Monday, January 29, 2007

Jade statues, paintings and calligraphy scrolls and other treasures confiscated from corrupt officials went on auction today in Hefei, Anhui province. There is a photo here, which says the items were taken from officials such as the former Anhui vice governor and the former mayor of Fuyang. Whether in a sign of curiousity about the scale of corruption or just continued passion for costly art, nearly 400 people attended (headlines about nabbed officials make for popular reading here). Some objects went for ten times over their original price. Virtually all the proceeds will go to the state treasury, state media said.

In November, an oil painting by Liu Xiaodong sold for a record-breaking $2.7 million. It's so big it's hard to take a picture of it. The painting depicts people displaced by the controversial Three Gorges Dam.

The buyer was Zhang Lan, the 48-year-old founder and chair of the Sichuan restaurant chain South Beauty, auction staff said. Zhang is worth a reported $125 million, tied with others at No. 21 on the Hurun List of the Richest Women in China. Maybe, art watchers say, she will display it in her new restaurant in New York City's Times Square, to be designed by Philippe Starck later this year.

"Unlike trading houses or playing the stock market, trading paintings makes more money and the risk is comparatively lower," said Yang Feixang, a slight man of 38 who has been active in the art market since he was 18. Now the owner of six art galleries in Changchun, in Northeast Jilin Province, Yang comes to Beijing art auctions at least twice a year.

Five years ago, he said, a painting by Fan Zeng, an art professor in Tianjin's Naikai University, was worth $1 million yuan or $128,200. Today, it is worth more than $1.9 million, he said. "But if you invested one million yuan on the stock market five years ago, it’s possible that now you get nothing.”