. (Update: Christie’s applied for and was granted its license to operate in Shanghai in March, well before the Pinault family announced this gift.) But the Washington Post explains the broader significance of the donation:
The fact that they are being returned by a company representing one of the nations that carried out the violation heightens the gesture’s importance for Chinese who tend to equate nations with their business and cultural interests, said Joseph Cheng, China politics expert at the City University of Hong Kong.
“It shows that China is now in a position to win back these treasures,” Cheng said.[…] For Kering, formerly known as PPR, the donation is a smart PR move that shows respect for Chinese consumers who often feel slighted by Western luxury brands that do little to cater to their sensibilities, said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group.
“It shows respect and shows that Kering is a friend of China,” Rein said.
That also reflects the values of newly rich Chinese, who take it as a point of pride to buy or bid on remnants of China’s cultural heritage that have flowed overseas from porcelain vases to rare manuscripts.
Macau casino billionaire Stanley Ho blazed a trail for the Pinault family with his own purchase of the horse’s head from the Qing bronze zodiac in 2007 for $8.9 million that prevented it from being auctioned off by Sotheby’s. Ho donated the piece to the Chinese government and it is displayed in a Beijing museum.
[…] The donation “will really resonate with wealthy Chinese who almost see it as a duty to bring back China’s cultural heritage,” Rein said. […]
While Kering needs to exercise good taste in leveraging the bronzes for marketing purposes, it could use them to heighten the sense of exclusivity by offering viewings as a perk for VIP customers, Rein said.
“But already, the public relations and word of mouth they’ve gained just by people reading about it has been huge,” Rein said.