A few months back, I posited that a strange shift would take place in contemporary, in which China and its artists would replace even Andy Warhol as the paradigm for contemporary arts culture. With rocketing bidding in the London sales this week on Chinese artists whose names and tepid takes on Pop art conventions are still largely unknown to most Western observers, this startling process has commenced.
Why are pioneer collectors of the Chinese NOW!, such as Larry Warsh, so confident that such a sea change is permanent? Because, the Chinese contemporary boom is the five-year-plan of the Chinese government. The state-orchestrated fix began in 1993 with the creation of Poly Culture and Arts Corporation, a cultural promotion company approved by the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, allegedly staffed by former officers of the Army of the People's Republic.
Poly Culture Corp. has been adept at creating subsidiaries and expanding its reach into all the arts. In 1998, the Poly Art Museum opened in Beijing, with the goal of gathering and exhibiting Chinese art treasures from across the world. The Chinese Diaspora, the so-called "Greater China," of those Chinese living abroad has been a strong progenitor of this cultural pride and impulse.
In 2003 Poly Corp established a film subsidiary that immediately merged with the Beijing Beida Huayi Film and TV Company, for the propagation of films about China and its emerging culture. It is no surprise that a wider range of Chinese art products are grabbing premium prices. China holds a trillion in U.S. greenbacks in reserve. Its economy (as Benjamin Edwards has brilliantly documented in his maps of China) produces the cheap goods which keep U.S. consumer confidence afloat. The potential offer of a Chinese firm to buy the mortgage-security-troubled Bear Stearns is a watershed for further purchases of U.S. corporations.
Chinese contemporary art is a status symbol within the culture of Greater China. Individual works of art are employed as gifts, markers, guarantees of business relationships, tribal talismans in a one-party, oligarchic, nondemocratic culture in which the Chinese state remains judge, jury and executioner. There is no political freedom in China, folks, never has been, and the recent Party Congress gives no indication that this will change. How convenient for Christie's that Chinese art was its ace in the hole in London. Chinese President Hu Jintao guarantees it! CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).