Below is a short piece written as an overview of the Shanghai art scene, for a book to be published as a part of the St Petersburg -Shanghai twin cities project, no less.
In other news Shanghai Daily has a long feature on the 3 Shanghai Art Fairs, and hints at the growing rivalry between them. The Shangahi Spring Art Salon opens this week. The piece “Alls Fair in Love and Art” is here.
Shanghaiist has a recording in audio and video of a recent (secret) concert by Ramona Cordova at Weihai 696 here.
There are couple of pieces in Chinese here and here about 696 art event and what have you. Some nice pictures.
Shanghai’s contemporary art market
Bohemian chic and rampant capitalism meet in Shanghai’s art world
Several years ago an established western artist with a wealthy Hong Kong backer wanted to take over a chunk of the Shanghai art scene. Wandering the alleys off Suzhou Creek he excitedly looked at the possibilities: “Great, open up a gallery in one of these alleys, get in rich old ladies from New York to buy the work, they’ll love it,” he said.
His dreams of paintings walking off the alley walls has now come to fruition.
The Suzhou Creek area is home to dozens of established galleries, some from New York, and other parts of the world. Home grown Shanghai artists’ work now sells for record breaking prices- just recently Shanghai’s Zhang Xiaogang’s “Bloodline: Three Comrades” (1994), sold for $2.1 million dollars. The painting is a pensive portrait of three Communist Party cadres.
Most galleries are now clustered at number 50 Morganshan road, known as ‘M50.’ But not all artists are selling for millions of dollars, and Morganshan road sometimes takes on the nature of a fruit and vegetable market, with collectors from around the world flying in to bargain for recent art works. And Chinese collectors are still few, though growing in number.
“There are a lot of artists and few buyers here,” a government cultural employee said. “In places like Italy and Spain, if you visit an art show or fair, people really will buy works, but in China people often go instead for an educational experience. In China buyers usually go straight to the artists, which adds to the limitations on market development,” she said. This has meant very few Chinese dealers have arisen, and western dealers dominate sales - essentially because most buyers are also westerners, and the artists don’t usually speak English.
But he new hunger for Chinese contemporary art seems to be single-handedly reviving the market for realist and figurative art worldwide, with new auction records set recently for Jiang Guo Fang ($420,000), Shi Xinning ($372,000), Tang Zhigang ($360,000), Yu Youhan ($126,000), Jiang Shuo ($126,000) and several others.
Often foreign gallery reps. arrive off a plane with a week or two to curate a show, or buy a few pieces of Chinese modern art for their collection.
In Shanghai they visit Shanghart, Eastlink and the other major galleries at M50. One major western collector recently sold his collection of turner water colors for $20 million to invest in contemporary Chinese art.
The most influential critics include Zhou Qi, Wang Lin and the original “godfather of critics,” Wu Liang, who has now retired to run the gallery cum bar “Room with a View,” on Nanjing road.
“There aren’t any critics in Shanghai right now,” an artist pointed out. Some critics also sell art works.
As the line begins to blur between critics, curators and dealers Wu Liang is leading the way in establishing a wider profile. Recently Wu’s house featured in the magazine Anjia, a decoration magazine that features the homes of the rich and famous. His Shanghai gallery is focusing mostly on new unknown artists. Beijing based Zhou, famous for his wide sweeping articles, and Nanjing based Wang, who provides more intimate insights, still concentrate on more academic pursuits.
Though critics provide the intellectual qualifications, western dealers and galleries can claim to have recruited the best and most famous Chinese talent, mostly through browsing obscure exhibitions and art school degree shows, or a bit of guanxi. “Only western dealers know the tastes of foreign buyers, there are more Chinese buyers now, and young people learning how to be dealers, but it will still take several years,” said a government employee, who asked to remain anonymous.
While China herself is meeting the world with double happiness, following WTO entry, the local art scene is also becoming truly international. As the trade and cultural barriers come down there are more and more old ladies from New York arriving in Shanghai.
As China follows world trends, Shanghai is now a part of the vast world-wide art machine. This year Shanghai will host SH Contemporary, in September, which is being organized by Art Basel. This will be one of the major global art fairs. There is even a web site- www.shcontemporary.info.
A young Shanghainese lady posed the question: ‘why would anyone buy art if it wasn’t as an investment?’ And if you agree with her, well then you’d better start analysing the trends and performance of the artists readily available, and pay as much attention to their value, as you would in the stock of an up and coming technology firm. Chinese art magazines now publish artists price indexes, and you can watch artists prices in much the same way you would energy or gold shares.
Once home to China’s intellectual avant guarde Shanghai is re-gaining lost ground in the eternal struggle with Beijing’s cultural elite. Up north has held sway since at least the late seventies, and its gritty official and unofficial stamp of approval has carried more status than the more effete and materialistic South. But southern cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou are in the grips of an economic upheaval that is throwing up new money which is attracting various artists away from Beijing and supporting them through sales of new work. Economic booms and rising art movements generally go hand in hand. When there’s lots of money about creativity tends to thrive, and Shanghai and Guangzhou are awash with investment and investors. Art has yet to take on the status of real estate or automobiles, but the signs are that Chinese art in these cities is heading towards a convergence with the domestic market. Partly a question of taste, and validity, local artists have yet to fully engage their local audience. One Chinese part time dealer commented that Chinese works by famous artists sold well in New York, where he did most of his business, but complained that several students whose work he invested in had lost rather than appreciated in value. ‘They’re so lazy,’ he said, complaining at their lack of self-promotion. When asked about local Shanghainese art buying habits he just threw his arms up in despair. “Common complaints from potential local buyers tend to be along the lines of they don’t understand the work, they don’t respect it, they don’t like it, and especially its too expensive,” he said.
If you are planning a trip to Shanghai and want to include some cultural art shows check the listings on one of Shanghai’s many events news websites, such as www.8days.sh, www.smartshanghai.com or www.thatssh.com.