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This article could be titled soemthing like 'Latest blog from Songzhuang artist village'. It is based on a letter and photos that I have received by an artist and friend of mine who has lived in Songzhuang artist village for several years, and who has greatly helped to make artelino's first Grand Auction of Chinese paintings (Feb 12-19, 2012) possible.
The photos show two of the participating artists, Poon Shu and Zhong Yao at work in their studios.
First Publication: January 2012
Latest Update: May 2013
Songzhuang was originally a small farmers village outside of Beijing. In the 1990s the first artists began to settle in the village, rent old farmhouses and establish studios. Later more artists flocked in. Developers or artists who had become rich bought land from the farmers to build studios. Today some 6,000 to 7,000 artists live in Songzhuang artist village including such famous names like Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun.
Songzhuang Artist Village has become the largest artist community in the world. And it may also be the most dynamic and vibrant one with some of the best artists worldwide, famous and unknown, Chinese and foreigners, working and living side by side.
In today's China there are basically two kinds of artists. One are called 'in system artists', and the others 'outside system artists'. The 'in system artists' have a fixed job and salary working at universities, art academies or government artists associations and institutions. These 'in system artists' are a remnant from the old system of a government-controlled art system.
The 'outside system artists' are freelancers, artist professionals who somehow have to make a living by selling their art works. Needless to say that life is a bit tougher for most of them. Most artists who live in Songzhuang Artist Village belong to the 'outside system artists'. But also artists with fixed salaries have established studios in Songzhuang.
The social structure of Songzhuang reflects China's society. There is a huge gap between the rich, successful artists like Fang Lijun, and the poor, struggling artists.
The middle class is rare. The successful artists could buy farm land to build huge personal studios. And the poor artists are glad to cover their basic needs, pay the rent and have enough money to buy canvas and painting material.
With so many artists living in this place and more still coming every day, one may ask why do they come to Songzhuang?
First, there is the dream of becoming famous and rich. It is the same dream that lead ten thousand of American settlers to come to California and later to Alaska to dig for gold. It is the same dream that made artists flock to Montparnasse in Paris during the Belle Epoque of the 19th century.
But maybe even more important is the fact that the artists enjoy a relatively free life style in Songzhuang. And many are willing to make economic sacrifices for a life as a freelance, independent artist.
But this is just one side of the coin. If you do not have a regular job in China, you do not have health insurance for instance. If someone becomes seriously ill and cannot afford the hospital, the person can only hope that his friends and neighbors around him donate money for him/her.
There are lots of stories like this. And while this situation is not completely unknown to Americans, for Chinese people who have grown up in a Socialist society, it is a new challenge.
Apart from all problems, there remains a hard fact. There are a lot of excellent artists at Songzhuang. They have high skills and most of them work very hard.
For instance, the young artist Poon Shu who participated in artelino's first auction of Chinese paintings says that she works more then ten hours every day.
As I mentioned before in other articles about the Contemporary Chinese art market, the prices that you have to pay for works by most artists in Songzhuang are inexpensive compared to insternational standards.
The challenge for art collectors/buyers is to find the 'right' artists.
Today's China has an abundance of excellent arts and excellent and talented artists. But it has s lack of channels to make the artists' works known and finding collectors and art buyers outside of China.
It is hard to believe even for me. but this is indeed one of the major reasons why many Chinese artists are quite happy to have a possiblity to expose their works outside China, even on such a small and relatively unimportant online platform like artelino. This took me a while to understand.
The Chinese art market is just beginning with only ten years of history. And the boom set in as late as 2005.
No wonder that China's art market still has a few problems to solve. The biggest problem is the lack of rules. Auction houses sell fake works. Investors, art critics and artists cooperate to manipulate prices. Too many hunt for making money fast in today's China.
This is a challenge for art collectors who are mesmerized by contemporary Chinese art and want to buy. I can only advise to buy from a source that you trust.
By the way, such things are by no means limited to China. In 2010, the German art market was rocked by an art fake scandal of gigantic dimensions. Wolfgang Beltracci, a highly talented painter had made perfect fakes of German expressionists and other famous artists like Max Ernst.
The overall damage was roughly 100 million Euro. The works had been sold at several renowned, well-known auction houses as well as galleries with expertises by some of the best art experts in their fields.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
.. more about Dieter Wanczura
(This article is based on a letter that I received recently from a good artist friend of mine from Songzhuang artist village.)
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Works by emerging Chinese artists in BUYDIRECT.