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Asia Magazine《亚洲杂志》

August 16-18 1996 一九九六年八月十六-十八日刊


Asia Magazine August 16-18, 1996

Illustration of the pictures:

Cover: The Square, No.9 by Zhu Wei

P10-11: Stephen McGruinness with his Zhu Wei collection

P12: The art of Fang Lijun

P13: Painting by Zhang Xiaogang

P14: Lishan's 7 Days of the Week (top) and Wang Guangyi's Great Criticism

Art Attack: Will Contemporary Chinese Art Survive?

After the first flush of success - and excess - demand for contemporary Chinese art has softened, leading cynics to quesry its artistic value. Scarlet Cheng Reports

Whatever 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.

But after that first flush of excess, the hangover is taking its toll.

The 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.

What 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,

"There's 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."

Auctions 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 Chinese paintings.

Industry 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.

Stones 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 paintings.

Even 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."

While 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.

Contemporary 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.

Alongside 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.

Director 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 attention.

"What 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."

For 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.

Among 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.

Wang 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.

Works 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.

Chang 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, Germany.

Other 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."

Among 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.

Some 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.

In 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.

His 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.

At 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 things ."

Still 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."

Perhaps 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.

David 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 "patriotic duty".

In 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.

In 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."

McGuinness 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."

Inevitably, 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.

One 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.

Economic 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.










在第一波的成功 - 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 




令人不可思议的 - 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。


拍卖会是市场泡沫的写照 - 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。


想从这场狂热中捞一笔的中国画家的故事不胜枚举。美国画家詹妮丝-普鲁夭色说一个中国画家的纸画(区别于油画)想要卖6000美金,只是因为他听说在国外的同行们都是这个价。虽然他的作品不错,但他在海外既无名也无市 - 当然他的画也从未卖过6000美金一幅。

即便是亚洲其他的画家和评论家也觉得大陆的艺术进攻是天方夜谭。香港画家王无邪说:“中国大陆的画家变得如此商业化,什么卖钱 - 或经纪人说什么好卖,他们就画什么。”

尽管“当代”这个词被用以形容现在创作的作品,但也有人认为它不仅代表当代的创作风格,而且代表当代的思想情绪。这就把那些现实主义风格的学院派中国画家排除在外了,如陈逸飞以及他那些表现旧上海和苏州的浪漫主义作品,王沂东和姜国芳以及他们怀旧的肖像画。虽然在技术上“当代”,但一些评论家会说这些作品没有灵魂,亦不能表现新中国 - 因而也就不成其为真正的当代艺术。

当代中国艺术并不是一个新发明 - 现已六七十岁的早一代的画家们,在年轻时曾留过洋 -其表现手法非常西化且个性化。这一波画家 - 如赵无极和Walasse 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。

除了这一地区在艺术上渐趋丰富和成熟外,观察家们还将中国艺术市场的繁荣归功于大陆的开放,使得外界更容易接触到大陆艺术家的作品。其意义在于在中国这些作品 - 虽非违法但也不被接受 - 很难公开曝光,也完全没有市场。






这些政治流行作品 - 还包括冯梦波、祁志龙、张弓和朱伟 - 都很好卖。现在,小幅作品起价1000美金,而中幅作品从500030000美金不等。粗犷的颜色和线条赋予这些作品强烈的视觉效果,并且充满讽刺意味。

张想方设法让他的艺术家进入国际画展和美术馆,帮助组织在欧洲、美国、和南美的展览。去年他带领三位画家 - 谷文达、朱伟和张晓刚- 前往威尼斯双年展。去年六月多位他代表的画家参加了在巴塞罗那圣莫尼卡艺术中心举办的“中国前卫艺术15年”展览。今年张担任德国波恩昆斯特博物馆举办的名为“中国之觉醒”当代中国画家展览的顾问。





他的作品是有趣的东西方结合 - 他的人物肖像画用西方的图画感觉漫画中国的士兵和民间形象,但他画的又是水墨画。这种新鲜又似曾相识的尝试是成功的,朱伟作品的价格在两年中已经涨了67%就是证明。



恐怕只有一小部分的亚洲买家是真懂艺术且热衷于收藏的。而对大多数的暴发户而言艺术不过就是另一种装饰 - 当然升值潜力使它略微与众不同。爱国主义可能是购买中国艺术的另一个借口。




麦克吉尼斯更为实用。“大多数人依靠自己的喜好判断艺术。我也用同样的标准买古董 - 它必须美丽,必须有冲击力。”

不可避免地,尤其是在利润至上的亚洲,买家都会问作品会否升值?升值多块?虽然朱伟是个例外,基本定理是好的艺术品一定会随时间的推移而升值。经销商不会把艺术当成一种短期投资工具 - 那样会让你死得很惨 - 而会强调艺术收藏的审美价值或是精神价值。

衡量艺术品的“耐久性”的一种方法是看它的转售价值 - 一幅画再出手时能否卖到原价或更多?这需要时间来证明,因为大多数这些大陆画家的作品仍然持有在最初的收藏者手里。