Reputation Risk in the Global Art Market



During the 2nd Opium War in 1860, the British and French Troops the summer palace of Emperor Qianlong and Yuan Ming in their retaliation against empire Qing. The looting of the Mona Lisa from Louvre in 1911 raised a passionate issue of artifact repatriation. Among the looted materials included a water clock fountain which consisted of 12 bronze heads of animals in the Chinese Zodiac. The UNESCO convection in 1970 raised the aspect of preventing and prohibited import of illegal artifacts, transfer and export of cultural properties and called for countries to make claims against countries which had acquired ownership of this items illegally (William, 2011). As of 1980, the Chinese government was as at a unique position of both an artifact rich and purchasing country. In 1993, the value of artifact crime was estimated to be between $3 billion and $6 billion a year. Over the years, countries have had varied success in their demand for repatriation of the cultural artifacts. In 1994, the tomb raiders invaded the Hebei Province burial site in China and removed 10 wall paintings and relief sculptures and critically damaged them.  Despite the fact that the looters remained scot-free, in 1999 one of the wall relief looted appeared in Christie catalogue. The auctioning of the looted artifacts raised various ethical issues such as: repatriation of the stolen artifacts which were legally owned, use of artifacts as a political leverage, making artifact auction without the intention to pay and taking the right action when what is regarded to be legal is perceived to be unethical.


Alternative: 1

In order to solve the reputation risk in the global art market, the countries associated with the artifact looting problems should ensure that those making action bid as far as looted artifacts are concerned make it with intention to pay. In 2008, when Yves Saint Laurent died, his business partner Mr. Berge decided to action different items at Christie’s international auction house. Among the items he planned to action were the two historic bronzes from China (William, 2011).  According to the Chinese government the two artifacts had been looted and stolen and were supposed to be repatriated instead of being auctioned. The Chinese government failed in its attempt to block the auction of the two artifacts because the French court approved the auction to be legal. The advantages of this aspect are that it would protect the actual owners of the artifacts; it would ensure that those with intention to purchase the artifacts are ready to pay and looting is avoided. The disadvantages of the policy are that it would encourage illegal trading and auction of the artifacts and it would hinder the process of repatriation of the artifacts.

Alternative: 2

Encourage repatriation of the legally owned artifacts to the original owners.  Despite the fact that the artifacts might be owned legally by one party it would be appropriate that he or she repatriated the artifacts to the real owners (William, 2011). The advantages of this move are that it would avoid the risk of use of artifacts repatriation as a political leverage for some leaders and that the legal action towards illegal ownership of the artifacts would be taken. The disadvantages of this course of action are that it would hinder the legal auctioning of the artifacts and it will make the process of stolen cultural artifacts from China and other countries around the world complex.


It is prudent to recommend the aspect of artifacts repatriation to the legal owners of the artifacts in order to avoid the artifact reputation risks (William, 2011).  The action of encouraging repatriation of the artificial artifacts to the legal owners and preventing auction of these artifacts would eliminate illegal looting of these artifacts for personal or country’s interest.





William A. (2011). Reputation Risk in the Global Art Market. 5th Edition. New York Publishers.

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