An untitled painting by Zeng Fanzhi
In recent years the market for Chinese contemporary artists has been hot in the global art market. Many of the top selling Chinese artists were virtually unknown before the Chinese art market boom at high profile auction houses and art fairs. Successful Chinese contemporary artists, such as Zeng Fanzhi, reaped what quick fame and fortune offers to artists who dominate the global art market. Due to global success artists from Shanghai and Beijing have been able to operate large studios in order to create further work. However, success can be fleeting-- these artists are now caught in what has been described as the “downward spiral” of the contemporary Chinese art market.
Galleries and art dealers in Shanghai and Beijing are facing some of the same struggles that galleries in New York City and other hubs of the art world have been challenged by in recent months. At the core of the plight is the ongoing global financial crisis. Art collectors worldwide are not as wealthy as they were just a year ago-- thus, aspects of the art market have been caught in a financial freeze, so to speak. Prices for art have dropped rapidly-- meaning the value for specific artists may be in limbo. In other words, high profile collectors are wary to invest in an uncertain global art market.
Chinese contemporary artists who were steadily patronized over the last few years are now faced with the humble reality that perhaps their art will falter within the global art market. Even the top auction houses, such as Sotheby’s, have been reluctant to spotlight Chinese contemporary art in recent months. This has lead insiders to suggest that the era of high-priced Chinese contemporary art is over. Rumors suggest that the market for Chinese contemporary art may bottom out before the global economy recovers. Thus, the fate of these artists within the global art market is not clear.
The surge in popularity for Chinese contemporary art among wealthy global art collectors-- such as Charles Saatchi-- came without warning. Artprice.com only listed one Chinese artist on their Top 10 best-selling living artists list in 2004. By 2007, 5 of the 10 best-selling living artists at auction were from China according to Artprice.com. The most acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist for that year, Zhang Xiaogang, had total auction sales of over $56 million.
Zhang Xiaogang ranked under Damien Hirst and Gerhard Richter in 2007-- two artists who have long dominated the global art market. The rise of Chinese contemporary art came swift. Unfortunately, the crash of the Chinese contemporary art market in the last year came just as sudden. It begs the question-- will any Chinese contemporary artists remain on the Artprice.com best-selling list of living artists after 2009? Who knows what will happen in this turbulent market.
Some feel that the bust of the Chinese contemporary art market was needed in order to sustain the validity of the market for Chinese contemporary art as a whole. Wealthy art collectors and art dealers, such as Charles Saatchi, had artificially driven up prices by investing heavily in art by Chinese contemporary artists-- according to some insiders. Other high profile art collectors and art dealers followed suit in what I like to call the ‘Keeping up with the Saatchi’s' effect.
A few of these individuals were quick to open galleries in China in order to take advantage of the flow of wealth-- now gallery doors are closing. Needless to say, some individuals feel that the artificial rise of specific artists-- not just Chinese contemporary artists-- within the global art market must come to an end in order for the global art market to have a steady business foundation that places integrity and sustainability above excessive personal gain.
Thus, it is felt that art dealers-- in general-- must take more responsibility within the global art market by helping their represented artists sustain the market for their work in a realistic manner. For example, art collectors/dealers who artificially increase prices may need to be avoided if the global art market is to have a strong foundation. Unfortunately, many artists throughout the world will fall victim due to key art world power players who have already manipulated the market for their own needs. The global art market as we know it will never be the same. Integrity is due.
Link of Interest:
China’s Art Market: Cold or Maybe Hibernating? By David Barboza -- The New York Times
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