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If the emperor is naked, where does he put that corpulent wallet of his?

Post #783 • May 4, 2006, 11:31 AM • 18 Comments

David Barboza:

In the early 1990's, when Chinese contemporary art was just beginning to take off, a young painter here named Zhou Tiehai came up with an ambitious plan to make himself famous.

He would succeed by beating the art market at its own game, exposing its commercialism while exploiting it to the hilt. He would produce paintings that he hoped would be acclaimed by the same Western collectors and journalists who, in his mind, had advanced the careers of too many mediocre Chinese artists.

And he would do all this without lifting a brush: he would delegate that work to hirelings.

Somehow, he pulled it off. Mr. Zhou is now one of China's hottest artists. His meteoric rise from marginalized rebel to mainstream superstar culminated in a solo exhibition of his works at the Shanghai Art Museum in March.

Oh, were I not on semihiatus, I would rip this eight ways from Sunday. Art Soldier gets a couple good shots in. But for now, I can only express my bafflement: how can so many rich people be so stupid?




May 4, 2006, 11:52 AM

Chinese Artist Zhou Tiehai :
…"From the beginning I knew I'd be successful," he said. "It's really not that hard to create art."
…Asked how it felt, he grinned and said: "Ten years ago I wanted to show people how easy it is to make art. And I did that. Now I'm on the list."

I agree. Bad art is easy to create.



May 4, 2006, 12:03 PM

Franklin asks: How can so many rich people be so stupid?

Distressing and regrettable though it surely is, it obviously happens, and all too frequently, certainly when it comes to art. This is just another example, however blatant, of a very well known phenomenon. I'm not especially concerned about such people wasting their money, but unfortunately there's more to it than that. They sustain and encourage bad art while ignoring and at least indirectly discouraging better work. They keep a highly objectionable art establishment flush with money and thus empower and perpetuate it. In other words, they're not merely pitiful, they're harmful, and there's the rub.


Chris Williams

May 4, 2006, 12:18 PM

Has anyone heard of the artist Rosemarie Venice? Modern abstract in watercolors? Very precocious young artist from the NE US. Just curious to find out more of her work.



May 4, 2006, 12:23 PM


Following your argument that the rich are responsible for the promotion of "bad art" and looking at the reverse side of the coin, would this not mean that "good" art therefore costs less and is accesible to the "general public"?
Surely work that exploits the system while directly exposing it should be encourged.


Marc Country

May 4, 2006, 12:42 PM

1-The system is broken and corrupt.
2-An artist, discouraged by this, decides that, rather than try to beat 'em, he'll join 'em.
3-He makes bad art, and is rewarded for it.
4-The system remains unchanged.

Anna, is this "work that exploits the system while directly exposing it"?

What has Zhou exposed, that wasn't already exposed by the legions of cynical, gutless, bad artists before him?

This reminds me of a show (like a billion or so other shows) I saw, where the artist exhibited photographs of attractive women in lingerie wrestling, billed as a "comment on" sensationalism and objectification... of course, in reality, it's merely yet another EXAMPLE of sensationalism and objectification.

This Zhou stuff is the same thing, all over, ad nauseum.



May 4, 2006, 12:48 PM

"Rich people" are just as susceptible to herding as everyone else. The only difference is they have the bucks to follow through on it.

University art departments are full of herd members who are not so well off. But that does not stop them from participating ... field trips to marvel at the latest tampon-stuck-in someone's-ear photos, class assignments that are a little tamer but just as vacuous, class crits that assert ideas are more important than art, and above all one's personal art production modelled strictly according to the code of the herd.

Herding is quite natural. We all do it. When I drive down an interstate I look for the restaurants with a lot of cars in the parking lot. There are some herds that you just don't want to join, however. Lemmings over the clif are the archetype of the bad ones. The art system is another.


Harlan Erskine

May 4, 2006, 12:49 PM

I see nothing wrong with having other artists execute your ideas. Do you have a problem with this or maybe you don't like the ideas that would be a whole different story.


Marc Country

May 4, 2006, 12:54 PM

I have a bunch of ideas I'd love some assistants to help me excecute... they involve tedious unpaid labour.
Any volunteers?



May 4, 2006, 12:58 PM

The eyeless rich are certainly not solely responsible for what I see as the problem, but they're clearly a significant part of it. The more they pay ridiculously inflated prices for dubious work (which is pretty much standard practice), the more entrenched and "validated" such work becomes.

That exerts a generally corrupting influence; it confuses the hell out of a sizeable proportion of the potential art public; it encourages glorified hack work and cynical opportunism, and it works against the promotion, exposure and recognition of any better art that is not sufficiently fashionable or establishment-oriented.

I'm not really addressing who can afford what. If novice and/or sufficiently impressionable art collectors, regardless of budget or ambition, accept the party line touted or embraced by the art mags, "major" collectors and sales data, they will likely become part of the problem. That's the problem.



May 4, 2006, 2:14 PM

From the article linked above:

"The fact that he [Zhou Tiehai] doesn't paint much doesn't bother me," said Uli Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China and a major collector of Chinese contemporary art. "Jeff Koons doesn't touch anything. Bridget Riley has workers. It's accepted today. It doesn't have to have traces of your own hand."

You don't say. Mr. Sigg, of course, must be believed, being a major collector and all. I'm sure every dealer he buys from would eagerly agree with him, while throwing in the obligatory "He has a really good eye," of course. And naturally, if Koons or Riley or Kostabi does something, well, who are we to question it, let alone reject it?

Honestly, sometimes I think these people must carry around a book of stock, pat, PC platitudes, not to say banalities, to which they constantly resort to justify themselves and the system they blindly or cynically serve. I could tell Herr Sig that I don't give a rat's ass what he or his supposed authorities think, accept or talk themselves into. He could be Bozo the Clown for all I care. But he's a big shot, the establishment no doubt loves him and his kind (and dealers sure as hell do), so he gets quoted by the NYT as someone who knows. He doesn't know jack.



May 4, 2006, 4:19 PM

Watch out Catfish, maybe all those cars are parked at that restaurant because the customers all have food poisoning and were taken away in ambulances.

Art has becomer a way to spend money on trophies, tokens of fame, and that's what most people care about. It is like relics in the middle ages, or a lock of Elvis's hair. That Picasso that just sold for $95 million! Yarghhh! What a clunker!!

Our notions of "good art" are confined to the relatively small, powerless and generally impoverished group of people who care about that sort of thing. If this popdreck was not called "art" we wouldn't care one way or the other.

I don't think this circumstance is going to change, and I only wish that some kind of distinction could be made so "serious" art and "pop" art, or whatever you want to call them, could each go their own way. It would be nice to be rich and famous, but I never expected it and I would be perfectly happy to merely be part of a group of like-minded people who really love art as such, make art, talk about it, write about it, etc., instead of feeling oppressed by all this shit all the time. I'm sick and tired of it.



May 4, 2006, 4:36 PM

I know it's beyond obvious, but this Chinese Joe Camel tripe is beneath contempt as art, and anybody who buys into work that's such a joke qualifies as a clown. I don't care if it was meant as a joke to begin with; it's certainly being taken seriously enough, to the tune of serious money. Rationalizing it with "it's accepted today" is not only delusional but seriously lame. Any number of highly questionable practices, not to mention downright atrocities, are accepted today by some people, as they have always been. What the hell difference does that make? None, or at least none to me.



May 4, 2006, 6:54 PM

oldpro says: Watch out Catfish, maybe all those cars are parked at that restaurant because the customers all have food poisoning and were taken away in ambulances.

That of course is one of the possiblities. But it is very unlikely. The herd is usually right. Art is an exception to that rule. The art crowd has been getting it wrong for over 100 years. That's what the record shows. What is peculiar about the art crowd is they consistently get it wrong. The investor crowd, for instance, gets it right some of the time, and doesn't some of the time. The art crowd just stumbles and meanders, from one mistake to another.



May 4, 2006, 8:41 PM

After a whole lot of false starts and corrections -the herd usually gets it right. The proof is that even with our less than spanky history ,we're still on the planet .But the history of the last century alone was enough to wonder if the herd wasn't scampering off the final cliff. For decades people who haven't the time or don't take the time to really look at art have wanted to buy it for a host of reasons that have little to do with taste. When art is veiwed as fashion than the herd doesn't want to be seen in last seasons party dress.



May 4, 2006, 8:46 PM

The Dutch painter Rob Scholte 1991 showed paintings of Venetian -San-Marco-Kitsch-Artists produced in Oil on Canvas by Venetian -San-Marco-Kitsch-Artists and sold them in the 90's art boom very successful.

He teached me, that his very sophisticated hand sign of his Name in a barockesque manner on the back of those (very bad) paintings was the biggest value of the whole piece and gave them the value. Those paintings are itself bad, but are good examples of Scholtes thinking and strategies on art in the 90s. (Yes, of course ;-) comes all from Duchamp... I really like Scholtes works, but his others much more.

As you (me, you, we all) supported for a long time all the ideas of irony in contemporary art, that is now the big irony, that the worst shit gets the biggest money. But if one looks what sold 1890 for the biggest prices, that stuff is long forgotten too.

If this Chinese artist is that much driven by money and fame, and with the stupid things he wanted to proof, he proofed perfectly, that he misses some of the basic qualities every good artist has.



May 4, 2006, 9:06 PM

#11: " merely be part of a group of like-minded people who really love art as such..."

My sentiments exactly. I hear they're congregating in New England?

But, to count my blessings, I'm lucky to have a couple of studio mates and a couple of older artists whose work I respect to interact with, from time to time. Too bad there's so little serious art (as such) to look at here. There are serious artists here, but their art is nearly invisible. We're inundated with design and pop, most of which, as such, is dreck.

The likes of Zhou make me want to dissociate from the art world altogether and not even call myself an artist. Maybe I'll call myself a "maker" from now on, especially since no normal person seems to know what a sculptor is. Or maybe I'll just learn to weld really nice bicycles and gain notoriety as a "frame-builder".



May 4, 2006, 9:44 PM

Re: rich and stupid

The more things change...



May 5, 2006, 9:09 AM

I expect what Sigg meant by "It's accepted today" is that it's accepted by people like him and other card-carrying members of the official art world, who continually "validate" each other by being equally clueless, fatuous and/or cynical. The implication, of course, is that those who are not with-it would not get it, and may thus be easily ignored. Never underestimate the capacity of at least some humans for being, and steadfastly remaining, delusional--or, alternately, not giving a shit about being full of it.



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