China’s modern artists have a taste for capitalism

Country now views creators as its finest emissaries

Marc Richards is making sure Los Angeles stays in step with Chinese contemporary art’s “Long March.”

A longtime dealer and collector of Chinese antiquities, Richards on Thursday night opened a La Brea gallery space that deals predominantly in new painting and photography from China.

His timing is fortuitous, as contemporary Chinese art is poised to reach new highs for collectors. In June, the movement’s best-known artist, Yue Min Jun, sold his 2002 painting “The Sun” for $185,000 at Christie’s in Manhattan.

“Zhang Xiao Gang’s (small) paintings were $1,800 six or seven years ago,” Richards says. “Then I thought that was crazy. Now those same paintings are almost $25,000.”

Whereas communist leaders once tried to crush its artists, the country now views them as its finest emissaries. Hong Kong dealer Nicole Schoeni says China’s art academies serve as breeding grounds for artists who are in high demand upon graduation. “They are the new bourgeoisie,” she says.

Although Richards may be the first Los Angeles gallery owner to feature contemporary Chinese artists, local colleges have been tracking their work. In spring, Otis College of Art & Design hosted “Regeneration: Contemporary Art from China and the U.S.,” while Cal Poly Pomona presented “Pop-Vision: Five Contemporary Pop Artists From China” back in December 2003.

“The work is superseding American art by leaps and bounds,” says L.A. Freewaves executive director Anne Bray, who featured Chinese video artists and photographers in Freewaves’ annual film, video and new-media festival last fall.

However, the feeding frenzy is fueled not only by American collectors but also by China’s own burgeoning national pride.

“The government realizes that it needs a cultural identity,” says Richards, “so it’s promoting Chinese art.”

With imagery that turns China’s propaganda to their own devices, these artists are noted for their expressions of cynicism and individualism — concepts that once seemed impossible under a communist regime.
ARTIST RENOUN
Yue Min Jun Exaggerated grinning faces that represent “a new reality “
Wang Guang Yi Pioneer of China ‘s political pop art movement
Hong Hao Intricately rendered but wholly fake global maps
Zhang Xiao Gang Soft-focus faces that make a statement on homogeneity
Zhang Dali Graffiti artist whose work appeared on the cover of Time magazine
Zeng Fanzhi Series of eerie mask paintings

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