March 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
A comely lady was basking in the warmth of the sun
Under a tree of snowy white plum blossom.
The petals were blown away in the gentle Spring breeze
And fell across her cherry red cheeks.
The snowy white settled for awhile on her palm and a light easterly air arose.
The lady walked in beauty in the cloudless climes
towards the temple next to the pines.
The pines against the flat blue serene sky,
where wishes were heard from her peaceful mind.
January 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
In 2008, the world economy began contracting and making an
impact on credit crunch, but the art market continued onwards and
upwards, which gave rise to a new paradigm that the art market was
immune to other economic forces. The sales of paintings by
the genuine masters continued to create new records over the past
few years: Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895)
reached $119.9 million in the auction sale in Sotheby’s, New York
in May 2012; The Card Players (1892-93) by Paul
Cézanne broke the record of the most expensive painting ever sold,
at a price of $250 million, bought by the Royal Family of Qatar in
2011. It appears to be quite true for the modern art market
from various sales records. What about the contemporary art
market? The data of top hammer prices from 2007 to 2012 as
tabulated below, extracted from Artprice annual reports on the
contemporary art market, shows a significant drop in the year
2009/2010 – the Great Recession (the global recession of
2009). It is obvious that the contemporary art market is
closely attached to the financial market, and is flat out logical
for those billionaire collectors to cash in their collections and
stop buying when they need money. While the global economy is
still stagnant at the moment, the contemporary art market shows
signs of recovery. The explosion of the contemporary art
bubble in 2009/2010, not to a great extent, prohibited the
competition. The top hammer price gradually rose after the
global financial crisis and finally reached the level of that in
2007/2008. Table 1: Extract of Artprice annual reports on the
contemporary art market (from 2006 to 2012)
Top Hammer Price
|Jeff Koons (1955)||
|Damien Hirst (1965)||
|Peter Doig (1959)||
|Jeff Koons (1955)||
Starting from 2005, the Chinese
contemporary art market began to emerge. Chinese contemporary
artists like Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang xiaogang, Chen Yifei and Zhou
Chunya are now on the list of top 10 international contemporary
artists in terms of the auction sales turnover. Some of them
had extraordinarily good sales performance, for instance, Zeng
Fanzhi is ranked higher than the top sales record holders Jeff
Koons and Damien Hirst. However, only local collectors and
dealers are involved in the Chinese contemporary art market,
therefore it is not being discussed here. In the 21st century,
contemporary art has become a global commodity, which makes no
difference to steel, gas, property or oil. People are allowed
to buy and sell shares of major art pieces like what they do in the
stock market, but without any official supervision.
ArtExchange is one typical example of the art and
finance service company in Paris. In the view of
microeconomics, demand and supply is an economic model of price
determination in a market. However, the abundant supply of
art pieces in the contemporary art market makes it different from
the others and drags it out of the ordinary demand-and-supply
theory. What plays a part in determining the prices in the
contemporary art market? What makes the market so tempting
and appealing to the billionaires? Ben Lewis, an author, art
critic and the award-winning documentary filmmaker of The
Great Contemporary Art Bubble (2009), mentioned in his
film that speculation, mass production, public exhibitions, price
protection, and the love of art, all helped to create a
contemporary art bubble. Therefore, factors contributing to
the bubble by different parties in the market system will be
analysed. Contemporary art is a lifestyle choice of the current
generation. The public relationship with the contemporary art
has been transformed. Once it was distrustful and dismissive,
however the attendances at museums and galleries were shot up over
the past decades. “Art has really seized the masses. It
has become a genuine phenomenon, just like pop culture, music,
concerts, theatre, and opera… The visual arts are like that today,
with their own events. People go to the Biennales, the
Documenta, art fairs, exhibition openings, and museums… Art has
become something that speaks to an entire generation, that reflects
a generation and that it reflects on.” said by Gerd Harry Lybke,
the gallery owner of Galerie Elgen+Art, in the interview with Zoran
Solomun in Super Art Market (2009). It
is also the readiness and availability of contemporary art that
makes it more accessible to new collectors and dealers, hence
encouraging more people to get on board. Francis Outred, the
contemporary art specialist, said, “You can still buy the
masterpieces of contemporary art as they are still available, but
you can’t buy masterpieces of modern art. You can’t buy
masterpieces by old masters, as readily as you can [for]
contemporary art.” In addition, there is a growing number of
people internationally who possess the capability, means and
interest to collect these iconic trophy objects. Out of
triumphalism, curiosity and the desire of possession, the
collectors attempt to find the newest, the hippest and the hottest
in the art market, resembling a racing game that they compete with
each other and eventually push the prices further.
Contemporary art is like other commodity, but with a difference
that it provides people with a certain social status and a sense of
privilege. Collectors also lend their collections to school
and institutions to generate publicity, together with the regular
exhibitions in galleries, to increase visibility of the artists and
drive business. Galleries organise private viewings, guided
tours and VIP dinners with artists to boost sales. All these
VIP activities create a sense of honour and pleasure to the
collectors. Apart from personal and psychological aspects, some
collectors see the contemporary art market from a commercial
perspective. People treat the market as a haven for their
cash and as a way to avoid tax. In some countries, people
receive tax exemption when donating their collections of artworks
to museums or institutes. Sponsorship to art events by
bankers and corporations has always been recognised as a mixture of
charity, PR and business, as well as a channel to promote their
brands and to reach out to rich clients. The possibility for
the billionaires to make a tidy profit out of it leads to the
increase in involvement of the collectors and the consequent
increase in demand of contemporary artworks, which contribute to
the booming of the market. Other than the collectors and gallery
owners, the auction houses, art dealers, and the artists also play
major roles in manipulating the contemporary art market. The
art market is characterised by lack of government monitoring and
observation, and therefore there are no rules in playing the game
in the art market. Even if the art dealers corner the market,
they are safe from prosecutions. For example, the Mugrabi’s
family owned around 9% of world important Warhols while Aby Rosen
owned another 1% by 2008. The market domination together with
the concerted actions by the auction houses, continued to heat up
the contemporary art market at the time. Auction houses like
the Sotheby’s and the Christie’s offered different kinds of credit.
Some buyers were given unusually generous payment terms like
prolongation of payment period without charging interest. In
1987, Irises (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh was sold
in a record price, £29.5 millions. The final price was more
than twice what the painting had been expected to reach. The
bidding rose from the starting point of £8.5 millions to reach the
final sale price in less than two minutes. The buyer, Alan
Bond, could only reach this price because the Sotheby’s lent him
half the final price, as a result of controversy that followed, the
New York State Assembly held an inquiry into the art market.
Such strategy used by the auctions houses artificially inflated the
value of artworks, and helped to fizz the market. On the other
hand, the practice of auction houses to offer guarantees, in order
to attract major works, is also speculative and risky. The
auction houses promise to pay the seller a guarantee the minim
price whether the work is sold or not. By this action, the
auction houses are sort of making judgement to the values of art,
and betting the prices will be higher. It is dangerous for
the auction houses, as they have become part of the system.
The Sotheby’s guarantees had increased by seven-fold within merely
two years to nearly half £1 billion by 2007. The more the
people can borrow, the longer time they can defer payments and the
more they afford to pay, the more the prices will be driven up.
Price protection by the art dealers is also a key factor for
the prices to soar. Art dealers routinely bid the works by
the artists they represent, in order to secure sales. Some
may even place bids through telephone then stop bidding in the
middle of the on-going auction, making the prices stand high
– Scott Reyburn, an art market reporter, called to mind
of his experience in interviewing a major British art dealer.
The momentum in the market was then built up, and consequently more
people were attracted to this freewheeling market. Artists who are
alive, like Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Othoniel,
continue to produce large quantity of artworks in series.
Some of them carry out mass production of artworks in their
art factories, giving incentives for the existing collectors to
amass plenty of artworks and at the same time encouraging new blood
to take part in the collecting race. In April 2012, Hirst
created an enormous new factory to produce his next ‘masterpieces’
– to convert slaughtered animals into lucrative artworks.
Will this hasten the burst of another bigger contemporary art
January 24, 2013 § 1 Comment
Curated by Didier Ottinger, associate director of Musée National d’Art Moderne and the Centre Pompidou, the blockbuster exhibition by Edward Hopper held in Grand Palais, Paris, has attracted more than 580,000 visitors since its opening on 10th October 2012. With the overwhelming response, the exhibition period has now been extended to 3rd February 2013. In what appears to be the organiser’s attempt to accommodate the greatest numbers of visitors and to whet the French audience’s appetite for American art, the exhibition will be opened from 9:00 to 23:00 between 29th January and 31st January, and for 62 consecutive hours from February 1 until its closing.
This Edward Hopper exhibition is a collaboration project between the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux Grand Palais, in partnership with the Centre Pompidou. It was first shown in Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, before arriving in Paris. However, the two Hopper shows had taken on very different ways of presentation. The Madrid presentation adopted a relatively modest and implicit approach to highlight the uniformity and harmony of Hopper’s way over the decades in spite of the various emerging avant-garde movements, as described by David Anfam in his exhibition review in the January 2013 issue of The Burlington Magazine. The exhibition showcased 70 works by Hopper and was structured into two principal sections. The first began with Hopper’s earlier time in the studio of Robert Henri at the New York School of Art and covered the years of his training, displaying alongside works by his contemporaries. The second section focused thematically on Hopper’s mature work in a chronological sequence, with an emphasis on the most recurring motifs in his paintings. From various reviews, the exhibition was described as one that was very representational yet run-of-the-mill. When compared to that earlier show, the current exhibition at Grand Palais, with its attempt to turn Hopper into an American art hero and a harbinger of the 20th century culture, may be regarded as an overkill. Is the retrospective presenting an overstatement?
It is of note that French museums seem to have a particular fondness for American artists: in 2010, the Louvre commissioned Cy Twombly to create a 3,750-square-feet ceiling for its Salle des Bronzes; a month ago, the Centre Pompidou hired Sylvia Chivaratanond in New York as its first adjunct curator, in order to keep the Paris team up-to-date on the contemporary art scene and to develop diversifying programs to search for and attract donations of American art. With the unceasing support and invaluable donation of major works of American art by Brice Marden, Dan Flavin, Philip Guston, Eva Hesse, Barnett Newman, Cy Twombly, and Donald Judd by the Centre Pompidou Foundation (an American foundation dedicated to supporting the development of the centre), the Centre Pompidou opens the door to France for American art (and particularly Edward Hopper, as none of the French museums possess works by him), is at an ideal position to organise such a blockbuster show in Grand Palais, a place with a reputation for organising high quality exhibitions. It is also a gesture of gratitude to the museum’s American donors. Therefore, the retrospective show not only offers a valuable opportunity for the public to get to know about the tradition of modern realism and Americanism that lies beneath each of Hopper’s characteristically bland brush stroke, but also serves as a reminder to the French museums that it’s about time to acquire a collection of his oeuvre.
The retrospective exhibition in Grand Palais generally shares the same structure with the Madrid’s one. It has gathered together 128 works by Hopper from major museums and institutions across the US, including the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio, the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, in addition to various private collections and with a particularly generous loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In this context, it does come across as being a little Francocentric, if not flat-out boastful, to say that the exhibition is a reminder of “how much George Washington owed to General Lafayette”, as Gerald Mangan did in his review, “A Country Boy in a City” published on 16th November 2012 in The Times Literary Supplement. It is obviously a win-win situation for both the American museums and the Centre Pompidou: for the former, the high-profile exhibition gives them a great opportunity to showcase their country’s art tradition; for the latter, it also allows the Centre to be the pioneer to bring an influential artist like Hopper to the French soil.
The works on show are arranged over two floors of the big corner section of the Grand Palais complex and is divided chronologically into two main sections. The first one covers Hopper’s formative years (1900-1924), juxtaposing the paintings by his contemporaries and art he saw during his three early sojourns in Paris, between 1906 and 1910, which might have considerable influence on him. The second section brings into focus the art of Hopper’s mature years, from the first paintings emblematic of his personal style, House by the Railroad (1925), to his last one before death, Two Comedians (1966). The exhibition begins with a huge video projection of Manhattan City, Manhatta (1920-1921) by Charles Scheeler and Paul Strand. The high growth of uprising, strong slender irons, the threading of steamships, the wall scaffolds and the vast frameworks of bridges and roads symbolise the dawn of modernism and industrialisation, which is implicated here as the recurring theme under the distinctive depiction and deceptive simplicity in Hopper’s paintings. The influence of his Realist compatriots is palpably acknowledged in this first section on the developmental stage of his career. Some little-known paintings by Robert Henri (the founder of the Ashcan School of Realism), Thomas Eakins, John Sloan and George Bellows are shown to indicate his years in Henri’s studio at the New York School of Art. However, Ottinger frankly admits the insufficiency of this part in the catalogue introduction – the leaving out of works by Charles Sheeler, Ben Shahn, Thomas Hart Benton and Winslow Homer, which also contributed influences to Hopper in his formative years.
The French influences to Hopper are, on the other hand, indisputable. He was moved by the soft and harmonious style of impressionism, which was reflected in his paintings from the period. He also studied works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet. An important work by Degas, Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans (1873), is exhibited alongside Hopper’s in the exhibition. The artist was also interested in the coarse lines and vivid colours used by the Fauvists to paint landscapes; Albert Marquet’s Le quai Bourdon (1908) is credited in this regard. The display of works by familiar French painters, together with Hopper’s sketches and paintings of Parisian cafés and riverside of the Seine, recreates a dialogue that existed between Hopper and these artists at the time, and somewhat acts like the bridge between the contemporary French audience and Hopper, making the exhibition more accessible and enjoyable as a whole.
A selection of his illustrations for magazine covers, such as The Morse Dry Dock Dial and Hotel Management, shows the growing mastery of the artist’s skill in manipulating light and shadows which is evident in his later etchings, and also paves the climax of the show – the prime years of his career. The most striking work in this section is the expressionistic, bird’s eye view of the dark street in Night Shadows (1921), where the compactly etched shadow of a telegraph pole stretches across a street to give the impression of the ominous scenes in crime movies. As the viewers make their way through the floor, the subject of Hopper’s works can be seen to gradually change from the obsolete locomotives or abandoned disused trucks by motorisation and modernisation – thanks partly to the first acquisition of his first car in 1927 enabling him to extend his field of activity and increasing his range of subjects – to realistic yet symbolic excursion into philosophy and the search of his inner personality. This is evident from House by the Railroad (1925), depicting a desolate house in the countryside that may or may not be abandoned, to portraits of situations which urge people into actions, like Room in New York (1932), Office at Night (1940) and the most arresting Nighthawks (1942), and finally to still lifes of vacant rooms with sunlight shedding on their plain white walls, including Rooms by the Sea (1951) and Sun in an Empty Room (1963). Comprehensive in its scope and scrupulously systematic in its presentation, the exhibition leads the audience to go through the artist’s journey of À la Recherche du temps perdu.
However, the perfect flow of the exhibition does not run till its end. The curator’s effort to go the whole hog to include the most works by other artists has been ruined by unnecessarily gilding the lily to resemble Hopper’s works with that by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, the American photographer named one of Martell’s 2012 Artists of the Year. The technique of dramatic theatrical lighting used in staged photography is essential and practically inevitable, as suggested by its name “staged”, which should not be taken to compare with Hopper’s realisation of the natural daylight and ambient lights by paint and brush. The exhibition gives a boost to the fame of diCorcia and brings about conjecture that the exhibition may be a prelude to publicise his upcoming solo show at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, and the Museum De Pont, Tilburg, in 2013. The exhibition thus seems to cater for the general public, for the sake of blockbuster, rather than the cognoscenti or art lovers.
January 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
Do you think you are eating in a very French way when you eat in a very French restaurant? You might be disappointed to know you are actually eating in a Russian way.
The eating culture in France before 19th century (Le service du Français) was the same as the Chinese, while after the defeat of Napoleon, Le service de la Russe took over the mainstream culture and becomes the “very French way” nowadays.
It is worth to visit the upcoming French tableware antique exhibition by Le French May in Habour City from 2nd May to the end of June this year. Do not miss it!
January 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
不是文學人，也不算認真的稔熟。但像我這一輩的，誰沒受過他的影響？後現代、後殖民、文化身份……那些九十年代在信報、星島、經濟、快報、越界……上天天談論着的 ─ 那個擲一棵石頭，已能激起波瀾的、小小的文化界。
那個時代，學院還沒有正大光明的搞文化研究。大家都是往外跑，一點一滴地，在藝術中心，看電影、修課程。在黃禾壁主持的課程部，也斯開過一期寫作班，什麼用《妖獸都市》來解析後現代；找董啟章來講androgyny 。周蕾與馬奎斯，都是第一次聽說。當然都沒讀懂，卻覺得這個未知的成人世界真好玩。而東-西、雅-俗、男-女不可以二分，已成烙印。課程最後，文字好像沒怎寫，卻搞了些奇奇怪怪的object、和拍了段鬆郁矇的Hi8 片。那個時代，裝置和跨媒界才剛開始。蔡仞姿搞東西遊戲、李家昇黃楚喬搞女那禾多─沒有什麼是不可能，反正都賣不了錢。
December 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
Je étudie à Paris, dans le nord de la France. Cette ville est très jolie. Je vois le soleil brille à travers la fenêtre des immeubles, les pigeons sont réunis en face de l’Opéra Garnier, et les touristes sont debout avec des sacs de marque en face de le étalages. Il y a beaucoup de monde dans la rue de la ville sans pitié, les gens marchent en regardant leur pied.
J’ai déjà visité le Musée d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Musée de l’Orangerie, place de la Concorde et Provins… Ils sont gratuits pour moi. J’aime aller à des expositions d’art, à voir l’art et à rêver, mais j’ai le temps de rien.
J’habite à Saint-cloud à Garches depuis le 24 Septembre, dans une famille française. Je suppose que mon propriétaire est lesbienne. Elle a une fille adoptive. je me sens très bien avec eux.
J’ai beaucoup d’amis ici. Mon école est située à Pyramides, Paris. J’ai cours le lundi, mardi et vendredi du matin au soir. Pour aller à l’école, il me faut plus d’une heure. Je suis si fatigué. J’apprends le français, alors je prends des cours de français le mercredi et jeudi. Je n’ai pas le temps de travailler et l’argent. Je vais rester encore 2 mois. Je vais aller à Londres en février prochain. Je suis très inquiet.
Mes chers amis, comment allez-vous? J’espère que vous êtes bien et souvenez toujours de moi. Bises~