Saatchi buys; China sells (out?)

Catching up on reading over the weekend I saw an article on Guardian Unlimited on the state of the Chinese Contemporary market, highlighting Charles Saatchi’s moves in the sector. The quote that stuck in my mind was this from Brian Wallace of Beijing’s Red Gate Gallery:

“If you were in it for the money 10 years ago, you would be very well off today. But it is not easy. With all the new entrants into the market, more galleries are taking up more artists. So the overall quality is not as high as before. There are many good artists out there, but a lot of them are now painting for the market – even some of the big names.”

There are parallels with a previous thread about young artists being exposed to buyers too early and having their content and ‘language’ skewed to attract more money. At the moment the Chinese Contemporary market as a whole seems to be acting like a money hungry new art graduate: more concerned with producing work that buyers have shown they will buy, than trying to say anything new. This is, fortunately, not entirely true, but it is certainly the impression one gets from wandering around the galleries.

3 thoughts on “Saatchi buys; China sells (out?)”

  1. Who are the exceptions to the rule and why? When Eastern Europe and Russia were coming out of their dark times the first crop of artists were often fairly weak visually and derivative of Western art trends, especially Pop art. Western collectors latched on to the Pop material because they could understand it and it had the frisson of dissent. Now artists are finding their own voice. Is this happening in China? Who is exercising quality control?

  2. Who is exercising quality control? No-one. Some gallerists try to control the quality, work flow and prices of the artists they represent, but it is an uphill battle in this mad rush for riches, and loyalty levels from artists are low. Even amongst the big name galleries.

    I think Urs Meile does a good job, amongst the foreign owned galleries, in sorting wheat from chaff. But he is not immune from price inflation. And there are others trying to encourage young artists to think more about the content of their work, and less about the prices they might be able to charge. But this is a hugely materialistic new society and everyone thinks about money all day long. So it is pretty hard to make anyone focus on the long term development of their oeuvre right now.

    We need a serious market correction to calm it all down. But I don’t see it happening. There is too much money around.

  3. Fabien Fryns of F2 Gallery in Beijing emailed us this:

    What one sees in China right now happens in the Western art market, too. China is currently more scrutinized and criticized, due to its meteoric rise on the international stage in the past 2 year, a rise that is looked upon by many with bemusement. I know of a few successful Western artists who set up studios in Beijing employing 20 or 30 young Chinese painters to do painstaking backgrounds and in some cases even entire works.

    What are the intentions of Mr Saatchi as far as Chinese art is concerned? The collection posted on his web site is far from being impressive. There does not seem to be a concept at all, and it does not reflect the current state of contemporary art in China. I hear that Mr Saatchi has no interest whatsoever to come to China. I hear many stories of artists being approached by so-called “scouts” that claim to be buying for Saatchi. Unfortunately, some of the artists sell work to these people only to find out that it is immediately consigned to the next auction! From my limited experience, I sense that many Chinese artists have been duped by western “collectors” for quite some years.

    Can you blame the artists who are only trying to meet demand for as long as demand will keep up? I am not saying that I agree with these tactics or approve of the current situation. It is very difficult for galleries to operate in this current climate and, like some other gallerists with long-term perspectives, I cannot wait for things to calm down … but with the Olympics on the doorstep, it is anyone’s guess when that will occur.

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