Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Word of Optimism

Let's go back to take a look at what I was talking about in my last posting. I still feel that a bit of caution is necessary in dealing with the Chinese art market, but things are still going well. The Sotheby's auction actually went quite well, and prices stayed quite high. One example, Zhang Xiaogang, saw a single painting from his much sought after Bloodlines series sell for HKD 42 million.

I still see a bubble looming on the horizon, but whatever happens, Chinese art is here to stay. One of the biggest reasons for optimism is that the Chinese themselves are starting to acquire a taste for art. We're starting to see more local collectors, and they're more than just a bunch of successful artists buying each others' works. That's a good sign, as the political situation in the past allowed Chinese contemporary art to explode without causing even a blip on the local cultural radar. Foreign collectors were snapping everything up, and most of the locals were none the wiser. We're even seeing homegrown corporate and institutional investment in art, thought that's still in its infancy. One of the most promising new developments is the arrival of homegrown non-profit art organizations and events, which is absolutely necessary if we're to see a renewal of dialog between artists and the society around them.

The scene in general is slowly growing beyond a simple market organization. Beijing's 798 Art District is now home to two large art centers, the Ullens Center (founded by a big-time European collector) and the Iberia Center (founded by the International Art and Culture Foundation of Spain). Though foreign, these two institutions are more focused on exhibitions, education and outreach than pure sales. In fact, they're not selling, at least not the stuff they exhibit. Overall that's a good thing, but the fact that 798 and a lot of the other art districts are located on the edges of this sprawling city guarantees that the Chinese art scene will remain an insider game for a long time.

opening day at the Iberia Center

I was quite impressed the other day when I attended the Iberia Center's opening exhibition. They've rounded up a lot of talent, leaning towards younger, more adventurous curators and organizers. Another good sign is their film center, which will house a media archive, studio and screening room for independent documentary film. To make this happen, they've tapped Zhang Yaxuan, who is definitely one of the most knowledgeable and active figures on the scene. I met her a long time ago at Yunfest, and I'm really glad to see that someone's willing to give her the money and resources she needs to take things to the next level.

There are still a lot of problems with the art scene, and I could make a long, boring list of them (and don't worry, I will keep ranting in the future), but I think they all boil down to a single problem, which is that they've never seen a bubble. Bubbles happen all the time in New York, London and Paris, and eventually people pick up the pieces and wise up a bit. It's a necessary process that weeds out the bad seeds every once in a while. But the more I look into it, the more I'm convinced that this run still has some legs. There are a lot of collectors who are just getting into the market, and a lot who haven't made it out yet. Just as with everything else in China, everyone wants a piece. Hopefully things won't get too out of hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

I came across your blog while researching a documentary film I'm developing. I'm a documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY -- if you want to check out my work, you can visit (, I'm partnering with Yu Ying Wu Chou on this project, she edited the PBS/Frontline series Country Boys (

We're documentary portraitists - we craft intimate portriats of women over time. For the past few months we've been researching a new film about young urban women in China. We made our first research trip to Beijing in March and will return to China in September, this time we'll visit Kunming as well (which is how/why i came across your blog).

So much has been written/researched about the one child generation, particularly about the "Little Emperors," but we're most interested in the new opportunities and realities for young women in China. We find the story of the women of the one child generation to be pretty fascinating - they're the first generation of girls in Chinese history to be the sole focus of not just their parents but their extended family's life - with all the parents attention and future prospects resting on these girls shoulders. It engenders a different sense of self and of possibility, even if parents are ambivalent about having a girl.

We're eager to meet single young woman roughly between the ages of 23-32 who might fit the bill as a documentary subject. We plan to make an intimate portrait of a young woman over the course of one to two years, making aprox 4-5 trips per year, each trip lasting 1-2 weeks. We'd like to craft a full portrait of the woman's life - as full as is possible - including her friends, family, and workplace. The film would mainly consist of the reality of her everyday life, augmented with interviews -- so we'd be filming her as flies on the wall during her everyday life.

The film would detail the complicated reality of life for young urban women -- the excitement of the manifold possibilities for them, the hard reality many of them face in terms of having to support their parents or in terms of struggling to figure themselves and their own futures out -- so we can give Americans a much richer portrait of the growing middle class than anything they've seen.

The most important qualities we're looking for are charisma, comfort in front of the camera, openness, and good self-awareness. We're totally flexible as far as interests/background. Our goal on the next trip is to meet as many women as possible, the more the better.

All this is an extremely long introduction! I hope that the project piquest your interest. I'm trying to reach out through the internet to people who live or have lived in Kunming in an attempt to make contacts there for the film. If you have any recommendations of people we should contact there, we'd be incredibly grateful -- either for women who might be potential subjects for the film, or for people who might be able to introduce us to women. Beijing is a great town, but I lived in SE Asia for a few years and I'm eager to visit Kunming, particularly because of the city's ethnic diversity - we think it could add a fascinating dimension to the film.

All my best,
Marlo Poras


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