Consumerism in Chinese Art Auction Market
Introduction In recent years, China has been gaining ground on the international arena as the leader in the number of art collectors. The country managed to surpass the major players of the Western world: the United States and the European countries; consequently, they no longer dominate the antiques and the international art market.
The growth of the art domain in China goes hand-in-hand with the ever changing and developing financial industry of the country. Today, the Chinese auction market is flourishing as it is influenced by the rapid development of the middle and high classes. As China’s economy continues to change, so does the China’s Art Market. Over the last few years, the financial sector of the country has been characterized by corruption just like the general Chinese market. This fact is analyzed in details in this paper.
The Chinese Art Market is increasing its volume of transaction dramatically; it demonstrates the wealth of citizens and the modern trends of investment. Chinese moneyed people have been willing to purchase artworks at most exorbitant prices showing that wealth is tied to consumption and the flourishing Art Market in China. The Chinese Art Auction Market in essence is a heavy commercialized art market that reveals one important but rather confusing aspect. When the art sector is commercialized, the real value of art is diminished in some degree. On the one hand, the virtu are purchased, brought to the country, and displayed; on the other hand, the commercialization of the art is meant to show financial power of a person. For instance, it has been reported that the art lots put up for auction in Hong Kong and Beijing are not purchased, even though China has become the number one player and replaced the United States in terms of paying capacity.
In China, the art pieces are considered to possess certain spiritual value. Therefore, when everything is commercialized, only few artists continue to create real masterpieces that reflect the Chinese spirituality. Other things are produced in order to make more money; thus, arts become the subject of commerce, as opposed to spirituality. Analysis The Chinese Art Market has changed considerably because of the commercialization that has taken place recently. Originally, works of art were precious because of their spiritual value, as opposed to the commercial price.
People who used to buy those arts did so in order to get a piece of spirituality. Nowadays, however, the art market in China has changed dramatically; the purchasers who buy art do not care about their spiritual value but the price of the commercialization. Wealthy people spend too much on works of art; this fact shows clearly that the art market has become an arena for showing off the power of the financial sector, as opposed to the original art value in China. The relationship of the spiritual value associated with the Chinese Art and financial aspects can be clearly seen in The Golden Lotus. It is considered a symbol of high spiritual and physical growth. This understanding is highly respected and appreciated in the Chinese society.
The topic is studied in details in the work Neo-liberalism with Chinese Characteristics by David Harvey (2007). Being woven into the socio-economic and spiritual fabric of the Chinese Nation, the attainment of the above status is epitomized in their society notwithstanding the costs, sacrifices, and negative outcomes (Harvey, 2007). The author states that the decision of the Chinese government to open its market for both foreign investment and trade was implemented through the country’s entry into the WTO in 2001. Global shifts in the capitalist arena enhanced China’s journey into the global market through the accumulative strength of globalization and associated neo-liberal ideals. The resultant socialism with Chinese characteristics entailed the creation of the unique state-influenced market economy that boomed because of impressive economic development (Harvey, 2007). As China changed its economic system to fit the foreign world, the Art Market adopted this trend allowing the western influence to come in and alter the traditional face of the industry.
According to the report by the European Fine Art Foundation, in 2011, China held the share of 30 percent in the world art market. The share rose from 23 percent in 2010, and the country surpassed the US as the world’s leader in the number of art and antiques buyers. These features show the kind of consumption and spending characteristics in China that are well discussed by Jane Bennett in her work Commodity Fetishism and Commodity Enchantment. The author states that China represents a world where wondrous events compete with acts of cruelty and violence, magical gestures displace reason, and the social fabric is an integral unit rather than a collection of fragments. This exact picture is vivid in China’s Art Market. In this regard, Bennett (2001) considers the sociological aspect.
The author puts forward the issue of enchantment that rules the commodity world. The Chinese Art Market is characterized by this phenomenon. The culture of consumption in the Chinese Art Market reflects the enchantment (about which the author talks) and shows tha it is influenced by the urge to possess this or that thing. The author states that the commodity fetishism is a form of perceptual disorder where individuals become blind to the pains and suffering embedded in the commodity because of the unjust and exploitative system of production (Bennett, 2001). However, the author argues that the commodity fetishism alone does not account for the fascination with commercial products. She states that the balance is caused by commercial advertisement that creates the desire of possessing different products.
Therefore, the author argues that the phenomenon of consumption is generated by the promise or presence of commodity consumption. Likewise, there are similarities between the moral sentiments and the affective state that has been associated with the sublimity of nature (Richards, 2011). As the author states, Horkheier and Adorno, just like Marx, find nothing positive about animation of objects and considers it a dangerous illusion. The author, in agreement with the three, states that the commodified object takes part in unnatural energy transfer from a person to an inanimate thing. Commodification, in this case, is the game with the zero sum.
Treating things as if they were alive equals to stealing the animus from human beings, who possess a complete monopoly on it. The author brings up the anthropological aspect in the Chinese Art Market by clarifying that, unlike the technologized art, the pre-capitalist art had a sense of challenging injustice. This is something that the modern commercialized art does not do. By using Horkheimer and Adorno’s reasoning, the author asserts that technologized art behaves that way because it does not act from the drive to create, but from the desire to dominate. Therefore, the author agrees with the two scientists that technically sophisticated forms of entertainment function within an economic system that is unjust.
Thus, the culture industry uses creative energy, promotes a dehumanizing work structure, and discourages the desire for social justice (Richards, 2011). Laikwan Pang (2008), in his article A Semiotics of the Counterfeit, states that the number of piracy related activities in China is remarkably high. This feature is proved by the high number of Chinese counterfeit commodities available in the world markets. The author demystifies the relationship between China and the counterfeits; on the contrary, he associates this phenomenon with capitalism. He clearly states that aspect of piracy and counterfeiting is caused by global capitalism rather than the character of particular individual or nation. This similar thing is happening in the Chinese Art Market.
The author states that the creation and copying are dichotomized by the knowledge of the economy (Pang, 2008). Thus, the ability to create and copy is taught, valued, and sanctified by capitalism. Consequently, in the Chinese Art Market, what the consumer really consumes does not reflect the traditional value of Chinese Art; rather it is an aspect of commodifying the art based on profits that is supported by capitalism. In the traditional Chinese Art, during the Maoist era of the 1980’s, popular Chinese artists created art pieces that displayed the true spirituality of the Chinese culture. When comparing the current Chinese Art Market to the one of Southeast Asia, the latter reflects the 80’s of the first (Mao Period).
During that very period, the art industry prospered in China in terms of inner meaning rather than money and profit. China had many famous artists. Laurence Couple, a famous western collector, who is making art investments and gathers collections around the world, highly appreciates the works of this period. The art pieces were successfully crafted with the Chinese distinct taste and inner sense that reflected culture and spirituality of the country and people. In the current art market, their works are sold at the exaggerated high value (Pang, 2008).
When the 1980s period is compared to the nowaday’s era in the Chinese Art Market, it becomes obvious that only few modern artists are creating real arts works that are generally appreciated around the world. After the death of the Chinese charismatic leader, Mao Zedong in 1976, the Chinese Nation underwent what may be termed as a peculiar mix of economic reform (market economy) under the iron grip of state control (Harvey, 2007). Deng Xiaoping’s administration has chosen the way of incorporating a rapidly transforming capitalist market economy into the already established Chinese authoritarian system of governance. The capitalistic market economy that was introduced by Xiaoping brought a change both in production and consumer behavior. Profits became the most important aspect in production as shown by the current Chinese Art Market (Harvey, 2007). Wang Yannan, a senior executive that used to work at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel (Beijing, China), has been the chief executive officer of China Guardian since the newspaper’s foundation in 1993.
She points out that most of the company’s customers are situated in China. Her numerous travels to the United States and company’s office serve for making new connections and learning new issues in the established and well-developed Western auction and art market. In fact, “according to Artprice, a French provider of the art market information, two Chinese ink painters Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) and Qi Baishi (1864-1957) topped the annual ranking of auction revenue globally. Their respective $530 million and $465 million surpassed Western artists such as Pablo Picasso” (LaFraniere, 2009). However, it has been already indicated that the artworks, which are put up for auctions, are sold but remain unpaid. This fact brings several questions.
Does the fraud of the final payment represent degrading the credit? If people cannot afford, why do they still want to buy? This is not fraud in the final payment; thus, it does not represent the spiritual cheating. Despite the fact that people cannot pay for the art pieces, the scenario reflects the capitalistic financial status of the Chinese Art Market to show that it is above the other world markets. China has experienced the hunger of money that is popular today. This phenomenon is driven by the pursuit of profits, and it is caused by the capitalist nature of the Chinese economy. The fact that the most active bidders in Chinese Art Market and auctions are wealthy people is of particular importance.
This shows the nature of a capitalistic financial system where there must be someone who controls the system because of the financial power he/she possesses (LaFraniere, 2009). The scenario in the modern Chinese Art Market does not show that the value of money has been depreciated. Far from that, it reflects a culture of consumption that is manifested in commodification of the Chinese Art Market. The author of The Meaning of General Economy discusses various viewpoints on the aspect of the economy. The author states that the economy depends on the circulation of energy on earth.
A movement is a result of the energy circulation on the surface of the globe. Economic activities harmonize this movement and create possibilities for achieving certain goals. However, this movement follows a pattern and laws, with which people who use them are familiar. The author states that the disregard for material basis of life forces a human being to make serious mistakes. The general movement of life conditions the activities of a human being; consequently, he/she receives a possibility to improve life and conquer new space (Bataille, 1991). This feature is typical of the Chinese Art Market where the material basis of life (commodification) has forced people to make mistakes, for example, buying art pieces at exorbitant prices, even though they cannot pay for them.
The authors of Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming, Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff, and Robert P. Weller assert that the new art buyers do not reform but rather exemplify the new social hierarchy that is manifested in capitalism. This type of commodification and consumerism reflects a real mental investment where the buyers show off their wealth but not their taste. In this regard, when money comes to evaluate the spirit, it does not work. Nowadays, the current consumerism is withdrawn from the aspect of spiritualism that was present in the traditional Chinese Art Market.
When people get rich, they buy art pieces to show their wealth and social status. The consumption of extra money by the rich shows their financial power. Here, fraud comes up as a result of the capitalistic nature of people who desires to show their might to the extent that they are willing to buy art works at prices that unreasonably get over their value (Comaroff, Comaroff, and Weller, 2001). Money enchantment leads China down the wrong path because it makes people adopt unreasonable consumption behavior. In the Mao Period, people used to share experience and wealth; they treated other people nicely; the Chinese society was like a big family with a smaller gap between the rich and poor. Nowadays, however, the rich people become notorious and the gap between the classes is even deeper.
As compared to the “Rat Society,” the life of general people is extremely poor and colorless. The wealthy buy art pieces at unreasonably high prices while the poor are not able to afford to pay for their basic needs (Festa, 2011). According to Battaille’s Law of the general economy, the surplus and extravagance should flow to the poor. This will help to stabilize the society and rebalance the “yin and yang” in the economic atmosphere in China (Bataille, 1991). Conclusion The situation in the modern Chinese Art Market shows that people need to reason even when purchasing. This need is caused by the capitalistic and commodified nature of the art market today.
Simmel (1991) argues that the danger of money must be considered. The difference between what people want and the money they have in hand must be clarified in order to ensure that they consume responsibly. Every person should be responsible for his/her behavior and self-doing (Simmel, 1991). People must balance the effect of individualized wishes as seen in the logic of happiness, confrontation, and credit with a new form of restraint that differentiates between desire and actual acquisition. The scenario of the Chinese Art Market must stop; otherwise, in the pursuit of outdoing the neighbor, people will consume to the point that is dangerous even to themselves. The consumption that is typical of the modern Chinese Art Market reflects an aspect of commodification that has been adopted by people and used by the wealthy for demonstrating their power and influence.