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Investigation into missing paintings

(China Daily)

15:48, August 25, 2011

BEIJING - An investigation has been launched after claims that several famous works of art owned by Tian'anmen Gate, literally the Gate of Heavenly Peace, have either been lost or damaged, authorities said on Wednesday.

Questions over the management of the collection were first raised on Monday, when Beijing News reported that eight paintings had gone missing according to an anonymous source.

A publicity official for the Tian'anmen area administration, who refused to give his name, declined to confirm whether any artworks were missing, saying only that it is "too early to say" and that the case is under investigation.

The majority of paintings kept by the administration are displayed in exhibitions in the tower at Tian'anmen Gate, he added.

According to the allegations reported on Monday, an inspection of assets by the Beijing government in 2007 found works donated by seven artists in the 1990s were missing from the collection, with several others affected by mildew.

Wu Tuanliang, one of the artists whose work was reportedly lost, refused to comment when contacted by China Daily. However, he was quoted by Beijing News as saying he was aware of the matter after Beijing's discipline inspection department contacted him recently.

Wang Chengxi, another of the artists involved, said he has no idea whether his work is missing, but insisted he "would not be surprised" if the allegations prove true.

Tian'anmen Gate is not a museum or professional art institution, so the management will be lax, Wang said. He estimated that the number of pieces held by the administration could run to thousands, adding that most were likely donated in the 1990s.

"Artworks were not highly valued in the 1990s and artists saw it as an honor to have their pieces displayed or collected at Tian'anmen Gate," he said. "So many artists were willing to give away works for free and get a certificate in return. Now it's totally different, as every art piece must be paid for and registered."

Wang said reports of mildew were also not surprising as "many of the paintings are mounted with flour paste".

Liu Guanglong, an attorney at Shanghai-based Jinying Law Firm, said related officials could be disciplined if the allegations prove true.

"If it's true, this case will resemble the recent scandal at the Palace Museum, when one of its workers damaged an ancient porcelain plate, and will be dealt with internally," the lawyer said.

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