Weekly News Roundup: Feb. 23 – Feb. 27, 2009

Today’s headlines in the world of art, antiques and collectibles reflect the growing saga of the Qing dynasty bronzes that were sold in Paris this week—even Jackie Chan has something to say about it. Also: A museum director’s expert eye catches an instance of incorrect cataloging at Sotheby’s.

From the Associated Press:
China punishes Christie’s for auction of relics

In retaliation for Christie’s sale of Chinese Qing bronze statues, the Chinese government has imposed tightened customs sanctions on the auction house. China maintains that the bronzes, part of the Yves Saint Laurent sale held this week in Paris, are pieces of China’s cultural heritage and should be returned to China. Christie’s should expect close inspection of items it plans to bring in or out of China, and will have to provide extensive documentation of the items.

From Bloomberg:
Jackie Chan Calls Qing Bronzes Sale ‘Shameful,’ Standard Says

Chinese-born action star Jackie Chan has put in his two cents into the swirling, nonstop Qing bronzes debate. Calling Christie’s sale of the statues “shameful,” Chan told The Standard, Hong Kong’s English-language newspaper that the statues are stolen goods.

From The New York Times:
A Spittoon Born in England

In non-Qing bronzes news, David Whitehouse, director of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., discovered a rare Ravenscroft glass spittoon last fall in London—as part of a presale preview of Islamic art. Incorrectly labeled as hailing from 18th-century India, Whitehouse’s keen eye recognized the 17th-century Ravenscroft seal on the spittoon. With about 20 pieces bearing the seal estimated to be in existence, the museum’s high bid of $36,000 brought the spittoon to the U.S., where it is already on display at the Corning museum.

From Gawker:
Five Things People Paid Too Much For at the Yves Saint Laurent Sale

Snarky—and often hilariously perceptive—Web site Gawker has a roundup of the five lots in the three-day Yves Saint Laurent sale that bidders overpaid for. Interestingly, a couple of the items have an accompanying quote from an auction-house expert confirming that the prices paid for the lots were, indeed, inflated. The “sale of the century” was a rousing success, with many lots selling for well above their presale estimates.

From The Associated Press:
Up, up, and away: Rare Superman comic for sale

The 1938 Action comic book that introduced America’s favorite superhero to the masses is up for sale at ComicConnect. Sold for 10 cents when it was published, similar copies of the Superman comic book—of which there are about 100—have gone for as much as $126,000. An expert believes this copy will sell for a significantly higher price.

From United Press International:
Antique money theft suspects nabbed

Police caught up with three Michigan teenagers who allegedly stole a safe full of antique money far from the scene of the crime in Birmingham, Ala. Law enforcement officials were tipped off when one of the trio attempted to change a $1,000 bill at a Birmingham bank. They say that the three males took the safe from one of the boys’ parents in Texas Township, Mich., then stole a neighbor’s car and hit the road.

From The Guardian (UK):
Annie Leibovitz pawns rights to all future work

Even renowned celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz is feeling the pain of the economic recession. Leibovitz borrowed $15 million from Art Capital, a firm that lends money with fine art as collateral, and has put up the copyrights, negatives and contract rights of every photograph she’s ever taken and ever will take as collateral. Included in this group of photos are the iconic images the photographer became known for—portraits of everyone from Queen Elizabeth II and Tom Cruise to a pregnant Demi Moore and Leibovitz’s close friend, author Susan Sontag. Leibovitz isn’t alone in her predicament. Reports are artist Julian Schnabel has taken similar measures.

From Art Info:
The $28M Chair: Mad Hatter or New Harbinger?

Records are made to be broken, and the second night of the Yves Saint Laurent sale in Paris had the floor littered with shattered records. Five hours of bidding on rare Art Deco objects yielded $76,540,719. Ten lots sold for more than 1 million euros ($1.3 million) each. The star of the show was a circa-1917–19 armchair by Eileen Gray, called “The Dragons,” which fetched an unbelievable 21,905,000 euros ($28 million)—more than seven times its presale estimate.

From Bloomberg:
Saint Laurent Chinese Qing Bronzes Fetch $40 Million

The two Qing dynasty bronze statues that have been embroiled in controversy the past few weeks sold Wednesday for $40 million, exceeding presale estimates. After a French judge ruled against China’s claim that the bronzes are national treasures and should not be eligible for auction, Christie’s proceeded to sell the pieces as part of the Yves Saint Laurent sale’s third and final evening. The winning bid came from Christie’s own co-head of Impressionist and modern art.

From The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch:
Early records catch ear of Smithsonian Institution

A Williamsburg, Va., collector has the ear—literally—of Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution. The museum is looking into adding Wilbert Davis’ collection of quarter-inch-thick records, made for his working antique Thomas Edison Victrola windup phonograph, as well as the phonograph itself, to the Smithsonian collection. The records and phonograph could possibly be included in an upcoming exhibition on music at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Davis purchased the early-20th-century phonograph for $600.

From The Boston Globe:
For struggling Newbury church, weathervane a gift from above

Due to years of declining membership and funds, First Parish Church in Newbury, Mass., was considering shuttering its doors when a Maine antiques dealer approached the church, expressing interest in the weathervane sitting atop its steeple. The dealer, Raymond Egan, told church officials that the gilded rooster weathervane could be worth as much as a quarter million dollars because of its rarity and provenance. The church recently sold the weathervane, built in 1772, to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston for $575,000, well above Egan’s original estimate.

From The New York Times:
Saint Laurent Art Sale Brings In $264 Million

Monday was the first day of the three-day sale of Yves Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Bergé’s massive collection of fine art and antiques, and it certainly did not disappoint. The sale brought in a total of $264 million at Christie’s Paris, and auction records for Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamp, among others, were set. The only notable work that failed to sell was a Picasso. Bids didn’t reach the painting’s 25–30 million euro ($32–$38.5 million) presale estimate. Art market insiders are hopeful that the collection’s successful showing at auction is a litmus test as to the overall health of the market, and if the YSL sale is any indication, buyers are certainly doing their part to keep the market alive.

From Auction Central News:
Lost pages from Buck’s Good Earth returning home via FBI

Four hundred handwritten pages of Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth” will be on display at Buck’s home near Philadelphia, reuniting the previously lost manuscript with the late author’s desk, chair and typewriter she used to pen the novel. The pages of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, caught up in a battle of legal ownership, were discovered in 2007 after being missing for 40 years. Buck’s heirs claim ownership, as do several foundations connected with the author.

From BBC News:
Iraq’s National Museum reopened

Six years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq—and significant looting of the country’s National Museum—the return of a quarter of the stolen artifacts has facilitated the reopening of the National Museum in Baghdad. About 15,000 artifacts and antiquities housed in the museum were looted after Saddam Hussein’s fall from power, and reopening the museum is a hopeful sign that a bit of normalcy is returning to the war-torn country. Several Iraqi experts, however, believe that the move to reopen comes too soon.

From The Guardian (UK):
Harrow school to auction off unhappy pupil’s astonishing butterfly collection

A collection of butterflies amassed by Walter Rothschild and donated to Britain’s Harrow School by his brother, Charles, is scheduled to go under the hammer at Bonhams in May. The 3,500-piece collection, thought to be worth £60–£80 million ($87–$116 million), is the product of Rothschild’s infamous squandering of his family’s fortune on his personal natural-history hobbies and collections, which included starfish, giraffes, bird eggs and giant tortoises. Part of Walter’s vast collection makes up England’s Natural History Museum, but his focus during the last 40 years of his life—butterflies—will be sold to the highest bidder come May 27.

From The Associated Press:
French throws out appeal over Chinese bronzes

In perhaps the biggest art and antiques news story this year, the sale of late designer Yves Saint Laurent’s massive collection will go on today as planned, according to a French judge’s ruling. An appeal filed on behalf of the Chinese government to stop the sale of two bronze Chinese statues that are part of the collection was rejected, and Christie’s auction house will proceed with the sale. Chinese officials have stirred up controversy in recent weeks claiming that the two statues were plundered from the Summer Palace outside of Beijing during the Opium Wars, and Christie’s has no right to sell the pieces. The bronzes are estimated to be worth between 8-10 million euros ($10.2–$12.7 million) each.

From Obit Magazine:
The Afterlife of Glamorous Things

In the aftermath of the Oscars, an interesting read about the fate of objects from film sets chronicles such collectibles as Dorothy’s red shoes from “The Wizard of Oz” (one pair sold to a private collector for $666,000), Rosebud from “Citizen Kane” (Stephen Spielberg bought it for $60,500) and even the cabin used in “Fargo” (sold for $10,000 to a woman who is currently renovating the building). In the world of movie-memorabilia auctions, even Donald Trump doesn’t always get what he wants. The famous businessman lost out on an upright piano featured in “Casablanca.”

Elizabeth Hendley is a WorthPoint writer based in Seattle.

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