Late night TV in Beijing

Found myself idly channel flipping at 1am last night here in Beijing (sad I know) and came across “The Art Auction” a regular TV series covering (last night at least) a chinese contemporary art sale held recently at Poly Art Auction. The entire auction seemed to be covered (I didn’t stay to watch the whole thing) with a post-buy discussion (for each piece sold!) by a two man expert panel back in the studio. As far as I could work out with my nascent Mandarin they were discussing bid prices, people in the room and reasons for interest or lack thereof. I think this was the recent record breaking sale by Poly Art Auction. The commentators certainly seemed excited.

I mention this because it is an interesting example of the government here indirectly supporting the promotion of contemporary Chinese Art and Culture as a means of boosting pride in the country, and supporting social cohesion (through pride and nationalistic fervour) in general. Poly Art Auctions is owned by the same Chinese State Owned Enterprise that owns the Poly Art Museum (reputedly better than some of the directly state owned museums) here in Beijing. The programme, and other Chinese state owned media, cover each new record price set for a Chinese artist as an indication of the rise in stature of Chinese Art in general, paralleling the rise of China in other domains in the world. Buyers at these local auctions come from all over the Asian world (a recent record Chinese work was bought by an Indonesian Chinese businessman) but many are young succesful businessmen with new money. The heat of the contemporary market, and the source of the new money, parallels current (Art) affairs in the West. The government (indirect) support of rising prices does not. Another interesting factor in todays market bubble.

Sothebys tries talking-head video to promote sale

The Tobias Meyer video interview that Sothebys is using to promote the 14 Nov sale is interesting. Have they done one before? Interesting use of the medium; both to push the sale and to show Meyer at his (pretentious) best. Wonder how regular buyers will react? Wonder how the new buyers from Asia that he mentions will react? Interesting that he highlights their presence but makes no comment about how their new tastes may shift the market.

Has anyone done any studies on whether the arrival of successive waves of new money (US, Arab, Russian et al) have shifted the core contemporary (or classical for that matter) Art markets at all? I would guess not much. New money is often not Art informed and therefore it relies on advisors who, in turn, perpetuate the same current Artist vogues. The same Art sub-movements. The only real changes come from new gallerists if they latch on to new sources of capital, as they discover/create new artist reputations, no? I wonder if the arrival of the slightly more confident Chinese will change any of this?

Thoughts from the Shanghai Millenium

Greetings from Shanghai, where my party of journalists seem to be the guinea pigs for a new hotel here. Everything is new here, but then that’s the case all over Shanghai.

IMG_0072.JPGI came from the Singapore biennial and saw the Shanghai biennial yesterday. It’s an interesting contrast between the two. Singapore’s cultural scene is very much driven by funds from the state and local corporations (two sectors which in Singapore are functionally a single entity). The biennial was held in the former city hall courts and a military camp. We had an early-morning meeting with the National Arts Council leaders, who trumpeted their budget and exchange programs and showed us a slick video, talking about the arts using an ABC theory – “Art for Art’s Sake, Art for Business’s sake, Art for Community’s Sake.” Talking to locals, the reality is that most Singapore artists live on (often-generous) state grants. So it’s much like an extreme version of Holland in that sense – working the system is a key skill for artists, while galleries are minor players.

Except that as democracies go, Holland and Singapore could not be more different. Supposedly, Singaporean customs officials have the right to demand a drug test when you enter the country and you can get busted for Continue reading “Thoughts from the Shanghai Millenium”