Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Art For Sale

Shanghai: the bustling and glamorous retail and commercial hub of China. Shopping centers dominate the cityscape; international designer brands from Gucci to Cartier have giant flagship stores here; Shanghai is a place to spend big and small money can be found on every corner.

The Art For Sale exhibition in 1999 addressed this very issue of consumerism in Shanghai. Unlike any exhibition seen in Shanghai at the time, Art For Sale was a collaboration of more than 30 different artists from around the country and took more than half a year to complete. The exhibition was held at a supermarket on Huaihai Zhong Road, a famous shopping district in the heart of Shanghai. Each artist was asked to create a piece of art, and then package and label it, and recreate dozens of these individual pieces for sale at the market.

The concept of Art For Sale was to overturn the ordinary relationship between art and the public. Unlike most art exhibitions held in galleries and museums, Art For Sale was held in a supermarket, a setting that is a part of every person’s daily life. By bringing art to a public space like a supermarket not only challenged the concept of what is art viewing, but also stressed the concept of art as a commodity. Row after row of products, shopping baskets and store clerks, completed the feel of a supermarket. This setup questions the role of the artist in this era of consumerism. Is art being created to be sold, or for its intrinsic value as art? Many Art For Sale artists played off this theme by creating products satirizing big brand names or the consumer culture in Shanghai. Philip Tinari also addressed this issue by pointing out that the today’s action system, in which Chinese art has had an ever growing presence, puts a numerical valuation of the worth of an artist. Is the art becoming market driven because of the popularity of Chinese art today? This is what Art For Sale questions.

Art for Sale attracted around 1,200 viewers during its three days open. In Yang’s video, they interviewed several people at the exhibition, and most said they rarely attended art exhibitions or went to museums. This exhibition was a great opportunity to enrich people about the arts who might not usually attend exhibitions. Despite some controversial pieces, the Art For Sale concept is not only thought provoking and an excellent dialogue on Shanghai’s consumer culture, but also fun and creative and appealing to the masses.

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