Financially Strapped Son Of Heaven Organization Will Hold Liquidation Sale

The debt-plagued Son of Heaven organization, which ran up a $2 million deficit during a nine-month exhibition of Chinese art in Seattle and an additional $1.67 million loss in Columbus, Ohio, will liquidate all its assets in a Seattle sale starting today at 123 Pine St.

Those assets include such Chinese goods as porcelains, furniture, statuary, silk and jewelry that were among the merchandise in the gift shop of the ``Son of Heaven'' collection.

Browsers will not, of course, be able to purchase any of the 200 art objects that were part of the exhibition, which drew more than 500,000 visitors over nine months in Seattle and an additional 600,000 in Columbus. The art objects are back in Beijing.

According to figures released earlier this year by Elling Halvorson, chairman of Son of Heaven Inc., the sale of the gift-shop merchandise may retire an estimated $1,024,000 of the $2 million Seattle deficit. The remainder of the debt must be covered by two local sponsors, the Resource Center for the Handicapped and the Vesper Society Group.

Cash raised at the sale will go to the Resource Center for the Handicapped, toward reduction of that debt. Ironically, the Resource Center was supposed to have been a recipient of proceeds from the ``Son of Heaven'' exhibition.

Paul Reich, executive vice president of the Resource Center, confirmed yesterday that he understood ``why the problems had occurred'' with the exhibition's indebtedness, and that SOH officials ``have been straightforward about it.'' He added, ``If, for some reason, there is a profit from the liquidation sale, then it would go to us.''

That seems unlikely, however. The value of the merchandise to be liquidated has been variously given as $400,000 (by Halvorson in a report issued last January) and ``over $865,000'' (in print advertisements for the sale). In order for any profit to go to the Resource Center, the merchandise would have to be sold for an amount exceeding $2 million.

According to reports released and published at the time the exhibition closed in Seattle in January 1989, ``Son of Heaven'' had earned $600,000 in income here. In January of this year, however, Halvorson announced that the exhibition had in fact incurred a debt of $2 million in Seattle.

In Columbus, the debts will be covered by the state of Ohio and the city.

Halvorson could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But in an interview in January, he blamed the well-attended exhibition's financial losses on the political fallout from the massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square last June. Potential backers in Denver and other cities, who were considering hosting ``Son of Heaven,'' backed out because of the uncertain political climate in China, Halvorson believed. Halvorson said ``Son of Heaven'' would have been comfortably profitable if additional cities had agreed to take the exhibition.