Can The Art Market Judge Value? Discussion With Luo Fei Part 2

Note: This interview is posted by R. Orion Martin, and this is the part II(Part I). Thanks Orion:)

This is part 2 of an interview I did with curator Luo Fei, in which we discussed the successes and failures of the Chinese art market, and its influence on art. Our discussion is loosely based on the views that Huang Zhuan expressed in a 1991 interview with Art Market.


Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2010, Sale price: $534,600

Orion: In the 1990s and later, some curators asked companies for economic support in order to create independent galleries. Is this a better solution? Perhaps some galleries work like this?

Luo Fei: Strictly speaking, they do not support. Rather they rely on a kind of exchange. They ask for gifts from the artist or collectors in order to regain the capital invested in the exhibition. There’s no free lunch. Continue reading

Can The Art Market Judge Value? Discussion With Luo Fei Part 1

Note: This interview is posted by R. Orion Martin, he interviewed me last week, and this is the part I. Thanks Orion:)

View from the auction floor of Sotheby

View from the auction floor of Sotheby

In 1991, Huang Zhuan participated in an interview for the magazine Art Market. In it, he argued that the creation of an art market in China would establish a relatively fair arena in which artists could compete while also supporting those artists. He further explained that artists are always under pressure (political, religious, social, and economic), and that the test of a true artist is how he or she responds to that pressure.

20 years later, I think many in China would say that the development of the art market didn’t work out quite as well as he predicted. I sat down to discuss his ideas with curator Luo Fei.

Orion: Let’s begin by talking about what happened to the development of the Chinese art market after this interview written. During the 1990s, Chinese art was “discovered” by foreign dealers.

Luo Fei: Yes that’s right. In the 1990’s foreign embassies became important to Chinese artists as alternative sites of exhibition.

Orion: This is the so called “embassy art”?

Luo Fei: Yes. At that time artists had no space to exhibit. Sometimes they would show in embassies or private spaces. Of course, the artists who were able to exhibit in an embassy or a diplomat’s house were those artists who were already discovered and were relatively well known.

Orion: Throughout the 1990s there was more and more attention paid to Chinese art circles, but what about major auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christies? When did they become involve?

Luo Fei: I’m not sure about the specific dates, but the legitimization of 798 was a major turning point because it was a signaled that the government had acknowledged contemporary art. In the beginning 798 was a spontaneous, independently founded community like the Artist’s Loft in Kunming. It was a place where artists and art organizations gathered together and resisted the pressure of urban development. Then in the mid-2000s it was recognized by the government as a cultural center.

Orion: The 2000 Shanghai Biennale was also an important turning point, correct?

Luo Fei: That’s right. I remember reading many art magazines talk about the biennale when before they had never introduced contemporary art.

Orion: Around 2006 the art market really began to heat up. Since then it has cooled a bit, but there was a lot of money invested in the 2000s.

Luo Fei: In Yunnan during 2005 and 2006, the hottest thing was wasn’t the market but Jianghu (a series of experimental exhibitions funded by the Lijiang Studio). After that, the market’s influence on Yunnan became stronger and stronger. Particularly in 2006, many Yunnan artists were invited to display in Shanghai and about 20 or 30 artists participated in an exhibition. Most of the pieces where oil paint, sculpture, installation and photography. One particularly large event was the “New Impulse” exhibition held at the Yuan Gong Fine Arts Gallery. I think this definitely had an influence on Yunnan artists, the chance to go out and exhibit, look at different kinds of exhibition. Through these large exhibitions, artists with commercial value began to filter out. Some good artists sold all their works and began to work closely with galleries.

Personal experience with commercialization was an important learning experience for Yunnan artists. I remember that once when I was installing an exhibition in Shanghai, someone from China Post came and asked if I was willing to print my works on postcards. They wanted to expand the market and its influence by printing these postcards. I remember thinking that there were no China Post officials in Yunnan going to exhibitions and asking about collaboration, and if you went to them they would definitely look at you with indifference. The entire Yunnan market was still clearly very immature.

Zeng Fanzhi, Mask Series 1998

Zeng Fanzhi, Mask Series 1998, No. 26, Sale price: $2.6 million

Orion: What happened then?

Luo Fei: In those years there were many artists who moved to Beijing or other locations and established studios. Many of their studios were huge, even as big as a gallery, in order to make large works. Some young artists also began to employ small teams of assistants to produce their work. At that time there was really a lot of investment in studios, art production, teams and selling. I did a very simple installation involving a loudspeaker on a six meter long wooden pole that played recordings of the prohibition of violent and grotesque performance art in public spaces. They wanted to take the installation to Shanghai but to move that long piece of wood across the country they had to rent a huge shipping container. Personally, I thought it was unnecessary, I just wanted to do a new art project in Shanghai. But at that time many galleries really didn’t care how much the price was. They wanted to try presenting a grand exhibition. I think that this kind of thing rarely happens today unless you are a very successful artist.

Orion: In your opinion, does the market now establish a “legitimate arena” with “rules of competition”? (terms drawn from Huang Zhuan’s piece)

Luo Fei: First I should say that I’m not in the market. I focus on experimental art. But my friends and teachers who are involved say that the art market is no different than other areas of the economy. In actuality, the Chinese art market is governed by Chinese rules of competition. All of the society’s rules of competition clearly have problems, there are too many unwritten rules and background connections. For example, Bo Xilai’s case is dramatic because there are a lot of things going on behind the official news. Maybe the art market is not as dramatic as the political sphere but it has the same characteristics.

The infamous Bainsbridge vase

The infamous Bainsbridge vase, a dusty antique discovered in an English home that auctioned for a stunning $85.9 million dollars

Orion: Are you referring to corruption in the art market?

Luo Fei: It’s a bit different but yes, it’s there. In politics we have corruption, but in art circles it is expressed in a different form. For example, if a boss wants to support an artist, he may ask someone to buy their work at a high price in an auction.

Orion: There are reports that during auctions of Chinese works, some organizations will plant buyers in order to push up the prices.

Luo Fei: Yes, it’s a game. In addition, the critics who assess value are also involved. The boss will gather buyers and art critics for dinner. The critic says good things and at the end of the night he/she gets a red envelope (Chinese tradition for passing gifts of money or bribes). It’s good that the critic gets some income but they lose their independence.

Orion: Zhuan sees a very large role for critics in the art market. Do you think critics can be the arbiter of art’s value?

Luo Fei: This is one of the critic’s responsibilities, to distinguish between good and bad, to assign art value, and to publicly interpret art. But as to the value of art, I personally do not believe that critics can act as the final arbiter. In terms of the public value of art, I am more interested in establishing a robust art system based on museums. Museums are a more fair way of selecting outstanding artists. Critics today are all self-employed or teaching at schools. Some work in galleries. I work at TCG Nordica, and therefore my responsibility is to introduce artists to the public. Interestingly, some independent curators will ask their students to write essays for them. This makes evaluations of worth very dubious and ambiguous, turning art criticism into a kind of advertisement.

Orion: They just tell the students to write some nice things?

Luo Fei: Yes, as a kind of practice for the students. Artists often complain to me about critics who do this. You can read the work and recognize that it’s really bad.

Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang Xiaogang, Bloodline: Big Family No. 1, 1994, Sale price: $8.4 million

Orion: You mentioned that museums are a better alternative, but if there were more museums, wouldn’t they be like the Yunnan Provincial Museum? I recently saw an exhibition there that was absolutely terrible.

Luo Fei: I’m not talking about official museums. I mean those run by companies or independent individuals. In this system, buyers buy the art in order to collect the history. The public institution (whether private or a type of organization) profits from society, and then those profits are translated into cultural value and given to society. This is the function of those museums.

Orion: We’re talking about independent large scale galleries and private museums.

Luo Fei: Yes, we need different kinds of organizations that can show the public there are different values. Ideally, art critics would not have all the power. Different systems would reflect different values. We need a rich art ecosystem with all kinds of organizations including commercial, nonprofit, experimental, government, religious, classical, fashion, conservative, large scale, small scale, stable and mobile. The audience can decide what good art is, or what is good in different areas.

Part 2 will be posted next week.

The Dao: To Ceaselessly Grow and Multiply

Zhang Yongzheng “Process 6 – Water Disaster”, Acrylic on canvas, 195X130cm, 2010

The Dao: To Ceaselessly Grow and Multiply
Reflections on Zhang Yongzheng’s Paper-based Improvisational Works

By Luo Fei
Translated by R. Orion Martin

Author’s note: I have long been interested in Zhang Yongzheng’s creative process, and am quite familiar with the various stages of his work. We’ve also always been very good friends, but when I really began to write about his works, I still found it extremely challenging, as it is always difficult to make sense of the cryptic nature of abstract art. This is because it is not art that can be “read.” Rather, it must be “seen.” Nevertheless, I strive to use my own impressions and understandings in order to decipher it clearly, and I hope to contribute to a richer understanding of his work.

Process and Improvisation

Circles, squares, breaks, and piercing radial patterns, writing like running water, pure colors that garishly dazzle the eyes, an atmosphere of cold metaphysics, and concealed pearls of Xuanxue philosophical wisdom. These are the impressions that Zhang Yongzheng’s propylene on canvas works, begun in 2006, give me. These works possess a stunningly clear individual style, especially in the art world of Yunnan where scarcely any abstract artists are active. The canvas based works are collectively referred to as his Process series, and are differentiated by their themes such as solar cycles, four seasons, the five elements, and disasters. Zhang Yongzheng works from an amalgamation of Chinese philosophical schools called Xuanxue which includes elements of Daoism and Confucianism. He uses his spiritual and visual resources to search for an abstract form that is related to philosophy as well as contemporary experience. He assimilates the sharp contrast of Xuanxue-derived geometric forms with a kind of improvised writing. Together they bestow his works with a feeling of conflict, mystery, and universality. Continue reading

The Cell’s Longing: Jonathan Aumen solo exhibition


The Cell’s Longing
——TCG Nordica resident artist Jonathan Aumen(US)’s solo exhibition

Curator: Luo Fei
Exhibition Opening: 8pm, 25th of Feb, 2012
Exhibition duration: 25th of Feb – 31st of March, 2012
Address: TCG Nordica Gallery, Chuangku, Xibalu 101, Kunming
Tel: 0871-4114692


Press Release

American artist Jonathan Aumen arrived in Kunming in September 2011 for an artist residency at TCG Nordica gallery. The works on display were all completed during the following six months of his residency in Kunming and all of them are intimately focused on the city, its people, and their inner longings. They also relate to the continuous demolition and relocation situation present in Kunming in recent years.

Before he arrived in Kunming, Aumen read a popular science article that said that a single cell is just as functionally complex as a city the size of Kunming. It has its own laws of operation, centers, transport hubs, and lives. In short, your very own finger tip contains 100,000 cells.  If you continue  this train of thought and do the math, we find the human body is a biological wonder and the complexity mind-blowing.  Aumen was stunned and captivated by the beauty and wonder of life. In light of this extravagant complexity, how can one argue that there was no designer? This inspires a train of thought and a scope of work.

TCG Nordica will display Aumen’s more than 30 oil paintings in different sizes during this exhibition, from the eyes of an American, that look through the city to reflect on our living conditions and inner longings.

The exhibition opening will be 8 pm, 25th of Feb at TCG Nordica, Chuangku(loft), exhibit until 31st of March.

Related posts:
Jonathan Aumen’s CV
Interview Jonathan Aumen: An artist’s responsibility is to recharge society






The Cell’s Longing

Luo Fei

jonathan-painting14American artist Jonathan Aumen arrived in Kunming in September 2011 for an artist residency at TCG Nordica gallery. The works on display here were all completed during the following six months of his residency in Kunming and all of them are intimately focused on the city. Before he arrived in Kunming, Aumen read a popular science article that said that a single cell is just as functionally complex as a city the size of Kunming. It has its own laws of operation, centers, transport hubs, and lives. In short, your very own finger tip contains 100,000 cells.  If you continue  this train of thought and do the math, we find the human body is a biological wonder and the complexity mind-blowing.  Aumen was stunned and captivated by the beauty and wonder of this knowledge. In light of this extravagant complexity, how can one argue that there was no designer? This began a train of thought and a scope of work, but it truly originates in a belief.

Aumen’s interest in cities is deep. Upon finding a computer motherboard he said, “Isn’t this a city? Look, here are the buildings, here are the districts, the factories…” His newest works all feature views of Kunming. If you look carefully, you will notice that the majority are slums or traditional homes from old-fashioned districts. Aumen is a nostalgic person, possibly because he is influenced by the memories from when, at the age of eight, he lived in Beijing for ten years.

jonathan-painting02 jonathan-painting15

In the paintings there are many houses – whether from above, from a distance, in our gaze, whether crowded or inverted or askew, whether a panoramic view or a fragment. This unfamiliar city gives Aumen much insight; first into the relationship between the complex structure of a cell and a city, but also into the longings of people. Consequently, his works can roughly be divided into two groups that focus, respectively, on these two themes. The first group features a series of expansive paintings in which apartments are densely packed together and solar water heaters are bustling with activity, all of it under a cloud-filled sky that suggests a coming storm. From the windows come sparkling bits of radiant light, as if prophesying that within moments, something important will occur. These paintings are organized in the form of grid. Aumen believes that if there wasn’t something supporting this complex city, it would have already exploded, just like atomic explosions occur when atoms lose their cohesiveness. Therefore, the grid represents a certain kind of conscious energy that holds together all the varied bits and pieces. This sort image is also transcribed onto 192 square pieces of wood that appear as if drawn from a Rubik’s cube. These groups of works all stand for Aumen’s understanding of the relationship between city and cell.

A city is not merely a community of convenience, materiality, and consumption, but rather a gathering of living beings. It has order. It has soul. It has moods, contemplations, and stories. They live in these towering apartments, one moment blissful, and the next moment they would be destroyed, if not for some force holding them together.

Aumen’s premonition of urban crisis is informed by the Jewish prophet Isaiah (Old Testament, Book of Isaiah), who says,

“The earth turns gaunt and gray, the world silent and sad, sky and land lifeless, colorless. Earth Polluted by Its Very Own People. Earth is polluted by its very own people, who have broken its laws, disruptedits order, violated the sacred and eternal covenant. Therefore a curse, like a cancer, ravages the earth. Its people pay the price of their sacrilege. They dwindle away, dying out one by one.”(Isaiah 24:4-6)

This excerpt prophesies that when the world no longer respects the laws of God, when there is no longer justice and rectitude, the world will pay a price and become a place of terrible decline and corruption. There will be no possibility to uplift oneself from the midst of squalor, due to the fundamentally fallen nature of the world. This premonition of crisis is reminiscent of “Be concerned about the affairs of state before others”, a traditional mindset among Chinese scholar officials that refers to the cultivation of a forward-looking awareness of approaching threats.
But Isaiah and other Jewish prophets were not overcome by a destructive nihilism. Rather, they noted that after God judged human’s for their sins, there was always the possibility of redemption. Therefore, shortly following the above passage, the Book of Isaiah reads,

“At that time the deaf will hear word-for-word what’s been written. After a lifetime in the dark, the blind will see. The castoffs of society will be laughing and dancing in God, the down-and-outs shouting praise to The Holy of Israel. For there’ll be no more gangs on the street. Cynical scoffers will be an extinct species. Those who never missed a chance to hurt or demean will never be heard of again”(Isaiah 29:18-20)

Notable in this Jewish scripture is that two themes, the punishment of sin and the longing for a coming righteous kingdom, alternate throughout the work.

jonathan-painting07 jonathan-painting08

I think these two views influence Aumen’s painting. In addition to works which focus on the darkness of urban decay, there are also scenes depicting one’s heart’s desire. This group of images is not broken up by the restricting image of the grid. They gaze into the distance at the city around us, with a slight glimmer coming through the layered clouds over our heads. They seem quite peaceful and every day, without any particular temperament. Within the house, we dwell. Below the sky, we live. Everything is in order, but one has the feels that their heart is heavy.

Chinese writer Shi Tiesheng writes,

“Whether art or literature, one need not be and imperial attendant or vocal promoter. One needs to be a detective, listening to the rocky voice in the otherwise flowing order, looking at every familiar place as if it was strange.”

I believe that in any age, this is the value of art. We don’t need art to confirm once again the progress, accomplishments, and arrogance of human beings. Nor do we need to sing once more the praises of the pleasantly livable city, all the while neglecting that which is lacking, that which is broken, the sins and longings. Aumen says, art must let one look upon the truth, and give them hope.

In this collection there is one painting where, as we peak behind a dark brown wall, we raise our heads to see a building, and from that exact point of view we see a sharp sliver of sky mediated by thin clouds. It is as if another kingdom is emerging clockwise little by little. In the moment it occurs, do we feel it in our hearts?

Written February 11, 2012
translated by R. Orion Martin (US) 








白雪娟,陈玲洁,陈曼妮,费敏,费雪梅,郭俊秀,贺晓璇,雷燕,李红菊,饶斯琪 宋梓萍,苏亚碧,王钰清,王海琳,叶松青,杨丽花,Marjan Verhaeghe (比利时)

何雾,刘双,李竞飞, 吕丽蓉,马丹,普华仙,孙谨,孙素秋,宋欢,王爱英,武妍希,徐芸,杨文萍,杨雁楸,朱筱琳











“Four Seasons: Summer” Yunnan Female Artist Group Exhibition

Curatorial team:

Sponsor: Dantong Group-Xinghe International Art Town
Organizer: TCG Nordica Gallery

Curator: Sun Guojuan
Academic Host: Luo Fei
Artistic Director: Lei Yan
Producer: Mao Di
Translator: R. Orion Martin (US)

Artists(Part I):
Bai Xuejuan, Chen Lingjie, Chen Manni, Fei Min, Fei Xuemei, Guo Junxiu, Huo Xiaoxuan, Lei Yan, Li Hongju, Rao Siqi, Song Ziping, Su Yabi, Wang Yuqing, Wang Hailin, Ye Songqing, Yang Lihua, Marjan Verhaeghe(Belgium)

Artists(Part II):
He Wu, Li Shuang, Li Jingfei, Lv Lirong, Pu Huaxian, Ma Dan, Sun Jin, Song Huan, Sun Suqiu, Wu Yanxi, Xu Yun, Yang Wenping, Yang Yanqiu, Wang Aiying, Zhu Xiaolin

Opening time:
Part I: 8pm, Dec,9th,2011
Part II: 8pm, Dec,30th,2011

Exhibition Duration: Dec,9th,2011–Jan,21st,2012(Sunday Close)

Address: TCG Nordica, Xibalu 101, Kunming
Tel: 0871-4114692
Web site:

Introduction – Four Seasons: Summer

By TCG Nordica

The creations and exhibitions of Four Seasons, Yunnan Artist Group Exhibition, are based on the seasons: Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. Planned by Sun Guojuan, Four Seasons is a series of four exhibitions to take place annually for four years. Beginning with Winter in 2009 and continuing to Spring in 2010, the theme of this year’s exhibition will be Summer. Each exhibition gathers the most excellent artists in Yunnan, be they residents of or travelers to the province, and presents their newest work. The purpose of the Four Seasons Project is to increase the cohesiveness of Yunnan female artists, to encourage persistent creativity, and connect with a wide audience.
This exhibition, Four Seasons: Summer, focuses on the season of summer. The artists express their individual sentiments, life experiences, and human-nature relationship with works ranging from oil painting to hand-made installations. As the artists realize their art they give us the chance to encounter a pleasant summer in the midst of this frigid winter.
This exhibition will feature the newest works by 33 artists in the forms of oil painting, installation, photography and others. Because there will be some 100 works, Four Seasons: Summer will be divided into two exhibitions. The first half will have a reception on December 9th at 8PM and the second half will have a reception on December 30th at 8PM.

Four Seasons: Summer

By Sun Guojuan

Our planned four year exhibition has passed through Winter and Spring. We have now come to the third year, the year of Summer.
Summer has always been dear to my heart; it is my favorite of Kunming’s four seasons. During Kunming’s summer, rain is so common that we often call summer the rainy season. This rain gives Kunming an indescribably beauty. It cleans the air, it moistens the soil, and it refreshes the trees, turning them from a tender to a deep shade of resounding green. In summer, girls come and go wearing their beautiful outfits, the flowers are always blooming, and the mushrooms are sprouting, full of the delicate flavor of summer air after a light shower. Sitting in a garden or on the banks of a river when it rains, listening to the sound of the falling drops, this is the pinnacle of rainy season revelry. The sound of rain has a kind of magic that can turn chaotic hearts tranquil. Whenever the night draws near and you find yourself on the outskirts of the city, you will find the Milky Way is sprinkled across the night sky. At times you will see a shooting star dash across the horizon.
There is a chance encounter etched into my bones and carved into my heart, one that can only occur during summer. Perhaps it is because I have always regarded summer as the season of love.

Interview with Sun Guojuan and Lei Yan: