Sunday, October 15, 2006

 
Art Lover
If you've ever been in a cheap motel, following, say an ill-advised adulterous tryst or a kidnapping wherein one of your kidneys was removed with a butter knife by a defrocked alcoholic Columbian surgeon to be sold to a Mumbai cartel, and then, as you mused about where exactly your life had gone wrong and you found your eyes wandering to the wall decorated with a banal land or seascape, or maybe an amateur looking reproduction of Van Gogh's Sunflowers, and you wondered, 'who the hell painted that?' and where did it come from, well, odds are it was someone surnamed Li, Jeung, Hu, Zhang, Wu, etc and that it originated in Dafen, an "artists' village" about 45 minutes east of Shenzhen.

The same for late night and afternoon TV advertised offerings for "starving artists sales of sofa-sized original works at rock-bottom prices!"

Dafen (certfied by the Chinese Ministry of Culture in 2004 as a “Cultural Industry Model Base”) is a place where you can get a Van Gogh to go, in any color you want. Want Sunflowers in red? Blue? Mauve? No problem. US$1.25 unframed. How about a Last Supper? US$5, maybe a little more if you want, say, you, your bowling buddies or maybe Elvis included in the assembly.

An estimated 60 percent of the world's worst oil paintings are spun out within Dafen's 1.5 square miles. Last year, the local art factories exported paintings worth US$36 million.

The fastest of the thousands -- no one knows how many -- workers here, who paint more Van Gogh's in a month than he did in his lifetime (about 800), can crank out 30 a day, said Shi Fei, an artist, gallery owner and art assembly line factory honcho who employs 12 "students" who earn anywhere from US$25 to US$50 a month plus room and board for their art assembly line skills.

But Shi, who went to art school and got his start making copy paintings in Guangzhou, isn't particularly impressed with Van Gogh, though he sells about 20,000 faux 'Goghs a year.

"Everyone thinks Van Gogh was a great artist but a great artist should be rich," he said with a smug grin. "If he couldn't make a living as an artist he wasn't a great artist." But, Shi admitted, "He would be very sad, I think, if he could see this. He should be happy, though, because he can help so many Chinese people make a living."

Thanks to Van Gogh and other masters, Shi -- who, perhaps to his creative credit, also owns a rare gallery that belies Dafen's overall Mc-Art ambiance and features original (albeit stunningly mediocre) works -- makes a grand living indeed. He drives a pimped out white 2005 4-wheel drive Jeep complete with overhead lights, bullet hole decals on the sides, and an authentic blue and gold Lion's Club badge (he's a certified member) bolted to the grill.

The rest of Dafen is similarly culturally alarming. There's the village entrance where an enormous bronze hand holding a paint brush rises to the sky about 10 yards from a lonely moldering plaster of paris Venus De Milo. It's across the street from the "Dafen Louvre" where another plaster of paris masterpiece, Michelangelo's David stands surrounded by flowerpots and where inside you'll find, not a knockoff Louvre but bad art mall, the stairway to which is adorned with a kitsch mix of ancient Egyptian and Chinese seals.

Paint like an Egyptian, or a Chinese simultaneously! As for Shi, whose own works tend toward dark smog-fog choked studies of bleak Chinese urban vistas (much like Dafen on the day C and I went) he said he's sold few of his own works displayed at his "Non-Formula Art" gallery, but wouldn't mind being copied.

"I would be very happy,'' he told C, who translated for me. ''If someone could make a living from my work I would feel like I have contributed to society."
Comments:
This is simply amazing. I don't know if I should be horrified or laughing my ass off.
I think I have to make a trip. I've always wanted mediocre knock-off art.
 
I have some Dafen "Art" in my home. Nothing like the Mona Lisa, but it does brighten up the place a bit from the drab 'hospital white.'
 
We have the same phenomenon at work stateside...goes under the name of Thomas Kinkade...except his are original, because he dashes past each one and swipes a couple of strokes on them so he can sell them for US$850 or more...
 
Funny you mention Kinkade, Ben.
I know about his "art" and looked in vain for any Kinkade knockoffs, thinking of the irony of seeing one priced for say, US$10 that would be indistinguishable from his own fakery.
 
Hah - I always thought the guy that did the painting show on PBS - the one the big afro - painted all of the hotel art!

Cheers
 
I always thought they were done by the guys who did the velvet Elvis' in Tijuana, Mex. Course' I guess cheap knock-off art is not only in China or Mexico. It seems to me that you could get cheap copies in New Orleans (before Katrina) and along the Seine in Paris. Oh well!

Such is art!
 
Kudos to you for spicing up your blog with pictures. It’s a nice last touch to get the pictures in my head going when I read your entries.
 
But leave it to a Chinese to say "a great artist should be rich, otherwise they are not so great". I guess Tesla was not such a great physicist because his work didn't get much attention until after he died.
 
yeah well i am a professional artist with 20 years experience already and for what the client wants to spend i can't even cover my bills so the chinese will get the job,again . this is the worst of globalization. really bad news.
 
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