Paris, 29 March 2014, Art Media Agency (AMA).
Art Paris Art Fair’s final conference, entitled “France-China: The contemporary art market”, brought together a diverse panel of speakers to compare the two countries’ art scenes. Chaired by Guy Boyer, Editor-in-Chief of Connaissance des arts magazine, the panel included Frédérique Lecerf, an artist and independent curator for Franco-Chinese project Dans Quelle Vie Tu Monde(s)? (DVQTM), Céline Moine, a journalist at Art Market Insight, Stefano Moreni, Senior Director of Sotheby’s France Contemporary Art department, and Christine Vial Kayser, an independent curator and art historian.
Céline Moine provided the audience with a number of statistics, pointing out that, in terms of total sales, China overtook the US, UK, and France in 2010 – a significant feat which points to the dynamism of the country’s market. Conversation at the Paris-based event quickly turned to Chinese buyers’s preferences, with those present eager to know whether French or Chinese artists were more sought after. Moine explained that, whilst Chinese artists figure amongst the list of artists with the highest total sales in 2013, the vast majority of these have had some link with France. Four out of five of China’s highest-selling artists studied in France and, in spite or because of this, France seems to be showing a much greater interest in Chinese artists than China is showing in French. In France, over a single period of time, French collectors spent $70 million on works by chinese artists. In the same period, Chinese collectors spent $10 million on work by French artists.
Stefano Moreni talked about Sotheby’s recent sales in Beijing and Hong Kong, the latest of which realised a total of $150 million, again demonstrating the strength of the market. He also spoke of Shanghai’s emergence as a new art centre: here, Sotheby’s are testing the water, holding “sample” sales, which present a mix of jewellery, fine art, ceramics, and wine. Moreni also spoke of the relative lack of Chinese works available in the country’s market, citing turbulent periods of the country’s cultural history during the 20thcentury.
Also discussed was the rise of the Hong Kong market: whilst Beijing was traditionally viewed as the country’s cultural capital, recent attention has gravitated towards Hong Kong due to its relatively relaxed laws on importing works.Moine and Moreni also mentioned Chinese auction houses now opening offices or salesrooms in France and the United States, and houses Poly and China Guardian Auctions, which experienced significant growth in China in 2013.
Kayser then presented an overview of China’s current art market, considering aspects of its history which help to contextualise its status today. She presented a range of artists, some of whom are vastly popular in China without ever, or hardly ever, having sold in the West, including Fu Baoshi and Luo Zhongli. Describing a trend amongst Western buyers for more politically-charged art, such as pieces which make reference to the Mao era, Kayser explained that, having experienced a reactionary movement during the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese buyers are less interested in this type of art.
Boyer then asked if this meant that Western buyers were showing less interest in traditional Chinese art, or art forms which follow conventional teaching methods. Kayser responded that, in fact, it was an Imperial influence that exposed China to Western methods of painting, which were, in fact, encouraged under the Cultural Revolution. The question revealed a far more complex issue – the appropriation of materials such as oil paints have rendered it virtually impossible to distinguish between Chinese and Western techniques in artistic creation.
Talk then turned to a discussion between Kayser and Lecerf about China’s museums – Lecerf’s opinion being that the vast majority of Chinese public museums are able to be privatised: if an artist or a curator has enough money, they can monopolise the space. This concept was largely deplored by both Lecerf and the audience. Kayser agreed with this to some extent, but was keen to emphasise the fact that museums are also providing strong educational programmes on a local level. The panel mentioned projects such as K11 in Hong Kong and Shanghai, debating whether the latter represent art centres or shopping centres. Parallels were drawn between China and Japan, where wealthy collectors are building their own museums, but without a rich or large enough collection either to draw people in, or anchor the institution in the city’s cultural landscape once built.
Lecerf then outlined some of DVQTM’s projects, which aim to facilitate links between young, emerging artists from the two countries. Until 6 June, artists such as Li Wei and Jingfang Hao are exhibiting in various Parisian metro stations (line 14). Whilst she explained the project’s collaborative work with art schools, galleries, artists and art centres to promote young creation, her most interesting comments focused on Wuhan’s emergence as Central China’s third cultural city. The economic boom in China — which has seen it overtake the US in ever domain — has seen culture become a priority, with 500 new museums currently in the works. She also gave an overview to a number of China’s most exciting contemporary artists, the majority of whom were born in the mid-1970s, and are thus heavily influenced by the mass destruction and devastation of the period which they were born into.
What began as a discussion contrasting buying trends and market statistics soon became, in fact, a brief introduction to the history of art in China. The conference was largely a series of individually-delivered talks, detailing the nature of their work, without drawing any clear conclusion. In fact, when the floor was opened up to questions, talk turned towards Africa, as the next potential art market to emerge on the world scene. However, while not necessarily conclusive, the round-table proved insightful, giving a strong overview of the varied features which have contributed to China’s emergence as a leading proponent of the contemporary art market — a status clearly in evidence at Art Paris Art Fair 2014.