Monday, January 29, 2007

Feminist Art Finally Takes Center Stage, NYTimes

“Well, this is quite a turnout for an ‘ism,’ ” said the art historian and critic Lucy Lippard on Friday morning as she looked out at the people filling the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater at the Museum of Modern Art and spilling into the aisles. “Especially in a museum not notorious for its historical support of women.”

Ms. Lippard, now in her 70s, was a keynote speaker for a two-day symposium organized by the museum that was titled “The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts.” The event itself was an unofficial curtain-raiser for what is shaping up as a watershed year for the exhibition — and institutionalization, skeptics say — of feminist art.

For the first time in its history this art will be given full-dress museum survey treatment, and not in just one major show but in two. On March 4 “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution” opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, followed on March 23 by “Global Feminisms” at the Brooklyn Museum. (On the same day the Brooklyn Museum will officially open its new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and a permanent gallery for “The Dinner Party,” Judy Chicago’s seminal proto-feminist work.)

Such long-withheld recognition has been awaited with a mixture of resignation and impatient resentment. Everyone knows that our big museums are our most conservative cultural institutions. And feminism, routinely mocked by the public media for 35 years as indissolubly linked with radicalism and bad art, has been a hard sell.

But curators and critics have increasingly come to see that feminism has generated the most influential art impulses of the late 20th and early 21st century. There is almost no new work that has not in some way been shaped by it. When you look at Matthew Barney, you’re basically seeing pilfered elements of feminist art, unacknowledged as such.

The MoMA symposium was sold out weeks in advance. Ms. Lippard and the art historian Linda Nochlin appeared, like tutelary deities, at the beginning and end respectively; in between came panels with about 20 speakers. The audience was made up almost entirely of women, among them many veterans of the women’s art movement of the 1970s and a healthy sprinkling of younger students, artists and scholars. It was clear that people were hungry to hear about and think about feminist art, whatever that once was, is now or might be.

What it once was was relatively easy to grasp. Ms. Lippard spun out an impressionistic account of its complex history, as projected images of art by women streamed across the screen behind her, telling an amazing story of their own. She concluded by saying that the big contribution of feminist art “was to not make a contribution to Modernism.” It rejected Modernism’s exclusionary values and authoritarian certainties for an art of openness, ambiguity, reciprocity and what another speaker, Griselda Pollock, called “ethical hospitality,” features now identified with Postmodernism.

But feminism was never as embracing and accessible as it wanted to be. Early on, some feminists had a problem with the “lavender menace” of lesbianism. The racial divide within feminism has never been resolved and still isn’t, even as feminism casts itself more and more on a globalist model.

The MoMA audience was almost entirely white. Only one panelist, the young Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, was black. And the renowned critic Geeta Kapur from Delhi had to represent, by default, all of Asia. “I feel like I’m gate-crashing a reunion,” Ms. Mutu joked as she began to speak, and she wasn’t wrong.

At the same time one of feminism’s great strengths has been a capacity for self-criticism and self-correction. Yet atmospherically the symposium was a very MoMA event, polished, well executed, well mannered, even cozy. A good half of the talks came across as more soothing than agitating, suitable for any occasion rather than tailored to one onto which, I sensed, intense personal, political and historical hopes had been pinned.

Still, there was some agitation, and it came with the first panel, “Activism/Race/Geopolitics,” in a performance by the New York artist Coco Fusco. Ms. Fusco strode to the podium in combat fatigues and, like a major instructing her troops, began lecturing on the creative ways in which women could use sex as a torture tactic on terrorist suspects, specifically on Islamic prisoners.

The performance was scarifyingly funny as a send-up of feminism’s much-maligned sexual “essentialism.” But its obvious references to Abu Ghraib, where women were victimizers, was telling.

In the context of a mild-mannered symposium and proposed visions of a “feminist future” that saw collegial tolerance and generosity as solutions to a harsh world, Ms. Fusco made the point that, at least in the present, women are every bit as responsible for that harshness — for what goes on in Iraq for example — as anyone. read the whole article

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A new market theory of Art, Artnet

It costs about $95,000 to rent a corporate jet to fly from Beijing to New York. I learned this from the news that a corporate executive allegedly flew star CNBC financial reporter Maria Bartiromo on that route, raising all sorts of ethical squawks in the press.

What it tells me is the true value of $100 grand at the levels of the elite: not much. So it is no surprise that increments of $100,000 are to today’s contemporary art market what $10,000 was in the 1980s and $1,000 was in the ‘60s. How have these new valuations changed the art market?

First, there’s the question of accumulation. When the wealthy patron Katherine Dreier assembled a collection of Marcel Duchamp’s pieces in the 1930s, there was no demand or value to the work at the time and her collection was regarded as a daffy eccentricity. In the 1960s, when Ethel and Robert Scull cornered the market in Pop Art, they were regarded initially as social climbers and soon after as visionaries. Their collection, when sold at auction due to their divorce, was the initial contemporary art market-maker.

During the 1980s, Charles Saatchi started to corner the market by buying up the inventory of one artist, such as Sean Scully, and then dumping the work en masse, presumably for economic gain. Now, collectors such as Daniel Loeb and Aby Rosen also assemble dozens of works by a single artist (Loeb has close to 300 Martin Kippenbergers), but they have so much money that art collecting is a game for them that mimics their larger financial speculations. Using a hedge model, these collectors are able to manipulate the valuations of their holdings based on their internal financial realities, not on any outside demand per se. That is what hedging is.

This behavior creates distinct anomalies between artists of similar styles and talents. Why are works by Marlene Dumas worth millions and those by the stylistically similar Chuck Connelly worth next to nothing? Because surplus capital in the hands of a small group of moneyed types decrees it so, by fiat. Disparities between surplus capital and "normal" market behavior (the kinds of transparent demand-based prices that you can see on Artnet, for example) create two distinct "markets." The high-end market just described is the seeking of surplus capital for true value, which lands on a work of art, because that work of art is perceived as unique, often in a highly arbitrary manner that disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship. The news is not that a Picasso is worth $100 million, but that $100 million is worth the Picasso!

Such distortions affect the traditional ways we think about the art market. Block discounts of an artist’s entire body of work, from a hedge perspective, turn into block appreciation: each work is worth more in a group than individually. Appreciation in value over time, such as occurred with Dreier’s Duchamps, no longer exists. As in day trading on the stock exchange, profit becomes a function of trading rather than holding. Connoisseurship yields to branding. The individual qualities of a painting by Jenny Saville matter less than the fact that the painting is by Jenny Saville.

Herd behavior by collectors at art fairs is stimulated by these new realities. Nobody wishes to strike gold, because they already have gold: what these collectors want is status and cachet and, let’s face it, more gold. Greed is good. But art suffers in this context, because it functions solely as an economic and social marker, always subject to immediate obsolescence, should economic realities change. Yes, everyone is making money, but the money is really making them. Charlie Finch for Artnet.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trans Cape on track , Flash Art Online

“TRANS CAPE” a large-scale exhibition located
in Cape Town, South Africa,which

was originally set to open in September 2006,
was postponed due to delays in
from key stake holders.
The exhibition is now rescheduled to open
March 24th and run through May 2nd, 2007.
Featuring more than 60 artists from 19 different countries including
South Africa,
this sprawling exhibition will be curated by South-African born
Gavin Jantjes
with curators Gabi Ngcobo and Khwezi Gule.
Its guiding principle, as stated in the
press release,
is “to explore the shifts, changes, and re-locations of people on
the African
continent, as well as the movements and changes in contemporary

African visual culture.”

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bears against bombs, The Guardian

The barricades came down yesterday morning, when the temporary walls obscuring Mark Wallinger's State Britain were finally removed. Running the length of the central spine of Tate Britain is a near-perfect, life-sized replica of the one-man camp that peace campaigner Brian Haw occupied on Parliament Square between June 2001, when he first began his protest against the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the night in May 2006 when the police removed almost the entirety of Haw's belongings.

In between, the twin towers fell, Afghanistan was invaded, and sanctions against Iraq turned into occupation and civil war. London and Madrid were bombed, and the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act was passed, forbidding any unauthorised protests within a kilometre of Parliament Square. It was said that terrorists might use protests such as Haw's as a cover for their activities - though it appeared to have been designed principally to move Haw on.

Over the years, Haw's public protest opposite the Houses of Parliament grew to become a rambling, gap-toothed, 40-metre-long wall of banners, placards, rickety, knocked-together information boards, handmade signs and satirical slogans. Banksy donated a big painting of soldiers. Sun-bleached rainbow peace flags flapped overhead. The placards declaimed "You Lie Kids Die BLIAR" and "Christ Is Risen Indeed!". Road-spattered appeals to motorists to "Beep For Brian" stood beside an accumulation of material that could only be read or understood close-up. Photocopied warzone reports, commemorative crosses, entreaties and signs that have crept in from other people's protests - "Pensioners want a slice of the cake, not crumbs" - compete, and an estate agent's board has even found its way amongst the piles of stuff on the far side of Haw's placards, the accumulation of a near-five-year tenure.

Lovingly copied and recreated, this has all made its way into Wallinger's work. All that is missing is the indomitable Haw himself, with his megaphone and his badge-encrusted floppy hat. He is still camped on the grass opposite parliament, but now occupying only a fraction of the space he once had. A few days before Haw's stuff was all taken away, Wallinger took hundreds of photographs of the entire, splendidly ramshackle, ranting, unmissable eyesore on which he based his reconstruction. Here is an impromptu, cobbled-together monument to a "fallen comrade", constructed from a plastic traffic cone, several lengths of taped-together garden cane and a homemade flag. There, a group of dolls in Victorian dresses is lying beside a plastic baby with missing arms and legs, bloodied with paint. Mutilated soft toys, placard-waving and card-carrying teddy bears - bears against bombs, bears saying "too much to bear" - and soft toys piled in a paper coffin.

It all has a cumulative, creepily sentimental horror. It also, weirdly, reminds one of all sorts of artwork one has seen before: the installations of Mike Kelley; the placards, swathes of photocopied material and detritus of Thomas Hirschhorn. With its recreation and representation of an individual's lair, and the stuff they surround themselves with - Haw's Tesco biscuits are here, a sleeping bag sandwiched between layers of tarpaulin, his rolling tobacco and his flagons of drinking water, and what looks like pee - it is not unlike the fictional habitats of Mike Nelson's work, or even of some of Beuys's placards and survival packs.

State Britain could be interpreted as a continuation of Haw's protest by other means, in such a place and in such a way as to mock a law designed to curtail our freedom to protest. The whole thing is a trompe l'oeil fabrication, a still life, a 2007 history painting - the modern equivalent of Géricault's Raft of the Medusa, Goya's Third of May and Manet's Execution of the Emperor Maximillian, all of which referred in contentious ways to world events. Taken as a whole, it is the sort of thing one might find documented in Jeremy Deller's Folk Archive, his collection of the amateur and the inadvertent.

For State Britain, Wallinger has also taped a line on the floor, indicating an arc of the kilometre cordon as it passes through the gallery. It first appears under a display of wrapping paper in the Tate Britain shop, crossing the floor and disappearing under a display of art-technique manuals. It crosses a room currently dominated by a bust of TE Lawrence, hitting the wall beneath Jacob Kramer's Jews at Prayer; it passes Jacob Epstein's alabaster Jacob and the Angel, and speeds beyond Nicholas Hilliard's portrait of Elizabeth I. It slides past a vitrine displaying the first English translation of the Qur'an, published in 1649, just four months after the beheading of Charles I. Finally, the line hits the wall under George Stubbs's 1785 painting of Reapers, his immaculately turned-out peasants decorously working the farm. The line may be an arbitrary slice through the building, but it adds to the effect, and creates its own resonances and echoes. The line joins as much as it divides, and places Wallinger's work in a conversation with the rest of Tate Britain.

Brian Haw is a driven individual, whose entire life is given over to his kerbside protest. To ask what drives him, apart from his moral and political convictions, is to diminish the exemplary nature of his protest, whatever one might think of the manner of his dissent. Yet he is not unlike the figures Wallinger has focused on before. Throughout his career, Wallinger has returned again and again to the theme of Englishness as a trope for identity, and to the events, myths, faiths and individuals that make up a sense of national belonging. In Passport Control, 1988, Wallinger graffitied over his own portrait, turning his photo into various ethnic stereotypes (orthodox Jew, Arab, Chinese). In his 2000 film Threshold to the Kingdom, he showed passengers emerging through passport control at London City Airport, in slo-mo and to the strains of Allegri's setting of the 51st Psalm. We see their ecstatic expressions and relief, as though they had indeed passed a spiritual, as much as a bureaucratic, test. The film is deeply sad, a miserable miracle.

Everyone from the Women's Institute to the far right has claimed William Blake's Jerusalem for themselves, but in his own work Wallinger reminds us of Blake's radicalism; he has used the word Jerusalem as if it were revolutionary graffiti, spraying it over his own rendering of a painting by George Stubbs.

Wallinger once recorded a performance of the comedian Tommy Cooper and played it backwards, reflected in a mirror, a sort of loving homage to Cooper's anarchic stage confusion. Recreating Haw's protest is itself a kind of reversal, as well as a duplication. By bringing the protest inside an institution, Wallinger gives us a chance almost to freeze it, presenting it as a simulacrum of itself.

He is very good at teasing out meanings and metaphors. In a number of paintings and videos, he has analysed the culture of horse breeding and racing - in which he saw the dynamics of race, sex and class at work. In 1994, he bought a real live racehorse, calling it A Real Work of Art and registering his own racing colours.

Looking at State Britain, I am reminded of numerous earlier works by the artist. Haw's protest stems from his evangelical faith. In several works, including 1999's Ecce Homo, Wallinger has examined what kind of faith an artwork might now exemplify or entail. Ecce Homo placed a cast of an anonymous young man dressed as Christ on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square in 1999. Wallinger's Christ was not just an everyman, he was a stand-in. What, I asked a few months ago on these pages, would be the reaction to the placing of such an overt Christian symbol there today? It might well be taken as a provocation. Certainly, it is within the sacred kilometre.

Is State Britain a protest, a readymade, a simulation or an appropriation? It is all these things - an installation, an institutional critique, an example of relational aesthetics. It touches all bases, without becoming tedious or hectoring. The title may be a poor pun, but the work itself is clever and barbed. It makes us think of the mores of recent installation art, about the "public" nature of a space such as Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries and about the Britishness of the gallery itself - what is and is not exhibited here? State Britain raises more questions than it answers, but it is not glib. While Haw's placards announce the campaigner's beliefs, Wallinger takes a step back from the slogans themselves. Walking among the banners, you realise you look at them differently here.

Wallinger is asking us to view his recreation of Haw's stuff as art (even if some of it, like Banksy's image, already is art of a sort); he is not asking us to see Haw himself as an artist. Instead, he wants us to think more in terms of place and context - another of modern art's modes, the site-specific. In an accompanying exhibition publication, Wallinger presents a montage of writings - taken from George Orwell and Thomas Jefferson, the journalist Henry Porter and Tony Blair himself ("When I pass protesters every day at Downing Street, and believe me, you name it, they protest against it, I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom").

Since the 1960s, many artists, from Hans Haacke to Daniel Buren, Cildo Meireles to Allan Sekula, have made work which offers a critique of the institution that houses it, and the structures, financial and ideological, that support it. However critical such art may itself be, it also serves to highlight the institution's liberalism, by allowing it to be there in the first place. Such inclusiveness, as Susan Sontag argued, defuses the very criticism being offered. What State Britain offers is a sort of portrait of British institutions at a time of war, of the lip service government pays to dissent, on the attacks being made on our freedoms in the name of security, on the impotence of protest and of art itself as a form of protest. How rich this work is, and how saddening our state.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

'Unfathomable, repellent, delightful', The Guardian

Is there such a thing as "women's art"? Do we any longer need to think of women as a special group? Should there be a prize for women artists? For many, the terms female and male are simply cultural. They may also seem dangerously binary and - in the context of prizes or exhibitions such as a forthcoming show celebrating Margaret Salmon, the first winner of the MaxMara art prize for women at the Whitechapel - likely to create a ghetto of Otherness, a special pleading that supports the old patriarchal order. At least 50 per cent of art students are female. Why is it that over the 19 years of the Turner prize, only three winners have been women? At least 50 per cent of architectural students are female. Why is it, then, that the architectural profession remains dominated by men? Why in the world at large are there so few women leaders? And why is it that, in the 21st century, violence continues, as artist Barbara Kruger depicted in an installation at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art in 2005, to "kill or incapacitate more women aged between 15 and 40 worldwide than cancer, malaria, accidents and war combined". Most would agree that we should not define ourselves in terms of gender, but the context in which we live and work remains profoundly structured by it.

In 1871 the poet Arthur Rimbaud made a prophecy that would not be fully realised until the 20th century: "When women's unmeasured bondage shall be broken, when she shall live for and through herself, man - hitherto detestable - having let her go, she, too, will be poet! Woman will find the unknown! Will her ideational worlds be different from ours? She will come upon strange, unfathomable, repellent, delightful things; we shall take them, we shall comprehend them." Perhaps the greatest of the modern avant gardes came with the rise of women artists, writers, film-makers and performers. Having been excluded from the canon, women artists had no choice but to embark on the strange, the unfathomable, the repellent, as well as the delightful.

But it was only from the 1960s onwards that feminism and art really joined forces. Through a series of radical actions and experiments, women artists ranging from Louise Bourgeois to Mary Kelly made the transition from object to subject. With all the oedipal drive of the modernist avant gardes, some took direct aim at the enemy. In 1961 Niki de Saint Phalle attached bags of paint to a wall and shot them: "The painting was the victim. Who was the painting? Daddy? All men? Small men? Tall men? Big men? Fat men? Men? My brother John? Or was the painting me? ... The new bloodbath of red, yellow and blue splattered over the pure white relief metamorphosed the painting into a tabernacle for death and resurrection. I was shooting at myself, society with its injustices. I was shooting at my own violence and the violence of the times. By shooting at my own violence, I no longer had to carry it inside of me like a burden."

Women declined the role of the naked muse and of the countless variations on the madonna/whore riff that have played throughout western art, to reclaim their bodies. In 1975 Carolee Schneemann appeared naked in a Long Island gallery. Having first adopted the pose of a life model, she then read out feminist texts inscribed on a scroll that she pulled slowly from her vagina. In 1979, at the Whitechapel Gallery in the East End of London, audiences could witness Eva Hesse's redefinition of painting and sculpture in installations that fused the two. Others jettisoned the paintbrush and the chisel in favour of the camera, pioneering a new vision in film and photography - we have only to think of Chantal Akerman's meticulous portrait of a widow's survival strategies in Jeanne Dielman (1975) or Cindy Sherman's uncanny self-portraits. Women artists also insisted on the place of political thought, anthropology and, perhaps most significantly, psychoanalysis within art theory; and that issues of gender could not be seen in isolation from issues of race, class, sexuality and geography.

Representations of women continue to reinforce their absence from spheres of power. And on an individual level, it is without question a challenge for women to continue making work, to earn a living and to remain visible in the art world while having children. Being available to take up residencies, travel to biennales and openings, can be out of the question. It can be pretty spooky just walking home at night from a studio in an old factory in Hackney. If a group exhibition features only men, it passes without comment. If it features only women it is immediately described as "a women's show". Once you have made it into the commercial gallery, other factors come into play. It is the financial sector that is fuelling the current art market boom. Almost exclusively male, does it privilege art that shares its ethos of machismo?

Many extraordinary women today have transcended these challenges to make a major contribution to the art of our times - in Britain, we have only to think of Tomma Abts, Fiona Banner, Tracey Emin, Susan Hiller, Sarah Lucas, Cornelia Parker, Paula Rego, Bridget Riley, Eva Rothschild or Rachel Whiteread. However, I would argue that there is still a need for a prize for art, or literature (celebrated now by the Orange prize for fiction, which marked its 10th anniversary last year), or architecture created by women. Prizes do many things. They are a fantastic way of scanning a huge field of creative production and sifting out significant practitioners. They introduce the judges, the media and the public to new work. They can help us all navigate the great cultural proliferation of the 21st century and focus on something that has been judged worthy of attention by a group of peers. Perhaps most importantly, they can make the difference for someone who has struggled against the odds to succeed. Critically, prizes for women artists will encourage those who have just started out to pursue their dream, and offer all of us a vision - strange, unfathomable - that has not yet been seen in the dominant order of things.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A movable street scene LATimes

A once-vibrant work of public art obscured by grime and graffiti is the focus of a "restoration" of sorts by the Petersen Automotive Museum and SPARC, the Social and Public Art Resource Center.

"Los Angeles: The Living City," a damaged 16-by-94-foot mural outside H&K Supermarket on Western Avenue, can be seen as it was with the installation of a one-third-scale, digital photographic reproduction in the Petersen's May Family Discovery Center. The Petersen installed a copy of the mural, created by Sandra Drinning in 1997, to highlight L.A.'s relationship with cars, culture and history.But taggers have taken a toll on Drinning's quirky vista of L.A. freeways and landmarks. And at some point, graffiti artists covered large sections with foliage, buildings and people in an approximation of Drinning's style.

No large-scale photograph of the unblemished work was available for the creation of the Petersen's replica, so SPARC's digital lab director, Farhad Akhmetov, did the restoration using a composite of several images taken when the mural was completed. Muralists Martha Ramirez and Judith Baca, SPARC artistic director and co-founder, filled in gaps by painting directly on the replica.

The Petersen split the $15,000 cost with SPARC, which commissioned the mural in 1991 — and would like to restore it someday. The replica "doesn't replace the piece on the street," Baca said, "but I think it can go someplace else and be as beautiful and interactive as it was on the street."

Baca said efforts to contact Drinning have been unsuccessful.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

In China’s New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism, NYTimes

After the peppered beef carpaccio and before the pan-fried sea bass there were raucous toasts and the clinking of wine glasses in the V.I.P. room of New Heights, a jazzy restaurant in this city’s most luxurious location, overlooking the Bund.

Wang Guangyi, one of China’s pioneering contemporary artists, was there. So were Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi and 20 other well-known Chinese artists and their guests, many of whom had been flown in from Beijing to celebrate the opening of a solo exhibition of new works by Zeng Hao, another rising star in China’s bubbly art scene.

“We’ve had opening dinners before,” said the Shanghai artist Zhou Tiehai, sipping Chilean red wine, “but nothing quite like this until very recently.”

The dinner, held on a recent Saturday night in a restaurant located on the top floor of a historic building that also houses an Armani store and the Shanghai Gallery of Art, was symbolic of the soaring fortunes of Chinese contemporary art.

In 2006 Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the world’s biggest auction houses, sold $190 million worth of Asian contemporary art, most of it Chinese, in a series of record-breaking auctions in New York, London and Hong Kong. In 2004 the two houses combined sold $22 million in Asian contemporary art.

The climax came at a Beijing auction in November when a painting by Liu Xiaodong, 43, sold to a Chinese entrepreneur for $2.7 million, the highest price ever paid for a piece by a Chinese artist who began working after 1979, when loosened economic restrictions spurred a resurgence in contemporary art.

That price put Mr. Liu in the company of the few living artists, including Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, whose work has sold for $2 million or more at auction.

“This has come out of nowhere,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, global head of Asian arts at Sotheby’s, which, like Christie’s, has just started a division focusing on contemporary Chinese art.

With auction prices soaring, hundreds of new studios, galleries and private art museums are opening in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Chinese auction houses that once specialized in traditional ink paintings are now putting contemporary experimental artworks on the block.

Western galleries, especially in Europe, are rushing to sign up unknown painters; artists a year out of college are selling photographic works for as much as $10,000 each; well-known painters have yearlong waiting lists; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Pompidou Center in Paris are considering opening branches in China.

“What is happening in China is what happened in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Michael Goedhuis, a collector and art dealer specializing in Asian contemporary art who has galleries in London and New York. “New ground is being broken. There’s a revolution under way.”

But the auction frenzy has also sparked debate here about whether sales are artificially inflating prices and encouraging speculators, rather than real collectors, to enter the art market.

Auction houses “sell art like people sell cabbage,” said Weng Ling, the director of the Shanghai Gallery of Art. “They are not educating the public or helping artists develop. Many of them know nothing about art.”

But the boom in Chinese contemporary art — reinforced by record sales in New York last year — has also brought greater recognition to a group of experimental artists who grew up during China’s brutal Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

After the 1989 government crackdown in Tiananmen Square, avant-garde art was often banned from being shown here because it was deemed hostile or anti-authoritarian. Through the 1990s many artists struggled to earn a living, considering themselves lucky to sell a painting for $500.

That has all changed. These days China’s leading avant-garde artists have morphed into multi-millionaires who show up at exhibitions wearing Gucci and Ferragamo.

Wang Guangyi, best-known for his Great Criticism series of Cultural Revolution-style paintings emblazoned with the names of popular Western brands, like Coke, Swatch and Gucci, drives a Jaguar and owns a 10,000-square-foot luxury villa on the outskirts of Beijing.

Yue Minjun, who makes legions of colorful smiling figures, has a walled-off suburban Beijing compound with an 8,000-square-foot home and studio. Fang Lijun, a “Cynical Realist” painter whose work captures artists’ post-Tiananmen disillusionment, owns six restaurants in Beijing and operates a small hotel in western Yunnan province. Read the whole article.