The Relationships in the Shanghai Art Scene
The contemporary art scene in China has grown in the last thirty
years. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, the art has seen a
sort of modern day renaissance. Artists are more creative and seek
that new form that will make them money. This modern day movement
elevated the level of art in China. Art in China in today's world is
very much about money. When looking at Shanghai, one finds that the
relationships in the city are important to the life of the art scene.
Artists are the creative force behind the art scene. This group is
what draws people to a particular scene. Basically, this group creates
something out of nothing. To achieve recognition artists need to go
through other channels to sell their works. Auction houses and
curators are part of the cultural elite in the Chinese art scene.
Their expertise gives followers an understanding of where the art
scene is and where it might go. Also this group gives artists and
collectors the opportunity to have greater exposure to the art scene.
Essentially, Shanghai's galleries are the middle men in the art scene.
Both artists and collectors need them to achieve access to the art
market. Finally, the art scene in Shanghai is very capitalist where
people want to buy works at cheap price then sell them for a profit.
In recent years the art scene in China has been hot. Collectors are
what fuel interest and speculation in the Shanghai Art scene. This
group has a diverse array of capital to buy all kinds of artistic
works. The relationships between the different groups in Shanghai and
China are what have driven growth in the art scene in recent years.
The first stage of the Shanghai art scene is the artists. These
people are the creative force of the art scene. Art in Shanghai is
very unique. The works are very active and in your face. They make you
think about the deeper aspects. One gets the sense that this emerged
from educational backgrounds of the artists. Many of the early
avant-garde artists read philosophy and looked to foreign artists for
inspiration. Some artists have even lived abroad like Ai Weiwei. This
generation of artists has been extremely influenced by the opening up
of China. It has allowed them to see the world outside of communist
China. Today many of the more established artists are being
criticized for creating works just to meet the demand of the market.1
The older artists are now worth a lot more. This in turn has made them
more profit oriented. In the end, people are only buying the work
because the artists name is attached. The same creativity that made
the artist sometimes is not seen.
For an art scene to be successful it needs artists who are
innovative. These artists must create works that excite collectors
while also provide buyer with a sense of value. The art scene in China
is unique because it is new and different. Many Chinese artists are
now in demand because their works edgy and are a break from the
traditional. The amazing thing about the market is that prices for
some artists just out of college can go for tens of thousands of
dollars. Only people with lots of money take part in such buys outs.
At M50, I visited the gallery, Outstanding Art. The artist displayed
at the time was Ye Sheng Qin, a young Shanghaieese woman. Her
originals started at $10,000 went to as high as $20000. Her paintings
have both a classical and contemporary tone that draws the viewer into
the canvass. Each painting has a female figure in traditional
garments. The director of the gallery Elizabeth Wu said that Ye Sheng
Qin is one of the hot artists on the Shanghai art scene. Many people
are buying her works right so not to fall behind. The price is very
expensive for the average Chinese person. Spending over $10,000 to
some in China is not a good investment. This shows that young artists
need to build a following with those who are rich. Once people start
buying works the price steadily goes up for the artist. This
capitalist system in many ways makes provides artists with the
resources to be better. With more money artists are able to afford
more amentias in which ever city they are based out of. Basically,
popularity is what gives art value. This is much like supply and
demand in business.
What will the art scene be like ten years from now? We all know
that Shanghai will be a lot different but the same could be said of
the art scene in the city. That is what draws people to the city. The
fact that Shanghai is constantly changing means that artists can take
part in the change. New artists like new buildings are emerging in
Shanghai every year. In addition, being a young artist in Shanghai is
a big plus in an art scene that has yet to identify itself with one
particular mode of style. For example, when artists are young they are
still developing their own style and technique. Younger artist usually
experiment more with their subjects. This is clearly seen in the works
of Guan Chun. Having one of her earlier works is a good investment.
Just buying anything though that is based on her designs is a form of
collecting. Today her works influence everything from illustrations to
toy designs.2 Her works a 3D quality that is edgy. This is clearly
seen in the speakers she helped designed that provide the owner with a
visual display of her style. When looking at her works one can tell
that their audience is primarily aimed for a younger crowd. As an
illustration, her works are very cartoony and have crazy designs that
can been seen in many anime shows. This kind of energy is what makes
contemporary art market so fascinating. The artists who are helping it
develop the art scene are in the early stages of their own careers. As
a result, buying their earliest works can be great investment for the
future. When a collector buys a work they hope that the value of the
artist will increase overtime. In the end, artists need to create
products that their audience will enjoy.
Creating artwork just like judging it is very personal
experience. The artists that now grace the Shanghai art scene are
known for revolutionary attitudes and ability to hide it in their
works. Guan Chun's works have been very hard to censor because her
designs hide the social and political commentary. Artists today are
pretty much savvy enough to know how to stay under the government
radar but still create a product that is an eye opener for viewers.
For the longest time people associated Chinese art with the propaganda
posters of the Cultural Revolution. These works were very controlled
and did not show any characteristics of personal creativity. Today,
Shanghai is filled with all kinds of artist. Some are aspiring; others
are struggling while the lucky ones have enjoyed the success that has
been changing life in China.
Why are cities like Shanghai and Beijing leading the art
movement in China? The major cities of China are sources of financial
capital. Moving to cities gives artists the chance to make their
artistic brand better. More importantly, major cities give artists
access to wider audience that would be unavailable in other places in
China. The people who visit and live Shanghai come from all over the
world. When interviewing Martin Kemble of the Art Labor Gallery he
said that "Well, expats or locally based foreigners are clearly
playing a major role in the art scene, many of the galleries are run
by or owned by foreigners, and the Chinese art scene people aren't
that thrilled by that fact I think. Even the major art fair is run and
curated by a team of foreigners, which to me is amazing. But the point
is to sell art and the local buyers are still at the point where they
are looking to others to see what to buy." Shanghai's ex-pat
population it seems is still beneficial to galleries who need vast
spectrum of buyers to survive in the competitive art market. Still the
best galleries in Shanghai are those that exhibit the most creative
works and provide buyers with art pieces that are of good financial
value. Even though, foreigners are the owners of most the galleries
and buy a majority of the art, the art displayed is a product of
Chinese artists. That is one category that foreigners will never
dominate in Shanghai or China.
Galleries are important institutions in an art scene because
they provide artists with a place to exhibit and sell their works.
Without galleries it would be hard for an artist to show off their
works. Those who manage galleries are just as important to the art
scene as the artists. Working in China like any job is a lot
different. Martin Kemble of Art Labor said that "It is not that
controlled, though there are certain topics that are obviously off
limits. One goes about setting things up the same way as anywhere,
though you would have to censor from a curatorial point of view. Also
it takes more paperwork to get licenses. Artists enjoy all the freedom
they want to make art that the government doesn't mind them making.
Obviously we aren't living in 1968 anymore, but there is still the
bureaucracy that existed and exists again it seems."Still even under
the occasional circumstance of censorship having a good reputation is
important. Curators are representatives of the artists work by
creating connections with interested buyers and creating exhibitions
that give artist to show off their skills.
Even with all the money being made in the Shanghai art scene
it's still very small. In an interview with Martin Kemble of Art Labor
said "There are no major collectors though and if they are do come to
town they go to SHanghart and Contrasts and that is about it. We are
though, attracting more and more of the big hitters." The smaller
galleries in Shanghai it seems are starting to have a larger role.
This can be clearly seen when vesting M50. ShanghARt no longer has the
monopoly on art. Artists can find a variety of people to curate their
works and buyers can find different sections of Shanghai to find works
of art that satisfy their personal tastes.
Art Galleries are not the only source for Chinese artwork. Auction
houses in recent years have become places for collectors to acquire
the best contemporary pieces. In 2004, Sotheby's opened an auction
house in Hong Kong that was devoted to the Chinese contemporary art
scene. This form of an art market has helped increase the popularity
in the contemporary art scene. These kinds of auction houses do not
exhibit the works like galleries. Instead they provide collectors with
a place to purchase and sell Chinese contemporary works. For a
collector going to an auction house is a quick way to sell their art
investment. For an artist's going to an auction houses doesn't provide
the opportunity to show works off for long periods of time. This is
more in the case of younger artists who are still trying to creating
Once an artist has become established in an art scene going to
an auction house can sometimes bring more financial rewards. In
auction, the price is valued at a starting price. Anyone can bid on a
work. This in turn increases the value of the work. If an artist's
work become popular at an auction that usually means their other art
works will be of similar value. What this shows is that artists brand
is what drives prices in the Chinese contemporary art market. With
auction houses all over the world, Chinese artist's artworks are
reaching a wider audience of collectors. These institutions it seems
are where million dollar piece are being bought and sold. They give
wealthier collectors the opportunity to develop fortunes in the art
market. The auction market has allowed collectors who bought
particular artist early in their career to sell the work for millions.
It has also allowed collectors to make a quick profit of artwork.
Basically, auction houses are like stock markets, people come there to
find bargains and then make money from it.
Shanghai is a city that runs on money. This is a new phenomenon
but one that is having an increasing role in how things get done in
the city. Collectors who buy give life to the art scene. They allow
artists to pursue art to the next level. For the collector they hope
that a work bought will be worth more in the future. Art is like any
investment, people want to buy low and sell high. Brian Wallace of Red
Gate Gallery in Beijing said "Buying contemporary Chinese art could be
about pure appreciation, but it's also very much about making money."3
What this shows is that collectors who are in the know are pursuing
are for purely financial gain. A lot of collectors are now trying to
enter the Chinese contemporary art market to make a quick profit. From
this one gets the sense that the art scene in China is a product of
speculation. The prices of some of the more established artists like
Wang Guangyi works started in the thousands and have now reached into
the millions. This kind of monetary transition shows that buying works
in China can be beneficial to a collector.
In conclusion, the contemporary art market is interconnected by
multiple institutions. Each one institution has an important role that
keeps the market going. The artist provides the market with
creativity. They essentially create something from nothing. To achieve
recognition and financial compensation artists need to go to curators
or auction houses. These institutions marketing force behind the
artists works. They give potential buyers access to works that they
normally would never see. Though many artists produce art for love,
galleries and auction houses are institutions of profit. They want to
get the best possible price for the artwork they endorse. The last
institution is the buyer or collector. Examples of this group are
wealthy individuals or a well endowed museum. The art market is the
way it is because of this group. Collecting Chinese contemporary are
work is now the hot thing. But like all good things it could end. The
prices of Chinese art are now becoming very expensive. Right now the
biggest buyers have been foreign. What this shows is that the Chinese
can't afford to enter the game yet. Even those who are wealthy are not
sure. When the day comes that the Chinese collector has the lead as
the dominant financial force of art collecting, the art scene will be
secure. Like any bubble or form of speculation, the market could
collapse at a moments notice. Collectors hold the power to change the
market. In the end, it's the job of the artists and the galleries to
keep collectors interested in the art scene.
HSBC, Private Bank. Design and Art Advisory.
This website provides insight into the world of wealthy. This section
illustrates that even banks are providing high net worth individuals
with advice on how to enter the art market in China.
Jiao, Priscilla. South China Morning Post. May 29, 2011.
This article explains how wealthy Chinese are now entering the
Chinese art market. From this article one understands how the Chinese
market is now getting buyers from home.
Bristow, Michael. BBC News, Beijing.
This article from the BBC provides a look Chinese art market
from a financial point of view. The article mentions the how Sotheby's
has played an important role in the rise of the contemporary art
Abby Lavin, Kellie Schmitt, Stephanie Thomas and Xing Zhao. 20 people
burning up the Shanghai art scene. Cnn. May 27, 2010.
This article provides a quick look at the major figures in the
Shanghai art scene. It is helpful in finding those who are important.
But the information on each is limited. The names listed can be found
if researched on the internet.
Interview with Martin Kemble. April, 2011.
The interview with him provided insight into the Shanghai art
scene. His answers were very interesting and went against the
traditional story in Shanghai art scene.