Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Tibetan Mastiffs Tell Us About the Chinese Art Market

Luxury goods

Million dollar mastiffs

Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption is hitting Chinese luxury-peddlers harder than foreign ones

CHEN BINQI grows and sells abalone, a delicious kind of mollusc, in Dongshan, a seaside resort in the southern province of Fujian. He says that from 2010 to 2012 the price never dropped below 50 yuan ($7.7) for 500 grams on tomb-sweeping day, a public holiday and one of the busiest days for tourists. In 2013 it fell to 40 yuan, which meant most breeders were selling below cost. “Now it’s down to 30-something, which is unbearable.”
In the neighbouring province of Guangdong, Lin Gongxi has been carving jade for 50 years in Jieyang, China’s jade capital. When business was good, he told Southern Metropolis Daily, he used to go to bed at 2am and get up at 6am. Now he often has no work for eight days out of ten. Half the shops at Jieyang’s jade-trading centre are empty. Rents have fallen by three-quarters.

In Beijing’s Panjiayuan market, Wang Lin sells copies of Ming and Qing dynasty carved furniture. Same story. Businesspeople used to order ten-piece suites of office furniture; he sold them as fast as his carpenters could make them, sometimes faster (there was a waiting list). Now, prices have halved and he “can shift maybe a couple of chairs out of ten”.
China is the world’s biggest market for luxury goods, accounting (by some measures) for half of all luxury spending. The slowdown in the growth of China’s economy and household incomes is usually seen as bad for rich-country purveyors of luxuries such as perfumes, golf clubs, art and the like. Which it is: LVMH, a producer of champagne and handbags, recently closed three shops in China, while Christie’s annual auction of Asian 20th-century and contemporary art in Hong Kong earned only HK$508m ($66m) in November, down from HK$935m in 2013.
But the woes of Western vanitymongers are trifling compared with those of their Chinese counterparts. Prices of jade and Tibetan mastiffs, for example, have dropped by half or more. Hundreds of businesses have gone bust. This owes as much to politics as economics.
That doggy in the window
Take Tibetan mastiffs, a breed of enormous sheep-guarding dog (one is pictured above, on sale). These were the must-have status symbol for China’s new billionaires in the late 2000s. Three years ago ordinary Tibetan mastiffs could fetch around $20,000. Now they sell for a tenth of that. Earlier this year an animal-welfare group rescued 20 abandoned mastiffs from the back of a lorry, which was taking them to a slaughterhouse to be sold for leather and meat—for a mere $5 each.
Tibetan mastiffs were a fad for plutocrats, usually bought as status-enhancing guard dogs. But demand for most other Chinese luxuries depends on a culture of gift-giving. Every transaction must be marked by a present: jade, tea, a meal. One billionaire, Hong Weihua, even paid for a delegation of officials from his hometown to visit America (quite legally).
Since 2013 the anti-corruption campaign of Xi Jinping, China’s president, has made conspicuous consumption politically suspect and reined in the practice of lavishing gifts on officials. Tea used to be a favourite present, especially Pu’er, a fermented and aged variety from the south-western province of Yunnan. The price of top-of-the-line Golden tea from the Tae tea company, the world’s largest Pu’er maker, fell from 917 yuan per 357 grams in March 2014 to 512 yuan, before rallying a bit (see chart). The president of the Yunnan Tea Association told the Kunming Daily that, after a boom and bust, the tea business was entering “a new normal” (a term popularised by Mr Xi, who uses it to describe slower growth of the economy as a whole). This means lower prices and more modest sales.

The abalone business shows that it is Mr Xi’s rule against “extravagant eating and drinking”, rather than a lack of cash, that lies behind the luxury squeeze. Mr Chen, the seafood-dealer in Fujian, says abalone is not especially pricey, but because it is seen as a luxury “sales took a big hit”. Of the breeders he knows, 40% quit during 2013 and 2014.
At the top end of the mastiff business, it is not so bleak. In 2011 a coal baron is said to have paid 10m yuan ($1.5m) for Big Splash, a Tibetan mastiff puppy. In 2014 a property developer paid 12m yuan for a dog, making it the world’s most expensive canine. Han Lianming, a mastiff breeder near Beijing, says the market for such finest-quality dogs still looks good. “Someone offered me 20m yuan for that one. It was crazy,” he says contentedly, pointing to a vast ball of russet fur and teeth that is lumbering around the courtyard (the deal did not come off). A select few millionaires appear immune to the anti-corruption campaign and unfazed by dog-breeders’ efforts during the boom years to boost supply by crossbreeding. This diminished the rarity-value of mastiffs, but it also produced some highly sought-after specimens.
The jade market, however, has little good news to report. Yu Ming, the director of the jade committee of the China Traditional Culture Promotion Council, a state-run body, says that though sales at big auction houses are holding up, the retail business is plummeting. In big cities such as Beijing they have fallen by 10-20%. In second- and third-tier cities (such as provincial capitals), he says, sales are down by 40-50%. In 2013 there was a spike in the price of raw jade from neighbouring Myanmar, when political violence briefly disrupted supplies. Mr Yu says many thought the conflict would lead to higher prices in China. But to everyone’s surprise the retail price actually fell. “There just isn’t that big a market any more,” he laments.
Global Coverage ~ Unique Analysis

ILUMINAÇÃO -» Vantag escolhe TellusMater

Iluminação em galerias de arte

Os habituais e antiquados sistemas de iluminação em galerias de arte - com base em focos - geram desequilíbrios de luz e sombras indesejadas; se estiverem muito perto da parede ou teto, esses focos provocam manchas na pintura devido ao aquecimento intenso e continuado.

Para uma iluminação homogénea e correta das obras de arte o LED é uma excelente escolha e a TellusMater tem produto de ótima qualidade e preço (TLight Alfa).

Já nas anteriores instalações da Rua D. Manuel II tínhamos tomado esta opção e a experiência positiva levou a manter a escolha para as duas galerias da Rua Miguel Bombarda, tanto no espaço do nº 552, que tem área de exposição e de escritório, como no mais recente no nº 578. Neste último local optamos por iluminação com 2 temperaturas de cor: um bom equilíbrio de brancos na zona de galeria e um tom mais quente na sala de reuniões e acervo.

Jorge Cardoso

The Living Dead: Why Are Curators Putting Deceased Artists in Contemporary Art Shows?



The Living Dead: Why Are Curators Putting Deceased Artists in Contemporary Art Shows?

Works by Forrest Bess at the 2012 Whitney Biennial.

The peculiar appearance of Forrest Bess, the “pseudo-hermaphrodite” painter, at the 2012 Whitney Biennial still stands out in my memory. The eleven paintings were vivid and haunting, and his story of genital self-surgery, with accompanying photo-documentation, was even harder to forget. In a further strangeness, his work and personal effects were presented not by the show’s official curators—Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders—but by a fellow artist, Robert Gober. Of course, the most startling eccentricity was that Bess was in the biennial in the first place, having been dead for 35 years.
Bess wasn’t the only dead artist making a cameo in the hands of a living artist. In that same biennial, Werner Herzog gave the work of Hercules Segers, who died in 1638, a soundtrack from the (living) Dutch musician Ernst Reijseger, and Nick Mauss used a Marsden Hartley painting as part of an intentionally out-of-time installation comprised of various materials from the 1930s. But if these artist-curators used older materials to make contemporary art, Gober went much further—he used older materials to make a contemporary artist.
Importantly, Bess, who had had a solo exhibition at the Whitney in 1981, wasn’t presented as a historical rediscovery; nor were his paintings shown in isolation, so as to appear sui generis or “fresh.” The alchemical magic of the display was that the personal and historical material—the infamous “after” shot, along with Bess’s correspondences with Betty Parsons, his dealer, and with the art historian Meyer Schapiro—were leveraged to make not just the artworks but the artistic figure himself relevant to the present moment.
Reviewing the show in 2012, New York Times critic Roberta Smith observed that Gober’s project “proffers Bess as a kind of foundational artist of our time,” but four years later, it’s Gober’s curatorial maneuver that seems even more foundational. Bess remains an important “contemporary” figure, but everywhere you look, shows of the living are being used to bring back the dead.
Among the many departed participants in the 2014 Whitney Biennial was Matt Hanner, who died in 2011 of a brain aneurism and was represented as Stephen Lacy’s contribution to the show. The 2014 edition of the Hammer Museum’s biennial, “Made in L.A.,” devoted an entire room to the work of Tony Greene, who died in 1990, as the focus of a show-within-a-show called “Amid Voluptuous Calm.” (Greene was also included in the Whitney Biennial in 2014, where artists Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie, former CalArts classmates of Greene’s, curated his work jointly.) By the time that the fourth iteration of “Greater New York” opened, this past September—with the long-dead given notable prominence in the realm of the living—it became clear that making the work of the deceased “contemporary” constituted an undeniable curatorial zeitgeist.
These big periodic group exhibitions used to be exclusively about gathering current work from living artists, so much so that we never had to think of “the living” as their natural category of inclusion. Recently, however, all these shows have proven very welcoming to the dead.
The dead were present in significant numbers in last year’s Whitney Biennial. In curator Anthoy Elms’s selection, Joseph Grigely arranged The Gregory Battcock Archive (2009–14), a kind of living library that was meant to qualify as contemporary.
In Grigely’s intriguing room, the single surviving Battcock painting recalled the critic’s stint in object making, but the other materials—photographs, manuscripts, correspondence detailing his sexual conquests—compelled viewers to see Battcock as more than a critic. In the context of the biennial, the remnants of Battcock’s writing and acting, gathered together 35 years after his still-unsolved murder, suggested that his various creative activities might be recategorized as artistic practice by today’s standards. Indeed, the display itself was also to be seen as art, with the Whitney’s official text describing Grigely’s vitrines as “a modular sculpture that is also a form of storytelling.”
Though sourced from a different era and radically different in content, Marc Fischer’s presentation of Malachi Ritscher’s life was similarly a form of storytelling about the dead. By placing remnants of Ritscher’s very public demise—a videotaped self-immolation committed during rush hour on a Chicago expressway on November 3, 2006, in protest of the Iraq War—next to the collection of recordings Ritscher made over several decades documenting the experimental sound scene in Chicago, Fischer sutured two seemingly disparate and non-artistic activities into a coherent and creative whole. Combining documentation by Ritscher the archivist with documentation of Ritscher the activist, Fischer made a convincing argument for his own Chicago-based archivist/activist project, Public Collectors, started in 2007.

David Foster Wallace.

Upstairs, artist-curator Michelle Grabner provided further variation on the theme with her own archival presentation of materials from the late novelist David Foster Wallace. “Interview notes for ‘Federer as Religious Experience’ (New York Times, August 20, 2006),” written in pen on yellow legal pads, was now framed in wood and hung on the wall directly above a vitrine containing various notebooks for The Pale King, the novel Wallace was working on when he killed himself, in 2008. The book was published posthumously in 2011, but the notebooks—which contained scribbles, doodles, and clippings alongside handwritten passages—were presented out of general, rather than literary, interest. Much like Grigely’s expanded version of the critic Battcock, Grabner’s Wallace, safely dead as a writer, was now free to be seen as an artist.
On curator Stuart Comer’s floor, the focus was on artists who died during the AIDS crisis. In addition to Opie and Hawkins’s presentation of Greene, artist Julie Ault represented the works of David Wojnarowicz and Martin Wong, both of whom fell to the disease in the 1990s, alongside a variety of archival materials in a piece titled Afterlife: a constellation (2014). The Whitney directly addressed the atemporal nature of these projects, saying they suggest “how one might incorporate voices from a generation devastated by loss to complicate a continuing narrative about the art of the present moment.”
“How to define ‘American’ in a survey of contemporary American art,” Comer wrote in his curatorial statement, “is a question that has often challenged, even vexed, curators.” But an even more vexing question might be how to define “contemporary.” The fact that each of the biennial’s three curators—though working separately and with different motivations—used the structure of the biennial to present the work of the dead was more than coincidental. The 2014 Whitney Biennial is already being remembered merely as the last one in the Breuer building, but I think it would be more accurately, and respectfully, remembered as the Biennial of the Dead.

Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (sunbathing platform with Tava mural), 1975–86. COURTESY THIRD STREAMING, NEW YORK AND MOMA PS1
Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (sunbathing platform with Tava mural), 1975–86.

As part of a very self-conscious turn, the 2015 iteration of “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1 departed, in the words of the museum, “from the show’s traditional focus on youth, instead examining points of connection and tension between our desire for the new and nostalgia for that which it displaces.” Established as showcase for “emerging artists living and working in the New York metropolitan area,” the fourth version of the show represented a dramatic shift from that mandate, with an opening wall text that promised to examine both “emerging and more established artists across New York.” Though a prominent group of dead artists was included in the show, they were not explicitly acknowledged as such—visitors had to account for their presence by stretching the euphemism of “more established” to its breaking point.
The dead weren’t only included, they were featured. “Greater New York” 2015 won’t have a catalogue, but rather a series of small pamphlets. The first one, written by illustrious art historian and co-curator of the show Douglas Crimp, focuses on the gay scene at the Hudson River piers. A wonderful book in and of itself, the fact that it’s about work from the 1980s made by Alvin Baltrop, who died in 2004, also makes quite a statement in this context.
Baltrop’s work is given almost an entire room at PS1, as is the work of Nelson Sullivan (d. 1989), Jimmy DeSana (d. 1990), and Scott Burton (d. 1989)—all artists who were part of the gay scene in New York, died young, and have since been relatively overlooked. The work of Gordon Matta-Clark—who died in 1978 and has never really been overlooked—was also prominently included, with a photograph of his piece Doors, Floors, Doors (1976), which was originally included in “Rooms,” the first group show at PS1, displayed on every floor as a kind of historical index for the exhibition.
The overall tenor of “Greater New York” is so retrospective, not to say deathly, that critic Ben Davis asked Crimp directly: “How do you read the show? It feels as if it is about closure, the closure of the New York scene since it’s increasingly difficult to make new work here.” Crimp refused to characterize the show this way, saying, somewhat vaguely, that “all of us are still here… including artists,” before listing off some of the younger people that he included. But Crimp’s answer seemed to underline Davis’s point that all of us aren’t still here.
This exchange reminded me of the press person at the Whitney who helpfully told me, via e-mail, that the living still far outnumbered the dead in the 2014 biennial. And yes, the numbers greatly favor the living at “Greater New York” as well, as they did at “Made in L.A.” and at the 2012 Whitney Biennial. But even having to do a living/dead head count at all these shows is an odd development, is it not?
So while each curator and each project has had particular and often distinct motivations, larger and more unruly questions about the way contemporary art functions also seem to be at play.
In the case of the historical correction model, the question is, why have these revisions been happening as insertions in periodic group shows? Doesn’t Tony Greene, or Alvin Baltrop, or Forrest Bess, for that matter, deserve his own, separate museum show? (Why have so few dead women benefitted from this trend?) Do dead artists—especially those from marginalized groups—gain their deserved historical prominence by appearing belatedly in a biennial? Do these artists need to be detoured through “the contemporary” in order to enter “the historical” with sufficient secondary materials? Isn’t there a more direct, and a more honest, route?
Is this revival of the dead mere “nostalgia” for the past, as PS1 claims, or is it evidence that the contemporary can’t keep up with itself? Needing new materials and new markers for increasing numbers of bi-, tri-, and quintennials, we now dip ceaselessly into the past, presenting the deceased as if they had only just appeared on the scene. Beset by zombie formalists, but also market zombies of all kinds, we have apparently started to prefer the dead themselves.

Dushko Petrovich is an artist and writer who lives in New York.

A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 26 under the title “The Living Dead.”

Copyright 2015, ARTnews Ltd, 40 W 25th Street, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10010. All rights reserved.

Collections That Cross Artistic Boundaries

Art & Design

MoMA to Organize Collections That Cross Artistic Boundaries

A 1963 work by Masahisa Fukase will be part of a multidisciplinary exhibition next spring at the Museum of Modern Art. Credit Masahisa Fukase       

Within the Museum of Modern Art’s announcement on Tuesday of coming exhibitions were signs of a seismic shift underway in how it collects and displays modern and contemporary art — changes that are expected to have a powerful impact on the museum’s renovation
While curatorial activities used to be highly segregated by department, with paintings and sculpture considered the most important, the museum has gradually been upending that traditional hierarchy, organizing exhibitions in a more fluid fashion across disciplinary lines and redefining its practice of showing art from a linear historical perspective.
Next spring, for example, when the Picasso sculpture show moves out, MoMA will reinstall its fourth-floor galleries with works from the 1960s, mingling artists and objects from around the world — from a Jaguar to a James Rosenquist painting. They will be selected by six departments in a more experimental, intuitive style that Ann Temkin, a chief curator, referred to as “unlearning what we’ve learned.”

“Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980” at MoMA. Credit Thomas Griesel/The Museum of Modern Art, New York

This new, less siloed way of doing business is shaping the museum’s renovation and building expansion with the firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro. Galleries could be more flexible and open, like those in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new building. Perhaps departmental names designating the galleries could be eliminated altogether.
“All of these exhibitions and efforts to look at the collection afresh will inform the installation of the exhibitions in the new building,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s director.
“How do we become more nimble — willing to peel open departmental practices?” he added. “Yes, we can change. There was no tablet from Moses that said this is the way we have to be structured.
“It’s not ‘Painting and Sculpture,’ ‘Drawings and Prints.’ It’s the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.”
This looser version of MoMA counters the conventional wisdom that has grown up around the museum, one that Roberta Smith, an art critic at The New York Times, described in 2010 as “a reluctance to question the linear unspooling of art history according to designated styles that remains the Modern’s core value and its Achilles’ heel.”
The evolving multidisciplinary — indeed, uncorporate — approach has not been tried by many encyclopedic art museums, although the smaller Walker Art Center in Minneapolis often shook up art-historical orthodoxies under its former director Kathy Halbreich (now the MoMA’s associate director).
Ms. Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, said the museum was “reflecting a more widespread shift from thinking in categories — or thinking in so-called canonical narratives — to thinking about multiple histories. Having a sense of curiosity, rather than a desire for pronouncement.”

MoMA will reinstall its fourth-floor galleries with works from the 1960s, mingling artists and objects like this 1961 Jaguar E-Type. Credit Museum of Modern Art

There is evidence of the new approach in shows like the Jackson Pollock survey, which is in the print galleries and was organized by the print curator, but also features paintings.

“It’s changing the idea that prints are something secondary and instead are really integral to the artist figuring out what he or she is doing,” Ms. Temkin said. “That could not have happened 20 years ago here or anywhere else.”
Similarly, the show “Transmissions” focuses on the connections among artists in Latin America and Eastern Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. Tellingly, the exhibition was organized by curators from a mix of departments: media and performance art, photography, and drawings and prints.
And the exhibition “Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second World War” is in the print gallery, but includes drawings, photography, painting and sculpture.
Time was when curators seeking to use a piece of media from a different department had to fill out a formal loan form.
But for the last year, curators in all departments have been engaging one another in workshops to discuss coming exhibitions. “We brainstorm,” said Martino Stierli, the chief curator of architecture and design.
This boundary-crossing approach partly reflects a generational shift; all seven of the current chief curators have been at MoMA for less than 10 years. They have come of age in the art world at a time when lines are blurring — an artist who makes sculpture might also make video — when influences are less Eurocentric, and when top-down pronouncements about what is and isn’t art seem outdated.
“I’m not naïve about the fact that the Museum of Modern Art is a very influential institution, but I think the way we can be influential today is different,” Ms. Temkin said. “It’s not, ‘This is good; this is bad.’ It’s that ‘This is worth looking at.’”
She added, “And these things are in relation to other things — whether it’s putting works by women on the wall or putting a print next to a painting.”