More than $330 million worth of German art has disappeared in China, reports the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. The 354 artworks—including 103 works by Renate Graf, 99 pieces by Anselm Kiefer, and 152 paintings by Markus Lüpertz—belong to Maria Chen-Tu, a German private collector of Taiwanese descent. The arts patron had loaned the collection to the Chinese businessman Ma Yue, whose Hamburg-based company Bell Art Ltd. began insolvency proceedings in January. She has since tried to secure their return, but Ma Yue has allegedly ignored her requests. On July 3, she notified the authorities in Beijing, but she has yet to receive any updates on the case.
Chen-Tu has accused Ma Yue of trying to sell the works and of demanding a payment of more than $10 million for their release. Ma Yue has denied these allegations. The businessman told the German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that he entered a verbal agreement with Chen-Tu that permitted him to organize exhibitions of the works over a period of ten years and that during that time he had the right to sell the works to interested buyers. He also said that the works are in storage. Chen-Tu has declared that the sale of the art was never part of the agreement.
During a press conference at the St. Regis in Beijing on November 18, Chen-Tu said that the loan was supposed to be part of a cultural exchange initiative between China and Germany. A portion of the works, which are part of her German-based MAP collection, were presented in exhibitions at the China Art Museum Shanghai, the Tsinghua University Art Museum, the CAFA Art Museum Beijing, and the Shandong Art Museum, among other institutions, between 2016 and 2018.
Artist Markus Lüpertz has told reporters that he is very concerned about the whereabouts of the works and has described the ordeal as a hostage situation. Among the pieces missing are some of his earliest works, which he said are fragile and can easily be damaged. According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is not the first time Ma Yue has faced allegations of withholding art. The Chinese painter Zhang Xi has alleged that the company failed to pay her for twenty-seven paintings that were in its possession. Bell Art was also one of the organizers of an unauthorized exhibitions of Anselm Kiefer’s works at the CAFA Art Museum Beijing in 2016.