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Disputed lots in Saint Laurent sale unsold; sham bidder comes forward

LOS ANGELES (ACNI) – In Chinese astrology, this is may be the year of the cow or the ox, but it’s not boding well for the rabbit or the rat. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the person who lodged winning bids totaling more than $40 million for the bronze fountain heads of a rabbit and rat in Christie’s Feb. 25 Yves Saint Laurent auction in Paris did so with no intention of consummating the sale. In auction-industry parlance: the lots were “sold” to a deadbeat bidder – although not the usual kind. In this case, the bidder is openly acknowledging his actions.

In a copyrighted article, LA Times writer Barbara Demick reports that the phone bidder, Cai Mingchao, is “an advisor to a Chinese nonprofit group dedicated to repatriating relics.” Mingchao claims he placed the bids with no intention of actually buying the 18th-century art objects. He contends that the bronzes, which were looted from a Chinese imperial palace but purchased legally many years later by the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, should be returned to China.

The LA Times quoted Cai Mingchao as saying, “I must stress that I do not have the money to pay for this…I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities.”

So far, there has been no response from Christie’s regarding the status of the two art objects, which were sold as separate lots in the three-day auction of the fine art and antiques collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Shortly before the Feb. 25 auction session, a French judge ruled against the Chinese government, which had sought to have the fountain heads removed from the auction and turned over to Beijing.

The bronze heads disappeared from the summer Imperial Palace on the outskirts of Beijing when French and British forces sacked it at the close of the second Opium War in 1860. Saint Laurent purchased the bronzes legally in the 1970s.

Auction Central News will provide an updated report as details become available.

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