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Chinese art market on the rise

Colored vases by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Colored vases by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

HOST INTRODUCTION: The Chinese art market has become one of the biggest in the world although serious art commercialization in China is very young. Lara McCaffrey has more. _________________

NARRATION: China’s art market has been booming the last few decades. Historian and art dealer Michael Goedhuis says greater investment in art, relative political stability and a continued respect for their culture has started a phenomenon in China.

GOEDHUIS: Chinese contemporary culture today–or Chinese society today is going through a real cultural revolution. Not a political one this time but a really cultural one. (13 seconds)

The phrase Goedhuis used, “a real cultural revolution,” refers to darker times in China: Mao Zedong’s movement called the “Cultural Revolution” launched in 1966. Mao only allowed art that aligned with the Communist vision to be produced. Artists couldn’t explore their own voice.

GOEDHUIS: Art was virtually extinguished. Artists were only virtually able to start working freely again in the 1980s. (8 seconds)

After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the economy rebounded. China was also free to be creative internally and explore Western culture.

Sound of reporter knocking on Cui’s studio door, door opening, Cui greeting reporter.

Cui Fei (SWEE FAY) is a Chinese artist living in New York City. She works in a studio in the Garment District.

CUI: After 1970s, I think China opened  doors to the West and everything comes in. So for Chinese artists, and for Chinese artists at that time they were able to learn Western art and philosophy. (14 seconds)

Countries outside of China understood the art that artists like Cui Fei (SWEE FAY) were making and wanted to buy it. The Western contemporary rules and mediums Chinese artists embraced were recognizable to the rest of the world. Cui Fei (SWEE FAY) has some of her work on display in her studio.

CUI: So I have this work, this one is bronze casting, and that’s photographs and these are photographs and this is a wire piece, all this work–even this small print–all this work is from my series “Tracing the Origin.” (16 seconds)

In this series, Cui creates forms that look like Chinese ideograms from found objects–a medium championed by Western artist Marcel Duchamp. She lines them up on sheets of paper or the wall. She distorts the figures till they’re no longer recognizable.

John Tancock is a director at Chambers Fine Art gallery in Chelsea. He says serious commercialization of Chinese contemporary art only happened in the 1990s.

TANCOCK: This started with Chinese participation in some big international exhibitions in the 90s. Then increasing commercial interest in the West. Then that was when galleries started to open in China. (15 seconds)

One of the artists that gained popularity during this time was Ai Weiwei. Ai lived in New York City for almost a decade where he became influenced by Western conceptual art.

TANCOCK: In the office we actually do have a work by Ai Weiwei. (4 seconds)

Sound of Tancock walking to his office. Runs under narration till Tancock’s next actuality.

Tancock walks to the back of the gallery where the Ai piece rests on a shelf above his desk.

TANCOCK: These… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6–7 pots are a typical work by Ai Weiwei. They are ancient pots–neolithic that are dipped in paint. (12 seconds)

Some believe that this is a form of vandalism because he’s painting over valuable antiquities. This and some of Ai Weiwei’s more political pieces provoke the communist Chinese government.

An example of a political Ai Weiwei piece is Remembering. It criticizes government actions during the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan (SEH-SHUAN), China. Authorities had tried to cover up thousands of school children deaths. Ai used children’s backpacks to create a mural to represent those killed.

Klein Sun Gallery up the street from Chambers is other New York City gallery specializing in Chinese contemporary. According to owner Eli Klein, struggles like Ai’s don’t hurt the art market of Chinese contemporary art. Ai’s political work has actually made him one of the most famous Chinese artists.

KLEIN: A lot of what you hear about how China you know coming down on their artists or censorship is a little bit exaggerated and it’s not nearly as much as a problem throughout the Chinese art market as its made out to be. (13 seconds)

Artists get in trouble when they make art that condemns the government. Otherwise the government is tolerant.

Despite this–Ai doesn’t do too badly money wise. Some of the pots he paints over are worth 1 million dollars.

And it’s not just Ai Weiwei’s art that’s worth high prices–Chinese art is getting more expensive and collectors can afford it. Klein says that collectors and artists alike are doing well financially.

KLEIN: China’s economy has contributed vastly to its success in the art market. (5 seconds)

China has been accepted as one of the most powerful countries in the world and it looks like they’re becoming one of the most powerful art centers as well.

Lara McCaffrey, Columbia Radio News.


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