Scroll row puts art ambitions of China's rich on display

Scroll row puts art ambitions of China's rich on display
Visitors to the newly-opened Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai looking at an ancient scroll that cost museum owner and tycoon Liu Yiqian millions of dollars. A row over its authenticity is threatening his goal of an artistic legacy.

SHANGHAI - With two museums already in his empire, tycoon Liu Yiqian is a would-be Chinese Getty or Guggenheim, but a row over the authenticity of a scroll that cost him millions of dollars threatens his artistic legacy.

The work, with nine Chinese characters in black ink reading "Su Shi respectfully bids farewell to Gong Fu, Gentleman Court Consultant", is the star exhibit at Liu's newly-opened Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai.

The calligraphy is a mere 28 centimetres long by 10 centimetres wide (11 by 4 inches), but Liu paid $8.2 million (S$10.4 million) to secure it at a Sotheby's auction in New York in September.

A taxi driver turned financier who is now one of the country's wealthiest people, he is among the new Chinese super-rich scouring the globe for artwork, snapping up objects and driving up prices, some even building their own museums to house their collections.

"Like the Gettys and the Guggenheims and the Whitneys... there's a long history of museums in the West and maybe now in China of collectors wanting to make a name for themselves and make a mark on history," said Clare Jacobson, author of "New Museums in China".

But the grand opening has been upset by a public argument with a renowned trio of experts from the state-backed Shanghai Museum who derided the work as a fake.

In the shadowy world of money and art, there are suggestions China's established official museums resent competition from private ones. There are also rumours, denied in the media, that the scroll once passed through the hands of the Shanghai Museum.

Attributed to poet Su Shi, one of the recognised four great calligraphers of the Song Dynasty of 960 to 1279, the scroll is known as the "Gong Fu Tie" after the official named in it.

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