Archive for the Art Inc. Category

As the deflated rich in this country wring their hands about how rapidly China is buying up U.S. bonds, securities, businesses, and land, I found it curious to find this story about attempts by Chinese artists who own the international fake art market.

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) — In a village in southern China, Wu Ruiqiu is worried about the effect of an economic slump on the art market. He should be. Wu represents artists who make 60 percent of the world’s oil paintings. Wu is chairman of Dafen’s art association, which groups 8,000 artists in a suburb of Shenzhen, China’s biggest manufacturing hub. While employees in the city make cheap DVD players, computers and T-shirts, workers here produce Rembrandts, Monets and Warhols — by the millions.

Exports have fallen by a third this year, he said… About 85 percent of sales are exports, with the U.S. the biggest customer. A decline in demand has forced the smaller of Dafen’s 800 galleries to close. Others have slashed prices to compete…

Of the nearly 5 million paintings produced at Dafen each year, almost 75 percent are knockoffs (the locals prefer the term replicas). The rest are original artworks, said Fan Yuxin, vice director of the government’s Dafen Village management office.

Lan Xin, who runs a 100-square-foot gallery with Yue copies propped against the walls and hung on pillars, accepts custom orders. He clicked on an icon on his computer screen that expanded to show miniature images of paintings such as Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portraits. Lan said he commissions freelance artists to paint pictures customers order….

“The paintings here are cheap, they are good, what’s there not to like?” said Houston, Texas-based Judy Berckman, browsing the stalls of galleries for “abstract art.”Foreign companies think the same. The village’s products line the walls of casinos in Las Vegas and Macau…

Dafen’s prolific fakery roused complaints from original artists and their estates, prompting the government to introduce intellectual property rules that bar galleries from selling copies of works by living artists and those dead for less than 50 years.

Fan said an anti-piracy squad inspects galleries “once a month or once a week” and confiscates works that violate the rules. Still, he said the onus is on buyers and people who commission paintings to clear copyright issues.

“Painters just do as they are told,” Fan said. “Their obligation stops when they deliver the goods to customer satisfaction.”

A walk around Dafen’s galleries, full of copies of works by China’s bestselling contemporary artists, shows that the rules aren’t strictly enforced.

I finished Bill Ivey’s Art Inc. last week, after a long, drawn-out battle with the text. Part of the challenge was my personal circumstances — as I was changing day jobs — but another part of it was the denseness of the text. It helped that I wenty away last week to my wife’s family’s fabulous(ly quiet) cabin, and, with loon’s crying in the background, I was able to kick up the feet without distraction for a change and finish the book. (I didn’t log in once — which, of course, explains the brief CAFA hiatus…)

I’m still somewhat processing the data, information, and suggestions of Ivey in relation to “how greed and neglect have destroyed our cultural rights,” and I am currently pondering writing something more extensive about the book in future weeks—perhaps connecting this text to a book someone bequethed to me, ironically enough, just before I left my previous job: John Frohnmayer’s Leaving Town Alive. But for now I’ll just post a few quotations I found interesting and insightful from Art Inc., and encourage you all to read this intriguing, timely, and important book (note: Ivey’s take on Ronald Reagan, referenced briefly below, actually somewhat changed my view of this president, of whom I’d never had a very positive opinion):

  • “…since the 1960s our cultural policy has pretty much been about bringing more fine art to the American people. Increasing supply made sense in 1960, but this single-minded agenda has made it too easy for self-declared arts leaders to avoid engaging the breadth of America’s unique cultural system, focusing instead on a couple of narrow issues — arts education and expanded funding for nonprofits.”
  • “Back when I was a sophomore living on the third floor of the University of Michigan’s first coed dorm, I asked an artist friend who lived down the hall what his parents thought about his choice of career. I’ve never forgotten his answer: ‘Every family wants a Picasso hanging on the wall, but no family wants one standing in the living room.’ He’d hit the nail on the head; we Americans love — even worship — our artists from afar, but once the curtain comes down or, as Bob Dylan says, ‘the gallery lights dim,’ we’re just as happy if they quietly leave the stage. Americans don’t take artists very seriously.”
  • “One sign of our lack of respect for artists is the persistence of evidence that artists have too much trouble piecing together an income for an appropriate level of long-term material well-being; another sign is the difficulty Americans have accommodating the special vision, knowledge, and insight of artists as leaders in public life. After all, we’ve only elected one real artist to high office, actor Ronald Reagan, and his artistic pedigree discomfited his supporters…”
  • “If, as Freud argued, maturity is measured by the capacity of an individual to hold contradictory ideas at the same time, then the maturity of a society can be judged by it ability to simultaneously honor multiple aesthetics. Our individual expressive lives are enriched as we take in more examples of the nature of the human predicament and as we experience different approaches to the representation of cultural values and different attempts to convey universal truths.”
  • “Back when I was chairman of the NEA, I made a point of handing a dollar to every street entertainer I passed. ‘It’s my job,’ I’d half-joke with friends. ‘I’m the head of the U.S. agency that makes grants in the arts; this is the least I can do.’”
  • “Today, inflation-adjusted funding by state, local, and federal arts agencies is less than in 1992, and arts grants as a percentage of total foundation giving have also declined; foundation giving to the arts actually decreased slightly in 2006. Finally, as Americans for the Arts recently reported, modest recent gains in overall giving to culture disguise the fact that the percentage of overall philanthropy devoted to the nonprofit arts — the sector’s ‘market share’ of all giving — has declined by nearly one-third since the early 1990s.”
  • “As media scholar Philip Napoli observes, cultural policy ‘has never resonated or developed in the policymaking sector as an explicitly defined and institutionalized field of government activity.’ We’ve paid a price: public policy in matters of culture has been poorly aimed, limited in scope, and astoundingly tolerant of incoherence and unintended consequences. And the absence of public-interest priorities in intellectual property law, trade in cultural goods, creative education, and access to heritage has allowed an unrestrained marketplace to cobble together an arts scene that serves narrow commercial interests.”
  • “… at some point public policy must take on the challenge of leveling out or even turning back the relentless growth in the size of the nonprofit sector; a healthy twenty-first-century nonprofit arts system may require some culling, especially among unendowed midsized operations. Today the challenge for nonprofits is not to expand seasonal offerings or build new arts centers but rather to facilitate the downsizing or even the graceful demise of some institutions on the edge of survival in order to free up resources to allow stronger museums, orchestras, and dance companies to exercise greater creativity.”

I’m still slogging through Bill Ivey’s book, Art Inc.—trying to comprehend the intricacies of his arguments. For the most part, thus far as best I can tell, Ivie’s arguing that our cultural values—so heavily geared toward the commercial, and so heavily favoring the corporate—are at the root cause of our society’s dysfunctional relationship with the arts. That said, his solution thus far seems, at best, pretty pat and somewhat naive. I’ll report more once I manage to fight off the distractions of summer and can actually finish the book…

Meanwhile, a recent Reuters report by Mike Collett-While, “High art prices may disguise malaise,” tracks the continued decline of the current market for art.  According to the story, which comes out of London, while the super-rich continue to push prices for Blue Chip art higher, “the picture is less rosy at the lower end of the market…. [and] values for even the world’s most sought-after artists could come back down to Earth with a bump if confidence were to slide.”

While records fell in a series of Christie’s and Sotheby’s summer art auctions, “falling share prices, inflationary pressures and rising costs of oil” were affecting the middle market, as one-third of lots failed to sell in a recent auction, and the the auction fell short by around $49.5-million of its low pre-sale estimate.

“The problem is when people in the market start to question and become uncertain,” said one analyst. “There could be a political or economic jolt that is so dramatic that it distracts people at the high end of the market, and it is like a house of cards.”

…Of all this artistic failure?

 According to a new book called Art Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights, written by former NEA chair Bill Ivey, the state of the arts in America is (as regular readers of CAFA well know) bad. The reasons for this looming crisis, according to Ivey (from the UC Press book blurb):

The expanding footprint of copyright, an unconstrained arts industry marketplace, and a government unwilling to engage culture as a serious arena for public policy have come together to undermine art, artistry, and cultural heritage—the expressive life of America.

In Arts Inc., Ivey blends personal and professional memoir, policy analysis, and deeply held convictions to explore and define a coordinated vision for art, culture, and expression in American life. According to Andrew Taylor, an arts administration educator at the University of Wisconsin: “Arts, Inc. is the first comprehensive effort to explore the role and potential of a coordinated vision for art, culture, and expression in American public life… Bill Ivey defines a new canvas for more productive and inclusive conversations on the expressive life of our nation and its citizens.”

Lawrence Lessing, of Stanford Law School, says the book is, “a profoundly important diagnosis by perhaps America’s best-qualified critic of the harm to our culture caused by overregulation and inadequate support. Ivey has given us a rich and beautifully written warning about the culture we’re losing, and a powerful and historically compelling image of a culture that could be.”

Arts Inc. is the first title in CAFA’s artistic failure must-read summer book list.