|Chinese Art||Sign In | Register | Contact us | New User?|
If you are interested in Asian art you certainly have read about the hype of contemporary Chinese art - the fastest growing art market in the world, and record prices for Chinese art works. What is it all about? And is it a good idea for art collectors outside China to buy contemporary Chinese art?
In the first part of this article the author gives a short overview on contemporary Chinese art. In the second part you get some practical advice about buying and investing in Chinese art.
The images on this page show paintings by some of the contemporary Chinese artists who took part in artelino's first Grand Auction of contemporary Chinese paintings, Feb 12-19, 2012.
First Publication: February 2012
Latest Update: May 2013
In the early 1980s, after the turmoils of the Mao era had slowly disappeared and economic reforms had set in, also China's artists suddenly experienced a new era of limited liberalism. Basically, they could paint and draw what they wanted as long as they did not challenge the supremacy of the Communist party.
Soon a dynamic art scene developed - based on an excellent art training with an established system of academies kept alive from the era of social realism and the revitalization of old, traditional Chinese art, including folk art.
By and by Chinese artists have attracted the attention of Western art critics and collectors with fresh and genuine art works, pretty different from everything seen in the international art market before. Chinese artists mix Western techniques with Chinese subjects, traditions and skill. But they went even further. Chinese artists have developed new and specific Chinese art movements.
The period of contemporary Chinese art has produced several art movements since the 1990s. These movements have been independent from the international art scene and deal with the recent past of the Mao era or reflect the condition of a rapidly changing Chinese society. Roughly 3-4 art movements have emerged.
Cynical Realism is a reaction to the political events after 1989 and the impact of the massive Westernization and all the madness and spiritual emptiness that came with this new era. Artists use the methods of irony and satire. Fang Lijun with his grimace making bald male characters is a typical representative of this art movement.
Political Pop is a bit similar to Cynical Realism. Subjects from the Mao era are displayed in a somewhat weird way that was not known before and that is inspired by the American pop art movement of the 1960s.
The Vulgar Art movement came after Political Pop. These artists avoid the symbols of politics and ideology. Instead they draw some visual elements from the everyday life of masses to express their attitude. But in reality it is a kind of bitter irony masked behind silliness. Vulgar Art takes some typical elements from Chinese folk art. A typical representative of Vulgar Art is Liu Kinwah.
Cartoon Generation or Comics Art Movement is the latest movement after 'Political Pop' and 'Cynical Realism'. This art is practiced by very young artists who were born after the Mao era. These kids represent the 'New China'.
These artists are paying more attention to the feelings of young, urban individuals and focus on their daily lives. In their art works they use icons from the world of computers and the internet. Typical for this movement are artists like Wang Ka or Poon Shu.
After 2005 a huge hype for contemporary Chinese art erupted, visible by spectecular auctions held by Christie's, Sothebys and others in Hongkong, London, New York and elsewhere. This sudden wave had been expected by some experts, but the speed and the impact surprised many. Soon other aucton houses and many galleries tried to jump on the band waggon.
Suddenly five Chinese artists ranked among the top ten most expensive artists next to such names like Gerhard Richter or Damien Hirst. Mostly speculators peid six and even seven digit dollar amounts for works by artists like Zhang Xiaogang or Fang Lijun who had been completely unknown a few years ago. And even lesser known painters could sell their works well during this bubble phase of contemporary Chinese art. Mostly paintings were in the focus of art buyers.
But then came the abrupt cooling down phase in autumn of 2008 with the world-wide financial crisis and the following world recession. The Chinese art market made no exception. Many galleries in Beijing and Shanghai had to close down.
Although the domestic Chinese art market had felt the impact of the world financial crisis, the effect was not as strong as in the U.S. and in Europe. In 2011 the Chinese art market has recovered and found back to its old strength without the exaggerations of the previous bubble phase.
Especially the Chinese auction houses are doing well and achieve high prices for contemporary art. The Chinese speculators have come back! But overall, the Chinese art market is a new and not yet very canonical market with a lot of problems.
The major demand for Chinese contemporary art omes from the rich Chinese. Most of them are not collectors with a sense for good art, but speculators. They want to make money fast. Therefore they concentrate on artists that are already famous, and thus drive prices upward for a small handful of artists.
When one speaks about the Chinese art market, mostly paintings are meant. Let me discuss at this point about a very special market, the market for art prints like lithographs, silkscreens, woodblocks or other printmaking techniques.
Since the 1980s Chinese artists have created great art prints. But the market has been very small and weak compared to paintings. The reason may lie in China's past. Most Chinese do not know what limited editions and signed art prints are. They consider them a kind of posters.
In recent years next to the printmaking market for original, creative printmaking, one for reproductions of paintings by famous artists has developed. They are usually made in silkscreen technique in printmaking workshops, not by the artists. The artists only sign the finished impressions.
By the way, these reproduction prints are very expensive, often several thousand dollars. I do not think this is real, creative printmaking. But let's not sniff at it from a European perspective. Artists like Joan Miro, Chagall, Picasso or Dali did not do much better with what was sold as graphic art with their names.
In my view, the Chinese printmarket will still remain a fledgling market for many years. But once grown up, the best creative artist prints from the pioneer phase will be highly appreciated and finally sought after.
Currently, the real printmakers of China either continue because they have a safe income as teacher at the printmaking department of an art academy, or they changed to making paintings.
Songzhuang (sometimes written as Song Zhuang) is an artist 'village' outside of Beijing. In the 1990s the first artists came to this little place which at that time was a small farmers village. The artists rented old farm houses to establish their studios.
Later developers bought farmland to construct houses with studios and lofts that they rented to artists. Today about 6,000 to 7,000 artists are said to live and work in this community which is developing into a kind of artist suburb with a museum, galleries, stores and avant-garde architeture next to the old factory halls.
The government has now taken control of Songzhuang and on long-term it will presumably develop into a huge commercialized art center.
Most of the Songzhuang artists work on contemporary arts, including some famous Chinese critics and artists such as critic Li Xianting, called the god-father of contemporary Chinese art, or the famous artists Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun and Yang Shaobing. But the large majority of artists does not sell their works and does not know how to do it.
You may have heard about 798 Art District. This is the gallery section in Beijing, full of tourists and hip Chinese and very commercialized.
Let me come to the central question. Is it a good idea to buy contemporary Chinese art? Let me answer with a clear 'yes'. I am sure you did not expect anything else ;-). But let me explain why I come to this conclusion. There are three reasons.
Now one by one. Let me discuss this in detail.
First of all, let me talk about quality. Have you ever been at an art gallery exhibition in your nearest town? For me it is always the same what you see. Either abstract art or sloppily created landscapes or whatever. And usually boring.
In my view there are two reasons for this low level Western art. A deficiency in academic training, and finally the fact that a Western artist cannot spend much time on a painting. If he does, it is unsellable as the price would be exorbitant. In the end, a successful average artist wants to make an income comparable to his neigbors who work as engineers, doctors or lawyers.
Chinese artists have learned how to paint. The Chinese academies are excellent. The times of social realism are still present in regards to painting or printing techniques.
You can get contemporary Chinese art works for prices considerably lower compared to the international art market. That's obvious. The general level of incomes in China is still distinctively lower than in the U.S.A. or Europe. And a struggling young artist will be willing to sell below comparable Western prices if the proceedings from the purchase enable him to pay the rent for his studio and keep him afloat for a while.
And even the established artists can keep the price level of their art works relatively low. Many of them have a low but safe state income as employees of art academies and other art institutions.
In general I do not advise to buy art under purely financial aspects. But of course, it is nice and legitimate if you find out one day that an art work that you bought ten years ago and has enjoyed you for ten years, is now worth a multiple of what you once paid.
You can judge for yourself. But in my view only something very unforeseen can prevent China from reaching a general wealth level comparable to Western countries. And this will mean a rapidly rising sales volume for the domestic Chinese art market.
But which art should you buy? And how much should you spend on a work of art? And where should you buy?
Now comes the difficult part. First of all, buy only art that you like. It should thrill you, and you should have the feeling that it is something special, well done and creative. And you should have the feeling that you buy art by an artist who has developed his own, unique style.
How much should you spend on a contemporary Chinese painting? Well, if money is none of your concern, you can bid at auctions in London, Hongkong or New York for a painting by Zhang Xiagong for one million USD or more, and hope that the price will be at 10 million a few years later. But then you are a speculator and not an art collector.
But let's assume you have a good middle class income and can spend some extra money. I think, for USD 3,000 you can get an excellent painting by a talented, emerging artist. If the format is small you pay even less. For larger paintings or if an artist has already built up a record of good exhibitions, maybe even had a solo exhibition, spending up to 10,000 USD is enough to get an excellent work of art by a promising Chinese artist.
Finally, the most difficult question. Where should you buy? This is really terribly difficult. But it may be fun at the same time. Try to find a trustworthy dealer, gallery or auction house, someone who is knowledgeable in the Chinese art scene and has built up contacts with the artists over the years.
Of course, you can also buy from an artist or in Songzhuang village directly. But if you do not have the knowledge of the market it is risky. How for instance can you recognize cheap imitation art from real art? Can you organize payment and transport without risks?
In my view, a trustworthy gallery, dealer or auction house as a mediator is the better option. But how can you find the right and trustworthy place? Well, this is the question I cannot answer you. You have to find out yourself and use your guts feelings.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
.. more about Dieter Wanczura
The images on this web site are the property of the artist(s) and or the artelino GmbH and/or a third company or institution. Reproduction, public display and any commercial use of these images, in whole or in part, require the expressed written consent of the artist(s) and/or the artelino GmbH.
Works by emerging Chinese artists in BUYDIRECT.