Home » Features » Commodifying art in China

Commodifying art in China

In this photo taken on March 24, 2016, Chinese artist Cui Ruzhao poses in Beijing.  The serenity of Cui Ruzhuo's ink landscapes is a far cry from the turmoil of China's contemporary art market. But he can bank on his own status as the country's best-selling living artist. / AFP / FRED DUFOUR / TO GO WITH AFP STORY CHINA ECONOMY ARTS SOCIAL CULTURE,FOCUS BY BECKY DAVIS

AFP

The serenity of Cui Ruzhuo’s ink landscapes is a far cry from the turmoil of China’s contemporary art market. But he can bank on his own status as the country’s best-selling living artist. Cui’s works reflect traditional Chinese forms and subjects, replete with largely monochrome mountains, lakes and trees.
Little known in the West, his works fetched a total of more than $120 million at public auctions last year, up 69 percent, even as the overall market plummeted, according to wealth publisher the Hurun Report’s newly-released China art list.
“When an artist is creating, a very important point is to definitely be sincere and responsible towards your own art,” Cui said at the launch of the document. “Do not just see your works as products,” he added. Cui is in a position where he can afford to proclaim himself on the moral high ground.
But he acknowledged that he watched the market “quite closely”, before lauding multi-billionaire art collector Wang Jianlin as a man with “personal cultivation”. Connoisseurs fear that in a system where money dominates the conversation around value, artistic quality risks being sidelined.
“China’s art market is a chaotic mess. People are always looking for a standard by which to judge works, but art isn’t like the Olympics,” said artist, columnist and curator Xie Chunyan. “You measure a long jump in metres, but art isn’t that simple — money is one metric, but it’s not the only criteria.”
Hurun Report chairman Rupert Hoogewerf said that the art list was intended as a guide for someone like him, who loves “the idea of being interested in art” but “lacks a deep understanding of it”. “These people are looking to become more educated and cultured and are looking to get into the art world,” he said of China’s nouveau riche entrepreneurs, “but where to start?”

FLYING IN CIRCLES
China’s contemporary art market is riddled with systemic flaws and inconsistencies, insiders say. The country’s system of museums remains weak, and critics are regularly offered “red envelopes” of bribe money in exchange for positive reviews, aiding unchecked speculation.
Hoogewerf admitted that the auction statistics his list depended on were “far from” perfect. “It’s well known that a lot of the auction prices might be ramped, and some of the works are never paid for at the end of it,” he said. “There are a lot of problems.”
It is a phenomenon that threatens quality and development, according to artists and critics. “An art world that focuses on money can only spit out artists of high net worth — not profound or truly great artists,” lamented Li Mo, calligrapher and history researcher at Beijing University.
“The art market and artistic creation are like two wings of a bird — if the creative wing is atrophied and the money-making one is strong, our art world can only fly in circles.”

TEST OF TIME
Auction sales for China’s top 100 living artists totalled $565 million last year, according to Hurun Report, down 45 percent on 2014. The fall was largely due to a collapse in volume, rather than average prices, with 6,863 works auctioned over the course of the year, compared to 15,921 in 2014.
China’s contemporary calligraphy and painting business remains immature and subject to individual distortions, said long-time art analyst Qi Jianqiu. The “deformed market” of years past, he said, was based heavily on gifting practices and had been hard hit by slowing economic growth and an anti-corruption campaign under President Xi Jinping.
But according to art critic and ink painter Zhang Zhaohui, some artists’ sales values rose “because they have good relations with bureaucrats and the wealthy”.
“They aren’t in fact very good artists, but they work their network of relationships — perhaps using only 10 percent of their energy and brainpower on painting and 90 percent of their energy on making use of those relationships.”
Even so, he said, the long arc of art history would establish the difference between price and genuine artistic value. “History is like a sieve — it will always filter out works that do not stand the test of time, while the truly good works will be gradually passed down through generations.”

epa03413400 A visitor looks at paintings of Chinese artist Chen Chengqi in his exhibition 'In the First Gleam of Day' at the National Museum in Beijing, China, 28 September 2012. The exhibition showcases 60 pieces of work by the renown oil painter Chen Chengqi depicting historical scenes of the the Chinese communist revolution led by leader Mao Zedong with the promotion of Xibaipo spirit as the theme and the horrors of Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s to 40s. Xibaipo is a village in Pingshan county on the eastern side of Taihang mountains where the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People's Liberation Army set up their headquarters in from May 1948 to March 1949 during the civil war. The exhibition is held from 26 September to 10 October as China prepares for the Golden Week of National Day holiday commencing 01 October.  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

epa03413407 Visitors look at paintings of Chinese artist Chen Chengqi showing late Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong during meetings in Xibapo in his exhibition 'In the First Gleam of Day' at the National Museum in Beijing, China, 28 September 2012. The exhibition showcases 60 pieces of work by the renown oil painter Chen Chengqi depicting historical scenes of the the Chinese communist revolution led by leader Mao Zedong with the promotion of Xibaipo spirit as the theme and the horrors of Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s to 40s. Xibaipo is a village in Pingshan county on the eastern side of Taihang mountains where the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People's Liberation Army set up their headquarters in from May 1948 to March 1949 during the civil war. The exhibition is held from 26 September to 10 October as China prepares for the Golden Week of National Day holiday commencing 01 October.  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

epa04194516 Visitors look at ink paintings on display at the National Art Museum of China as part of 'The Image of China' exhibition in Beijing, China, 07 May 2014. The exhibition, which was featured in the Grand Palais in France in the month of March, gathers select Chinese ink painting and sculpture artists.  EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA

epa05034065 A visitor looks at Colombian artist Fernando Botero's painting 'Our Lady of Colombia' at the opening of his exhibition 'Botero in China' at the National Museum of China in Beijing, China, 20 November 2015. The 83-year-old world renown artist opened his inaugural exhibition at the museum, showing 81 large format oil paintings and 15 large format drawings ranging from the 1970s to the present day. The exhibition will run until 02 January 2016.  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend