A Thin-Skinned Government vs. an Overflowing Art Market
The New York Times reported yesterday that the Asia Society had been blind-sided by the Chinese governments slow-playing their hand on a loan of art from the Revolution, 1950-1970. With their spotless control of the Olympics, the Chinese goverment’s actions should come as no surprise even if one has to chuckle at the trick of reneging on a promised loan at the last minute to sabotage the exhibit:
Despite the Chinese government’s decision, Asia Society has decided to proceed with the show by seeking loans from private collectors.
The approach of the Olympics seemed to have been the deal breaker. “Initially, they said, ‘Any loans you want; no problem,’ ” said Vishakha N. Desai, the society’s president. “The closer it got to the Olympics, they changed their policy.”
“It has more to do with China’s desire and aspiration to be seen in a new light,” Ms. Desai added. “This is a time for celebration. They don’t want to be reminded of a difficult past.”
“To some extent, it’s better,” she said. “We don’t want ever to be seen as being sanctioned by the government.”
Meanwhile, back in China, galleries are sprouting like mushrooms. Carol Kino had a piece earlier in the summer on Portfolio.com that got at some of the reasons for the excitement. It’s quite cheap for a dealer to expand and the opportunities far outweigh the very small risks/costs. Take these nuggets about Jack Tilton’s Beijing efforts:
Compared with New York, Tilton says, China is a remarkably inexpensive place to do business. “Building a building is, like, $40,000 to $60,000,” he says, “so you can build something enormous for no money.” He has put up three buildings so far, with an eye to selling them some years down the road.
When the Olympics are over, the Chinese government might lighten up a bit. But the momentum remains on the side of freer expression. Here’s a press release touting the achievements of Sh Contemporary which opens September 10th and runs to the 13th in Shanghai.