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Chinese Art Critic Li Xianting: Collecting Chinese Contemporary Art Is A Kind Of “Cultural Creation”

“Godfather Of Chinese Contemporary Art” Advocates Collections Develop To Ensure Art Can Be Seen In China

"The Godfather of Chinese contemporary art," Li Xianting (Photo: ArtZine China)

"The Godfather of Chinese contemporary art," Li Xianting (Photo: ArtZine China)

At recent events like the Global Collecting Forum and the Songzhuang Art Festival’s Conference of Collectors of Chinese Contemporary Art, a major topic of discussion among Chinese scholars and art critics has been the need for Chinese collectors of contemporary art (and Chinese museums and galleries) to acquire more top-quality pieces while educating the public on the history, subject matter, figures and current state of Chinese contemporary art.

At the Songzhuang Festival, Chinese art critic Li Xianting — who has been called the “Godfather of Chinese Contemporary Art” — gave a speech in which he said collecting Chinese contemporary art is a form of “cultural creation” which requires the urgent attention of Chinese collectors. Since the breakout of Chinese contemporary art in the late 1970s and its development over the years, the majority of major works of art have been acquired by Western collectors, and although that is changing gradually as Chinese buyers amass their own collections, Li still sees disequilibrium in the global marketplace. By building collections of Chinese contemporary art now, and continuing to patronize Chinese artists in the same way the Medici family did in Renaissance-era Italy, Li feels that Chinese art can reach the Chinese people themselves by building a new form of aesthetic education while stemming the flow of artwork out of the country.

Artxun (Chinese) posted the entirety of Li’s speech today. Translation of excerpts by ChinaLuxCultureBiz team:

Collection is a kind of cultural creation, and in collecting contemporary art one must face value standards, but value standards in a progressing era are of a very uncertain ideological form, and collectors — through their behavior — have to confirm whether they’re actually qualified to become the builders of value standards in the era in which we live. Every major collector who made an important contribution to art history, such as the Renaissance-era Medici family or the Guggenheims, Ludwig II…the famous American and Italian Guggenheim museums, and Germany’s Ludwig Museum — named after these collectors — because of these people and places collecting artwork, some of these works of art have become critical elements of art history.

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Interview With Chinese Contemporary Artist Zhang Xiaogang: Recording the “Relics of Life”

Excerpts Of Chinese Art Blog Artron’s Interview With Zhang Xiaogang Shed Light On His New Exhibition, “The Records”

Zhang Xiaogang feels the art environment in Beijing is worlds away from that of New York

Zhang Xiaogang feels the art environment in Beijing is worlds away from that of New York

We recently profiled Chinese contemporary artist Zhang Xiaogang’s new exhibition in Beijing, which breaks dramatically from his earlier work by incorporating sculpture and mixed media pieces. Last week, China-based art site Artron (Ya Chang Art Network) sat down with Zhang to discuss the new direction his art is taking, and the ways that the rapidly-shifting Chinese culture affects his creative process as well as his views of the American and Chinese art worlds. 

Ya Chang Art Network: What’s the basic idea behind this new exhibition? 

Zhang Xiaogang: Actually, the idea is basically to “revise” a continuing exhibition. But this idea is one that I’ve paid pretty close attention to for several years, like I have with topics related to “memory.” The people’s lives are changing quickly, so now we’re facing our memory and our memory loss, which all results in a number of psychological reactions associated with these and other matters. So it seems that by creating pieces concerned with memory — since our lives are changing so fast, resulting in a constant loss of our memory and nostalgia, which begins at a very young age — it all comes back to how I was always concerned with the idea of memory, an idea that has concerned me even more in recent years. 

In the past a series regarding “memory and starting to remember,” then a series about “inside and outside”, later became “amendment” in my new works — the new works are a deeper continuation of the old works. I hope to continue this theme, to a relatively deep degree, to see if there are any other possibilities. This is the basic idea [of this exhibition].

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More American Vintners Looking To Expand In China Market

Growing Interest In “Pú Tao Jiǔ” Among Urban Chinese Spurring Wineries To Intensify Their China Expansion Strategies

By next year, wine imports to China are projected to reach 250,000 tons

By next year, wine imports to China are projected to reach 250,000 tons

China’s growing middle class has emerged over the last 20 years to be one of the world’s most closely-watched demographics, with marketers in virtually every industry keeping a keen eye on every purchasing trend they make. In more recent years, one of the industries that has benefitted the most from this sizeable group’s interest in all things foreign has been wine. Although the vast majority of Chinese are either unfamiliar with foreign wine or simply do not drink it very often (if at all), many vintners see great potential in the market, as target customers in more remote urban areas remain underserved by existing bars, liquor stores or supermarkets, and returnees who’ve traveled, worked or studied abroad often come back to China wine aficionados with a taste for wine.

Although per capita wine consumption in China remains miniscule by comparison, in China’s major cities it is becoming a more popular beverage, particularly in business or family settings, and in recent auctions of fine wine mainland Chinese buyers have increased exponentially, gaining notoriety among seasoned wine investors as intense bidders (and avid drinkers). Trying to maximize their appeal in China while reaching new markets, wineries outside China are working overtime to get their products to the mainland market while promoting wine drinking in China and building sustained brand equity.

As most of these vintners remain completely unknown within China regardless of their size overseas, the Chinese market represents a blank slate of sorts, allowing them to brand themselves at will without the stigmas that may exist in other markets. A good example of this is American wineries, who are often shunned for their European counterparts among American wine aficionados. As the China wine trade has opened up in the last 10 or so years, vintners from California and Washington state in particular have worked to get their bottles in the hands of the emerging Chinese wine drinker, to mixed success. California’s Lodi News-Sentinel, interviewing Van Ruiten Wineries’ Kevin Sherwood, today illustrates some of the opportunities the Chinese market presents for American and other foreign wine producers:

Around 2006 [Sherwood] developed a desire to market to China. It was around the time of the Beijing Olympics that Sherwood started to sense an opportunity. “It’s just as easy to sell to China as it is to go and sell to the restaurants in San Francisco and Walnut Creek,” he said.

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China Rolls The Dice On An American Casino

China State Construction Engineering Corp. Signs $1.7 Billion Agreement With Tishman And Casino Builder Revel Entertainment To Complete Atlantic City Casino

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

Forbes.com reports today that one of the big investment trends of the last decade — western (primarily American) investors pumping money into places like Macau to develop sprawling casinos — has been turned on its head, as China State Construction Engineering Corp. (CSCEC), China’s biggest property company, has just signed a $1.7 billion deal with Tishman and Revel to complete a new casino in Atlantic City by July 2011. This investment may be unusual, but it is both a welcome injection of cash into a delayed project as well as a possible sign of more Chinese-American cooperative deals and construction projects to come. These construction agreements are extremely common in China — as we reported yesterday — but to date have been largely nonexistent in America.

CSCEC has been on a bit of a roll lately, having benefitted greatly from China’s massive stimulus spending, and will provide the much-needed funding that this project needs to finally get moving again — construction had been halted in the wake of the global financial crisis. As Forbes.com notes, CSCEC

reported a net profit of 2.35 billion yuan ($344 million) for the first half of 2009 on 111.3 billion yuan ($16.3 billion) in revenue.

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Can Chinese Luxury Cars Catch On In America?

Recent Interest By Chinese Automakers In Established Brands Like Volvo, Saab Show Their Global Ambitions; But Will Western Consumers Choose To “Drive Chinese”?

Can BYD crack the American luxury car market? Only time will tell.

Can BYD crack the American luxury car market? Only time will tell.

With well-known auto brands like Sweden’s Volvo and Saab up for sale, Chinese brands Geely, Beijing Automotive and FAW — relative unknowns in the global car market — have been in the news as possible suitors. It is no secret that Chinese automakers have their sights set on the export market, and want to see their vehicles gain popularity on lucrative markets like North America. Here, though, is the largest opportunity as well as the most significant challenge faced by Chinese car brands, a bit of a catch-22: while China is the world’s largest auto market — owing, naturally, to its vast population — Chinese car companies need to develop their luxury fleets and export more in order to turn a substantial profit, but for higher-priced vehicles, Chinese consumers virtually always choose foreign-made automobiles, and Chinese brands are almost completely unknown by luxury car buyers abroad.

At the same time, Chinese carmakers must come up against biases about the perceived quality of their products — fostered, perhaps in a large proportion, by the fact that Chinese brands have absolutely no brand equity abroad, since:

1.) most of these companies are only a few years old, and

2.) reports about Chinese-made vehicles tend to be on the sensationalist side and focus on a quality gap or on perceived “counterfeiting” of car models. While many of the problems faced by Chinese carmakers abroad boil down to sloppy or simply “bad” PR, it is, in some ways, understandable that non-Chinese car buyers know little about Chinese car companies — because many Chinese car buyers don’t know much about them either. Quite simply, they need to work harder to differentiate themselves, pin down strong brand messaging, and really push hard to ensure they conform to all safety and emissions standards — or exceed them.

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Automotive Brand-Building In China: Opportunities And Challenges Abound

Western, Chinese Brands Vie For Customer Loyalty As Emerging Middle Class And “Nouveau Riche” Demand Continues To Grow

Buick has capitalized on its reputation for quality and luxury in the Chinese market, enjoying massive success and launching China-only models like the Excelle

Buick has capitalized on its reputation for quality and luxury in the Chinese market, enjoying massive success and launching China-only models like the Excelle

As demand for new vehicles has remained sluggish in developed markets over the past two years, major automakers have rightly looked to retool their strategies to draw customers and build their brands in new markets. As we’ve written before, selling your brand in markets like China, where customers expect different things — and derive status from very specific brand attributes —  represents both a major opportunity and a new challenge. A good example of an automaker that has benefitted from the “blank slate” allowed it by entry into the young Chinese market is Buick, which has a reputation as a car for older, or middle-aged, drivers in its native market, the USA, yet has — through aggressive branding and advertising efforts — developed a reputation as a sleek, luxurious, youthful brand in the Chinese market.

So how can car brands optimize their brand equity in China? Depending on where they come from, their strategies differ greatly. While American car makers like Ford have had great success in overseas markets like Europe by pushing their reliability and value, in the Chinese market imported cars are, generally, chosen by buyers to be a status symbol, rather than “inexpensive.” Ford, then, cannot compete on price alone, as Chinese automakers like Chery and Geely — which have sizeable lineups of entry-level models — will always be able to undercut them. As a result, it is important for foreign car makers to not just build their brand in China, but to build a strong brand in China, one that speaks to Chinese consumers in a way that domestically-produced autos cannot. To break it down further, foreign automakers need to build a strong, distinctive brand — a German car must fit Chinese conceptions of German cars, Japanese cars Japanese attributes and so on.

In practice, how are foreign automakers faring in their Chinese branding strategies? Today, Reuters looks into the “uphill road” these brands are traveling in China, and how they have refocused their branding strategies to varying degrees of success. Using the example of a “nouveau riche” car buyers who has traded his BMW in for an Audi  — since the Audi has developed a strong reputation in China as a car for bureaucrats or (comparatively) “old money” while BMW is considered a brand for the nouveau riche (a group into which the buyer in question is loath to be grouped) — the article provides valuable insight into the particularities of a market so new that even seasoned marketers and branding execs are often at a loss to develop long-term strategies.

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