Steve Wynn's prize vases will go on display in his new resort in 2015 (Image: Christie's)
This week, the art-collecting, Picasso-destroying casino mogul Steve Wynn engaged in a little "pottery PR," returning a collection of antique Chinese vases to the country in a ceremony at his Wynn Macau. Wynn purchased the four rare porcelain baluster vases, from the Qing dynasty's Jiaqing period (1796-1820), at Christie's in London last July for £8 million (US$12.8 million), well above their £1 million pre-sale estimate. As ARTINFO wrote of Wynn's record-breaking auction buy at the time:
This is not the first Chinese acquisition that Wynn has made for his resorts located in the Chinese territory of Macau. He began collecting Chinese art objects in 2006 with a record-setting purchase of a red porcelain vase from the Hongwu period (1368-1398) for HK78.5 million ($10 million US) at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
Wynn, who has said that he is committed to returning Chinese treasures to China, later donated the vase to the Macau Special Administrative Region, where it entered the permanent collection of the Cultural Affairs Bureau’s Macao Museum. Since then, many more objects have been added to the collection on display in the two Wynn resorts in Macau.
In a brief speech at the unveiling this week, Wynn said returning the vases “back to Macau and China, where they originally had their roots and story” is a continuation of his company's policy "of adding to the cultural enrichment of our community here in Macau." As Wynn added, “This pristine quartet of Buccleuch vases has tremendous artistic and historic value, and we are proud to have them on display in our resort lobby, for the Macau community and our visiting guests." The vases will be displayed at the Wynn Macau until around 2015, at which point they will be moved to the to-be-constructed Wynn Cotai.
Wynn and Edmund Ho Hau Wah present the four antique vases at the Wynn Macau
While the unveiling of these vases may come across as just another PR stunt among many in the former Portuguese colony, Wynn's cultural activities are all part of a broader strategy of boosting the city's draw as a tourist, rather than simply gambling, destination. The number of arts events and exhibitions held in Macau is steadily growing, and new resorts like Lui Che Woo’s Galaxy Macau have worked hard to entice multi-day tourism via non-gaming entertainment, but efforts to foster more and better arts infrastructure in Macau are still generally overshadowed by those in neighboring Hong Kong.
Though money continues to pour into Macau -- gaming revenue rose 46 percent in the first nine months of this year to 194 billion patacas (US$24 billion) -- the question remains, as Jing Daily asked in July, what will it take for Macau to become a more attractive cultural destination? Will it be driven more by the high-profile purchases of Macau business figures and collectors like Steve Wynn and Stanley Ho, both of whom have spent millions bringing Chinese art and antiques back to the former colony? Or will the responsibility lie on Macau’s young artists and curators to build a thriving cultural atmosphere virtually from the ground up?