Last year everyone was talking about Sarah Palin’s eyeglasses. This year I predict Gandhi-type glasses will be the hot trend among the urban elite. After days of protest by the Indian government and it’s private citizens, Gandhi’s glasses and a few additional personal effects went on the auction block in NYC. In the end, after drama throughout the day, an Indian citizen got the goods:
After intense protests from India’s government and the Indian press, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s eyeglasses and some of his other belongings were sold on Thursday afternoon for $1.8 million at an auction in Manhattan, after last-minute attempts to halt the sale.
The buyer was identified as Vijay Mallya, an Indian liquor and airline executive who owns the company that makes Kingfisher beer. A representative for Mr. Mallya, Tony Bedi, did the bidding and later announced that the belongings would be returned to India for public display, but it was not clear whether they would be turned over to the government, as some officials have demanded.
Indian officials had maintained that the auction — scheduled to be completed on Thursday afternoon in Manhattan — was illegal, but also that they were continuing to negotiate with the owner, James Otis, over a possible resolution. Ultimately, the government and Mr. Otis were not successful in halting the auction. [Link]
p>At one point in negotiations with the Indian government, Otis asked for the following:
James Otis said he was ready to halt the sale and donate Gandhi’s personal items, including his trademark round eyeglasses, in exchange for India’s commitment to a substantial rise in its funding for poverty. [Link]
p>Ummm, yeah. Good starting negotiation position. Next time I negotiate with anyone I will start by asking for world peace.
This is actually the second time in a week that a rising power has had its cultural history on auction in the U.S.
The journey by which the Chinese rabbit and rat heads made their way to Europe and by which Gandhi’s antiques reached the US bear some parallels. China’s bronzes disappeared when French and British colonial armies looted the imperial Summer Palace in Beijing at the end of the second Opium War in 1860. Like so many other trophies and treasures seized from the colonies, they were brought to France and displayed in an art gallery as memorabilia from the age of glorious European empires.
They “legally” changed hands to become the personal property of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, a bon vivant who was among the top connoisseurs of the art world. [Link]
The rat and the rabbit were sold along with a vast collection of art by Pierre Berge, Yves St Laurent’s former lover and business partner. He particularly outraged China by saying he would give the heads back for nothing if it “gave Tibet its freedom”. [Link]
People have been trying to free Tibet for a long time, and even after the organizers of the Lalapalooza tour (which I attended way back in 1993) made that demand via grunge rock, China still didn’t listen. How is holding a rat and rabbit hostage going to convince them if that didn’t work? Both these owners look pretty foolish and sanctimonious trying to levy their morality on China and India while they themselves represent the legacy of colonial looting.
Gandhi’s items were not forcibly grabbed by the British in the same way as the Chinese bronzes, but they too passed into colonial hands and mythology…
Gandhi’s glasses were similarly given as a present to a colonel in the British Indian Army who had asked for a keepsake in order to be inspired. They were held within the colonel’s family for a long time before passing into a private collector’s trove. The other auction items from Gandhi were gifted by the Mahatma to his grandniece and remained with his descendants until collectors netted it and brought it to the Antiquorum show. [Link]
Within the last hour several news organizations are reporting that Mallya will now send his new glasses to the government of India for display. He hasn’t used the word “donate,” however. If he doesn’t, I think people might be pouring out his Kingfisher in the streets of India soon.