of the pictures:
The Square, No.9 by Zhu Wei
Stephen McGruinness with his Zhu Wei collection
The art of Fang Lijun
Painting by Zhang Xiaogang
Lishan's 7 Days of the Week (top) and Wang Guangyi's Great Criticism
Attack: Will Contemporary Chinese Art Survive?
the first flush of success - and excess - demand for contemporary
Chinese art has softened, leading cynics to quesry its artistic value.
Scarlet Cheng Reports
happened to the art attack of the early 1990s? For a while, it seemed
that Asia's nouveau riche had decided to collect all seriously along
with diamond-crusted Rolexes and Italian sports cars. Hong Kong, always
on the scent of the rich and famous, saw galleries mushrooming
overnight. Art openings and auctions became chic gathering spots for
yuppies and socialites.
after that first flush of excess, the hangover is taking its toll.
first major international art fair in the region was Art Asia, held in
Hong Kong in November 1992. Seventy-two galleries from around the world
participated: the exhibition attracted 40,000 visitors and made an
estimated US$40 million in sales. Between 1992 and 1994, record prices
were set for works by hitherto unknown mainland artists. The most
spectacular overnight success story was that of Liu Yuyi, whose oil
painting Song of the Goddess Nuwa fetched a record HK$8,888,888 (US$1.15
million) at Art Asia '94.
is staggering -- or outrageous, depending on your point of view - is
that mainland artists who have burst on to the international art scene
only in this decade are commanding price tags the equivalent of David
Hockney or Jim Dine, artists who have had international careers spanning
several decades. Indeed, this explosion of interest in contemporary
Chinese art has led many art experts to caution buyers against being
taken in by the sizzle rather than the steak,
a great deal of interest in contemporary Chinese art, but it tends to be
trend-driven," admits Stephen McGuinness, director of the Plum
Blossoms Gallery of Hong Kong and Singapore. "People tend to go hot
and cold very quickly."
give a good reading of the volatility of the market -- Christie's Hong
Kong autumn 1995 auctions were dismal, with total sales for contemporary
Chinese art fetching only HK$4.38 million - a third of the amount
achieved during its spring auction in 1992, the beginning of this
Chinese art boom. However, this year's spring sales have seen the market
bounce back, with a total of HK$7.63 million generated from contemporary
observers regard the cooling down of art fever as a positive
development. "We were on a binge, with prices that were highly
inflated for less than outstanding art," says a gallery owner. This
slowdown, he says, will sort out the wheat from the chaff.
abound of struggling mainland artists with an eye to the main chance who
have tried to cash in on the frenzy. American artist Janis Provisor
tells of one mainland artist who wanted to sell his works on paper (as
opposed to canvas) for US$6,000 because he had heard that was what
people abroad were getting. Although the artist produced good work, he
had never established a reputation or a market outside China -- and
certainly had never got anything close to US$6,000 for any of his
other Asian artists and critics find the mainland art attack a
distortion. Hong Kong artist Yank Wong says: "Mainland Chinese
artists have become so commercial. They've just doing what sells - or
maybe what their dealers tell them sells."
the word "contemporary" is broadly used to describe art that
is being produced today, some use it more specifically to designate art
that employs not only contemporary styles but expresses contemporary
sentiments. This more stringent definition would exclude those
academy-trained Chinese artists who paint in a Realist manner, such
artists as Chen Yifei and his romanticized paintings of Old Shanghai and
Old Suzhou, Wang Yidong and Jiang Guofang and their nostalgic
portraitures, While technically well-executed, some critics would say
these paintings have no soul and do not express the new China -- and
thus are not truly contemporary at all.
Chinese art is not a recent invention -- an earlier generation of
mainland artists, now in their 60s and 70s, traveled abroad in their
younger days and picked up Westernised -- and highly personalised --
styles of artistic expression. This group -- artists such as Zao Wou-ki
and Walasse Ting -- has been producing contemporary art for decades. Yet
the market for contemporary Chinese art in Asia is a recent development.
Half of the dozen or so galleries in Hong Kong which specialise in
contemporary Asian art have been set up since 1992.
the increasing affluence and sophistication of the region, observers
credit the Chinese art market boom to improved access to the mainland,
thus helping to expose the works of Chinese artists to a wider audience.
This is significant because in China these works -- unsanctioned though
not illegal - are rarely shown publicly and have virtually no market.
of Hanart TZ Johnson Chang, is one of Hong Kong's gallery owners who has
helped establish an awareness of cotemporary Chinese art abroad. In
1993, Chang and mainland art critic Li Xianting, staged a landmark
exhibition featuring 200 works by 51 mainland artists. The show, China's
New Art Post-1989, took place in Hong Kong and attracted an avalanche of
prompted me to do this show was that I thought Chinese contemporary art
on the mainland had reached a maturity," says Chang. "Even if
some were using borrowed language [Western styles of arr, they were
using it in a way which is significant and coherent."
Chang, who has become both aesthetic champion and commercial promoter,
significance comes from "some rich living experiences",
resulting in creating works relevant to one's society or environment.
the younger generation of mainland artists, "Political Pop"
emerged as the style that seemed most coherent and accessible. These
prints and paintings interweave images of Mao Zedong, PLA soldiers and
revolutionary ballets with Western consumerist icons such as product
logos, video games, women in bikinis, Coca Cola cans, and Mickey Mouse.
Guangyi, for example, took Cultural Revolution posters of heroic workers
and soldiers and placed them alongside logos for Nikon cameras and
Swatch watches. Yu Youhan painted portraits of Mau Zedong against a
backdrop of kitsch floral patterns.
of Political Pop - which include also Feng Menbo, Qi Zhilong, Zhang
Gong, and Zhu Wei -- have sold well. Today, small works start at
US$1,000 with medium-sized paintings selling for US$5,000 to US$30,000.
Because of their bold colour and line, these works have a strong graphic
appeal. They also carry a satirical edge.
has campaigned energetically to get his artists into major international
art shows and museums, helping to organize exhibitions in Europe, the
United States and South America. Last year he took three Chinese artists
-- Gu Wenda, Liu Wei, and Zhang Xiaogang -- to the Venice Biennale. Last
June a number of his artists were included in "Fifteen years of the
Chinese Avant-Garde" at the Santa Monica Art Centre in Barcelona,
Spain. This year Chang was adviser to a show of contemporary Chinese
painters, "China Awakes!" at the Kunste museum of Bonn,
dealers are also increasingly aware of the need for wider exposure.
Angela Ho of Ho Gallery is establishing a gallery on prestigious Madison
Avenue in New York. "It's important that Chinese artists become
international and get known by museums and so on," she says.
"Just dealing in Hong Kong, you can only go so far. Art is becoming
global, and you have to recognize that."
the artists who have demonstrated strong talent and staying power are
Wang Guangyi, Li Shan and Fang Lijun. Fang, whose work has graced the
cover of the New York Times Magazine for its story on Chinese
avant-garde artists, now sells his paintings for between US$15,000 and
US$60,000 a piece. Recently, a very large work of his was reportedly
sold in Singapore for US$ 140,000.
may look with puzzlement upon Fang Lijun's oversized paintings, usually
of a small gathering of bald men laughing and playing around against a
blue-sky backdrop. Others may read in them layers of cultural meaning
and significance. Still others may see a good buy which will increase in
value over the years.
introducing new Chinese artists, Plum Blossoms’ McGuinness has been
one of the most successful. Zhu Wei is a recent McGuinness protégé who
shows great promise. When Zhu Wei, a former PLA soldier turned artist,
first exhibited at the New Trends/Art Hong Kong fair in 1994, his works
were priced at HK$12,000.
paintings are an interesting East-West marriage -- his imagery
incorporates a sense of Western graphics in its caricatures of Chinese
soldiers and folk figures while his medium is traditional Chinese ink on
paper. This fresh yet familiar approach has gone down well, proven by
the fact that Zhu's prices have seen a 67 percent hike over two years.
his recent exhibition carry this year, his standard-sized works were
priced around the HK$20,000 mark. "Zhu Wei is unusual in that he
cuts across the board -- Western, Chinese, young, middle-aged and
old," says McGuinness. "I’ve never seen any artist that has
this kind of effect. The old people like his traditional style, his
allegories. The young ones like the punchiness, the political side of
others see Zhu Wei as typical of the new Chinese artist pushed too far
too fast. Comments Brad Davis, a noted American artist who has been
living in Asia for three years: "Zhu Wei is a very talented artist
with interesting ideas but [in the recent show] a quarter of the
paintings were substantial, the rest were all just produced for the
show. You can see that he's thinning out already."
only a small percentage of Asian buyers really understand art and are
passionate collectors. For the majority of the nouveau riche, art ranks
on the same level as a decorative ornament -- with its potential to
appreciate in value being an added bonus. For some patriotism is a good
reason for buying Chinese art.
Tang, a prominent Hong Kong businessman who boasts an extensive Chinese
art collection hanging in the exclusive China Club (of which he is a
major shareholder), admits that he buys Chinese art out of a
a market like Hong Kong where high prices are too often equated with top
quality, cynics question the value of some contemporary Chinese
paintings as lasting works of art. At this moment, few international
museums have added this art to their collections, but then it is still a
relatively new field.
assessing value and quality, Hanart’s Johnson Chang cautions against
following the market or looking strictly for "originality", a
concept which he believes has no special importance in Chinese art.
Instead he says, "If an artist has something to say which is
important, which is symbolic of his times, and which has been done in
depth, then his expression can become an icon of an age."
is more practical. "Most people judge the art by whether they like
it or not. I use the same criteria when I'm buying antiques -- it has to
be beautiful, it has to have impact."
especially in profit-obsessed Asia, buyers often ask whether the artwork
will appreciate and how quickly. Though Zhu Wei's example is an
exception, the rule of thumb is that good art will appreciate over time.
Dealers caution against treating art as short-term investment
instruments -- that could lead to grave disappointment -- and prefer to
emphasize the aesthetic or spiritual value of ownership.
measure of the "lasting quality" of art is its resale value --
can a picture fetch the same or more than what was paid for it? This
acid test will only be proved by time as many of these mainland works
are still in the hands of the original buyers.
cycles fluctuate and art trends come and go. Thus far, contemporary
Chinese art has survived and proved that is not a passing fad. It has
entered the general lexicon of culture, but the worth of individual
artists has yet to be shifted out. Meantime, art from China continues to
evolve. And like writers, artists will be documenting the monumental
social changes brought on by the dragon's awakening.
- 以及因而导致的过剩 - 之后对当代中国绘画的需求退潮了，亦使犬儒主义者怀疑其艺术价值。斯卡尔雷特-程报道
- 或曰疯狂的，见仁见智 - 是这些90年代在国际美术界初出茅庐的中国画家们的叫价竟然和戴维-霍克尼或吉姆-戴恩这些在国际画坛纵横几十年的画家比肩。这种对当代中国艺术的兴趣爆炸确实促使一些艺术评论家警告买家们不要光为声势所夺。
- 香港克里斯蒂95年秋拍会一片愁云惨雾，当代中国美术品总成交额仅只438万港币 - 仅及高峰时的92年春拍会的三分之一。不过今年的春拍会有所回升，总成交额达到了763万港币。
Ting - 经已从事当代绘画几十年了。但是在亚洲当代中国美术的市场确是刚刚形成。在香港12个左右的专营亚洲当代艺术的画廊有一半是1992年才成立的。