Artists in China are packing up their studios in overpriced venues such as Beijing’s 798 art district and Shanghai’s M50. For the Chinese art world 2008 has been a mixed bag. Foreign buyers are still the mainstay, and although the Beijing Olympics did bring an influx of visitors, the government’s heavy-handed dealing with visas and security meant a large number stayed away, and some resident foreigners were chased out. Some galleries and dealers are still exuberant, but many are becoming pessimistic.
Jacopo Cordero, an Italian dealer in Chinese art and owner of Shangheye Gallery, said: “This year has been good, I did €800,000 of business, but in October we had absolutely no business at all.” According to Fu Min, manager of the Korean-owned Artside Gallery in Beijing, recent sales “are not as good as before”. But despite the downturn the gallery still sold several pieces in the $60,000 range from its recent show of the artist Oh Soufan. Galerie Michael Schultz has closed its Beijing location, planning to open a new space in Beijing’s Caochangdi district next year. “We are still selling well in Germany,” Mr Schultz said.
The not-for-profit Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing has turned to commercial sponsorship, with a large-scale show in collaboration with and sponsored by Dior. Many of China’s best-known artists displayed their work intermingled with Dior’s collections and some created homages to Dior, such as Zhang Huan’s ash painting of the designer.
The mainstay of Shanghai’s art scene over the next two years will be the upcoming World Expo in 2010. Large government funds of more than $2bn will be spent on “thousands of events”, according to the organisers. The recent massive-scale Shanghai eArts Festival was seen as a precursor for this event, with large numbers of foreign artists being flown in and provided with free accommodation in government dormitories, and even their own (free) beer hall provided by the Chinese authorities. Some artists have already received commissions, such as Xiao Hui Wang, who told The Art Newspaper she has secured the Shanghai Pavilion commission.