Chinese art shenanigans
Post #1174 • May 7, 2008, 7:39 AM • 8 Comments
I stay away from art market stories, but a rather extraordinary one hit the Gray Lady this morning. One Michael Goedhuis, a New York dealer, put together a collection of Chinese art at the behest of an investment group. Artists sold work to him at discounted prices with the understanding that it would end up in a museum. This collection went on exhibit at museums in Denmark and Israel; the Denmark museum published a catalogue written by Britta Erickson, an expert on contemporary Chinese art. Shortly before the end of the Israel show, the entire exhibition went up for sale. William Acquavella bought it, and is now unloading it piecemeal at Sotheby's. Half of the collection went on the block in April and netted $25 million, including $6 million for a Zhang Xiaogang. The artists, museums, and the catalogue author feel like they've been played. Unsurprisingly, Goedhuis does not:
"You only benefited from this," he said he told some of the artists after the auction was announced last fall, and he began fielding complaints. "You're in a wonderful scholarly book and you’ve been exhibited in two fine museums."
He also offered his own scathing critique of the artists, remarking that they had profited so much from the boom that they could afford to build huge studios and homes.
"The problem is everyone is buying and flipping, and the artists are also flipping," he said by telephone from Beijing. "It’s a Wild West out here."
I think a guy like this, in the Wild West, would have gotten himself
hung hanged. Or shot.
Zhang Xiaogang is part of the One Trick Pony School of contemporary Chinese painting (which also includes Feng Zhengjie and Yue Minjun) and anyone who pays $6 million for one of his canvases is a purblind idiot. So I'm a little short on sympathy here, but there's a solution - get it in writing. Someone in a position to sell work for seven digits could refund a discount to the investment group when the painting enters a museum collection. Someone not in a position to do so could sell at a discount with a contractual agreement about the destination of the work, with an additional payment due upon breach. Erickson said to the Times reporter, "The art world cannot function without trust." One can enforce trust. And as the Goedhuises of the world demonstrate, one should.