kenny hodgart

Undone by fake Lafite

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You can read this post at SCMP.COM –

Becoming inured to conspicuous wealth is a quirk of life in Hong Kong. Stirred into distraction near my office in Central by a revving Lamborghini or Porsche, I might well remark to myself “there goes an expensive sports car”. Having heard tell of a VIAGRA and a SATAN, I might even scan its personalised plates for some momentary amusement. But, pace their owners’ intentions, after a while these thoroughbreds of our gridlocked precincts come to seem, well, commonplace.

A Sheung Wan sidewalk stacked with cases of fine Bordeaux, long the turbo-consumer’s tipple of choice in these parts, might therefore be calculated to induce a similarly world-weary reaction. Something less passive reared in me, however, as, on a mid-day saunter, I was forced to circumnavigate easily HK$2million worth of Lafites and Latours, resting on the journey from loading van to some out-of-sight restaurant holding cell. Mingled with my excitement – at the thought of liberating a case and working a crowbar on it for a lunchtime straightener since you ask, yes – was the nagging reminder that I have some Lafite-Rothschild 1996 doing absolutely nothing for me in a cellar in London.

I don’t make up the rules; I’m just gullible enough to have invested, modestly, in fine wine when I was told it would outperform everything else in sight. If European aristocrats, the uber-charlatans who rate wine growths and multitudes of newly-minted Asians conspire to create a big fat money market in the stuff, then carpe diem, no?

Well, that was a while back now. Of late, prices at auction, for Château Lafite in particular, have sunk to at least a ten-year low on the back of President Xi Jinping turning the screw on corruption, guanxi and extravagance – his trapping of tigers and quashing of flies. Now even the tigers daren’t drink Lafite, even if it’s mixed with Coca-Cola (terribly infra dig – who’s to say the whole campaign wasn’t motivated by embarrassment, besides Xi’s thirst for power?). Or at least that’s what’s reported; I do wonder what they’re drinking at Zhongnanhai these days. And the wolves – are they to be spared?

In truth, the bottom had been falling out of the whole business for some time, owing to another facet of capitalism with Chinese characteristics: fakery. In its upward march, the country has excelled itself in many spheres, but in the standard of its fakes it is in a league of its own. Sure, the Ferraris and Lamborghinis have been easy enough to detect, but the best of the wine fakers have been so successful that they’ve fooled serious investors, auctioneers, even oenologists. It’s set some people back, myself included, but what can you do? In the purity of the deception and in the denuding of European exceptionalism, it almost merits awe.

Nobody really complains about the mass-produced but largely convincing knock-offs of Western oil paintings you can buy from Shenzhen’s Dafen Village. But then faking it, or at least repetition, is by and large the name of the game in the art racket anyway. Fear of cliché begets cliché in a world in which artists and critics collude to take themselves in – convincing themselves that they are, respectively, purveyors and arbiters of originality. It’s all so much intellectual evasion, but so long as the price tag convinces the purchaser he’s buying Art, it ticks along. And so it goes with the Lamborghini and the Bordeaux – their prestige depends on faith in the power of money itself.

By the way, marked up in a restaurant a bottle of that Lafite will still cost you HK$9,500, easy.

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