Rezension über:

Kejia Wu : A Modern History of China's Art Market, London / New York: Routledge 2023, XVII + 262 S., ISBN 978-1-032-28797-3, GBP 27,99
Buch im KVK suchen

Rezension von:
Shuo Sue Hua
University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Anna K. Grasskamp
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Shuo Sue Hua: Rezension von: Kejia Wu : A Modern History of China's Art Market, London / New York: Routledge 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 1 [15.01.2024], URL:

Bitte geben Sie beim Zitieren dieser Rezension die exakte URL und das Datum Ihres Besuchs dieser Online-Adresse an.

Andere Journale:

Diese Rezension erscheint auch in KUNSTFORM.

Kejia Wu : A Modern History of China's Art Market

Textgröße: A A A

Katharine P. Burnett's elegant rendering of the collecting, research, and dealing activities of Pang Yuanji (1864-1949) illuminates the important issue of the formation of private collections of Chinese pictorial art. It portrays the ambitious collector's complex personal vision in selecting, presenting, and interpreting Chinese paintings - one that was closely entangled with and, at the same time sought to challenge, the historical conventions and established framework of taste-making. [1] Pedith Chan examined the socio-economic perspective of China's modern art world amidst the rapid commercialization and consumption of art in Republican Shanghai. This study unveils how demand served as an economic impetus for the differentiation and transformation of major stylistic trends in the creation of Chinese paintings. [2] In Chinese Contemporary Art in the Global Auction Market, Anita Archer places auctions at the center of the market for Chinese contemporary art and details their role in its development outside mainland China. Using six auctions held between 1998 and 2012 by Christie's and Sotheby's in Hong Kong, London, and New York, she traces the important role of auctions in the formation of the international market for Chinese contemporary art. Additionally, she highlights the interconnections and collaborations among auction specialists and curators, art dealers, and critics, prominent foreign collectors, and the rise of important private collections. [3] Adding to these recent works, Kejia Wu's A Modern History of China's Art Market is a timely, important, and readable monograph that makes a vital contribution to art market studies, especially for those interested in the social history of art in China.

The first chapter explores how China's nationwide restitution initiatives paved the way for incubating art market activities. The Red Guards, the Anti-Right movement and other units seized a significant number of artworks and antiquities from private collections during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). This chapter covers the period from the release of confiscated artworks after the Cultural Revolution to the early 1990s, filling a critical gap in the study of China's modern art market. With the active participation of state-owned institutions, such as the Shanghai Museum, in the recovery of these objects, public art collections were enriched on an unprecedented scale. [4] This provided a basis for the re-emergence of a pre-existing art market, especially the culture of art trading and cultural relics exchange, along with the revival of conventional modes of private art patronage practices, which had been significantly disrupted during political campaigns such as the Anti-Right movement and the Cultural Revolution. This chapter sets the stage for an exploration of the complexities of a period during which the commercial exchange of artifacts was slowly revived before the art market regained the status it had enjoyed before the Communist takeover. The author suggests that limited access to archives has led to an underexplored understanding of the circumstances of the confiscation and post-Mao release of artifacts. Clearly, more research is needed to better understand the state's control over the private ownership of artworks and the dynamics of art-related intellectual activities during this period. Such research could take the form of oral history projects, for example.

Beginning in 1978, China's reform and opening-up created commercial and cultural gateways for the country to engage with the rest of the world. By then, the Chinese art scene had to some extent been liberated from the harsh constraints of the Mao era. After ten years of isolation and destruction, artists, art dealers, and nouveau-riche art collectors were exposed to new ideas, cultural traditions, and art market practices from other countries. In this new and favorable political and socio-economic context and since the turn of the 21st century, art collecting has become increasingly popular among China's nouveaux riches, and Chinese collectors now exert a considerable influence on the global art market. In the book's second and third chapters, Wu explores how the newly established auction houses, galleries, art fairs, and private museums in urban centers such as Beijing and Shanghai experienced exponential growth.

The fourth chapter, entitled 'the paradox of two parallel art systems', is the most captivating of the book as it studies the complex coexistence of the state-endorsed art system and the market-oriented art system and argues that the two interacted and influenced each other. Kejia Wu also predicts that their interwoven paths will continue to shape China's art scene. The literature in the field examines the shift from a centralized state patronage system to a multi-faceted infrastructure in which cultural authorities and private enterprises jointly support artistic production in China. The market-oriented system, which is constantly susceptible to state surveillance, enabled by galleries, private museums, collectors, corporate sponsors, and the media, presents opportunities and alternative approaches for artists who are outside or distant from the state system of patronage and official commissions (82). However, as Wu demonstrates in her case studies (90-92), with an emphasis on the Xi era, deciding whether to work with private institutions presents a dilemma for artists, curators, and art critics from state-operated or sponsored organizations. The need to lobby for and combine resources and opportunities from both state-endorsed and market-oriented systems can be compelling (93), but it illustrates the ambiguity surrounding the liminal space between the state and the art market where 'a large degree of autonomy to decide the artworks they (artists, galleries, art fair organizers, auction houses, museums and media) would like to display or circulate' (80) is significantly dependent upon the condition of not violating the criteria of ideological censorship.

Impressively, Wu draws the readers' attention to the fascinating and complex vertical and horizontal dynamics of the development of an infrastructure for China's art ecology and provides insights into the ongoing transformation of this ecology through research on surveillance and the state's agenda to develop China into 'an international cultural powerhouse by 2035' (160). This presents a valuable contribution to the study of contemporary Chinese art worlds, especially as Wu does not limit her discussion to the private sector. Chapter Five examines the roles of major organizations such as the Chinese Artist Association, national and provincial art academies, and the China National Arts Fund. Wu's straightforward descriptive approach provides a useful overview of the agents, places, and educational centers involved, rather than systematically analyzing these institutions' roles in shaping the art market.

Wu candidly and provocatively engages the reader through anecdotes, quotations, and extensive discussions of post-socialist politics. The book's transnational approach, which enables comparisons with the United States and France, enhances its readability (for example, by drawing parallels between contemporary Chinese artists who have rejected state patronage and official commissions, instead choosing to work with Western galleries and private museums, and late-nineteenth-century French artists who distanced themselves from the French Academy and the Salon).

Part III, which contains the last three chapters of the book, is dedicated to case studies of five nationally and internationally renowned male artists living in either Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong - China's vibrant, cosmopolitan, and globalized art market hubs: Beijing-based Xu Bing (b. 1955) and Li Songsong (b. 1973), Shanghai-based Qiu Anxiong (b. 1972) and Lu Yang (b. 1984) and Hong Kong-based Zheng Bo (b. 1974). Although their individual practices are very different, they were all educated at state-run art institutions and / or are currently working in Chinese art academies. Wu selected these case studies because the five artists all demonstrate a drive for intellectual development, compassion for others and a shared will to engage with societal issues while still providing their own moral and aesthetic perspectives. The last three chapters offer insights into the future prospects of Chinese contemporary art. While the artists Wu discusses represent only a small proportion of the population of contemporary artists in China, they serve as examples of the possibility of creating art independent of state patronage. These case studies also shed light on the evolving relationship between the state, the academic system, and the private sector. However, the extent to which they are representative of the wider field of creativity in China remains debatable and their ability to generate convincing insights into the future of 'creative space' and its implications for the future of the Chinese art market is uncertain.

Such minor reservations aside, A Modern History of China's Art Market represents an important contribution to research on emerging art markets in socialist countries and elsewhere, and it thus deserves a wide readership. It will undoubtedly elicit further interest in the history and future of China's art market and provides important new insights for students and scholars.


[1] Katharine P. Burnett: Shaping Chinese Art History: Pang Yuanji and His Painting Collection, Amherst 2020.

[2] Pedith Chan: The Making of a Modern Art World: Institutionalisation and Legitimisation of Guohua in Republican Shanghai, Leiden 2017.

[3] Anita Archer: Chinese Contemporary Art in the Global Auction Market, Leiden / Boston 2022.

[4] Di Yin Lu: Seizing Civilization: Antiquities in Shanghai's Custody, 1949-1996. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 2012, 119-121.

Shuo Sue Hua