Auction Winner Won't Pay for Chinese Relics
Collector says he bid $36 million on antiquities as protest
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 3, 2009 9:32 AM CST
Cai Mingchao, who made the bids for the bronze rat and rabbit heads by telephone at the auction in Paris last week, speaks during a press conference in Beijing, China, Monday, March 2, 2009.    (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Among the most closely watched lots at last week's Paris auction of Yves Saint Laurent's art collection were two imperial Chinese bronzes that each sold for $18 million. Beijing spent months insisting that the sculptures were looted in the 19th century and should be returned to China, but failed to block the sale. Yet the country might have the last laugh, reports the Wall Street Journal—the winning bidder was a Chinese collector who is refusing to pay.

Cai Mingchao, who runs an art and auction company in Fujian, said he bid on the bronzes out of patriotic duty. As a winning bid is a binding legal contract, Cai may face a lawsuit from Christie's if he defaults; more likely, the auction house could sell the works privately to an underbidder or return them to Saint Laurent's partner. Art experts say no one has ever backed out of a winning bid as a political statement.