International Auction Houses in Shanghai

When I say “art market” I mean museums, galleries, public art, architecture, art districts and really anything relating to art. This week though I explored the Shanghai “art market” in it’s most literate sense by visiting an art auction house in Shanghai. Although there wasn’t an actual auction, nor am I rich enough for them to give me a private viewing visiting Christies on the bund was an awesome experience!


There are many art auction houses in Shanghai such as Changcheng Auction, China Guardian’s Auction and Shanghai Auction Company, but only two of the many auction houses in Shanghai are international, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Due to strict laws regarding foreign companies selling Chinese art in China it’s taken a long time for both Sotheby’s and Christies to reach the mainland market, although both have had locations in Hong Kong for many years.

In 2012 Sotheby’s became the first international auction house with a location in mainland China. Sotheby’s accomplished this by signing a contract with the government entity GeHua granting them about 80% of the enterprise and authorizing them to sell on the mainland. In 2013 however, Christie’s became the first international auction house to operate independently of the Chinese government while located in China. Christies signed a contract with the Shanghai government authorizing them to operate throughout China while based out of Shanghai.

This past fall Christies held their first auction on October 24th, which featured Asian and Western 20th Century and Contemporary Art. The auction featured pieces by famous asian artists as well as world renowned artists such as Picasso, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. Regardless of being independently run Christie’s is not permitted to handle or sell Chinese cultural relics, art created before 1945. This is also the case with Sotheby’s.

“In a country where classical Chinese paintings and examples of imperial porcelain command the highest prices, this regulation puts foreign firms at a definite disadvantage.-Barbara Pollock, Art News

Zeng Fangzi, Untitled, 1964

Zeng Fangzi, Untitled, 1964

By setting regulations such as this the Chinese government, and particularly the Shanghai government, exercise a vast amount of control over the art market. They control the different kinds of art that is sold in Shanghai and the pricing. In their fist auction in Shanghai the piece that sold for the highest amount was a work by Zeng Fanzhi from 1964 for 19,470, 000 (CNY), with the total from the entire auction coming in at 95,400,500 (CNY). Sales in the art market have spiked in the past 10 years in Hong Kong, and so the hope is that by accessing the mainland market art auction prices will continue to grow. Only time will tell but with the introduction of these two major auction house players and the great success of Christies first sale, the development of the Shanghai art market, at least financially looks promising.

Architecture BOOM

IMG_2975Having the opportunity to meet with Marshal Strabala I wanted to learn more about the architectural changes of Shanghai since art and architecture are so closely related. To do so I took a trip to the Shanghai Urban Planning and Exhibition Museum as well as online research. What I discovered is that in the past 20 years Shanghai has undergone a huge architectural boom.

The Pudong district which makes up the most iconic image of Shanghai only began developing in 1994 with the completion of the Pearl Tower. Prior to its construction the area was just farm land but today is one of the brightest, fullest skylines in the world. The area is dominated by 3 gigantic skyscrapers all adjacent to each other; Jin Mao 1999, Shanghai World Financial Center 2008 and the Shanghai Tower due for completion in 2015.

South of the Pudong district lays the Shangahai 2010 world expo site, another area which under went major architectural development. The buildings in this area are intended to be on the cutting edge of architecture. With the Mercades-Benz arena and China Art Palace as two of the most notable structures.

IMG_5161Other parts of the city have undergone drastic architectural development as well, although maybe not as obvious as Pudong or the Expo site. One of the areas that recently underwent a change as such is Xintandi. Xintandi is an area of Shanghai that used to be dominated by a Shanghainese style of architecture called Shikumen Houses. These houses resembled, in a way, a modern day brown stone. Over the years however the area became run down, until American architect Ben Wood stepped in to recreate the area. He designed the new Xintandi to have small ally ways and houses constructed in the Shikumen style in order to make visitors feel as if they were in old Shanghai.

Joseph Giovanni believes that “China has become the world’s experimental architecture lab, for both international and Chinese architects”. His belief is held by many as new structures pop up every day with never before seen designs, or they find better and better ways to recreate the feel of old China in a new way. When asked about his thoughts of the Pudong district Wood stated “It’s designed to create plots of land for monuments to corporate power, the global economy”. The same could be said for Wood’s own redesign of Xintandi as it is intended to exude an old china feel but in reality is covered with high end boutiques, restaurants, international companies and some of the highest priced living spaces in the entire city.


In contrast to these opinions others argue that the architectural boom is driven purely by the need to expand the city due to rapid population growth. Currently at a capacity of 24 million, the city has seen it’s limits expand outwards as well as upwards in the past several years at dramatic rates.

Despite the reasons though it is clear that in the field of architecture Shanghai is on the cutting edge and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. It would be interesting to have the opportunity to study this field more in depth to understand better what is fueling such a building boom and how it is predicted to continue to develop.

Architecture as part of the Shanghai Art Market with Marshall Strabala

When you goggle “Shanghai” one of the first things that pops up will be an imagine of the Shanghai Pudong skyline, a beautiful array of sparkling lights, glittering glass, and mile high skyscrapers. The Pudong district is a shining example of the building boom that has taken China by storm. The development of the Pudong district began just 20 years ago when construction on the Oriental Pearl Tower finished in 1994, followed by the Jin Mao Tower in 1999, Shanghai World Financial Center in 2008 and the Shanghai Tower currently under construction. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet with the lead architect of the Shanghai Tower, Marshall Strabala to discuss the development of the Shanghai Art Market through architecture.

Shanghai Skyline at Night

Shanghai Skyline at Night

Marshall was first introduced to the Shanghai scene in 2006 when he began working on designs for Shanghai Tower. Construction on the Shanghai Tower began in 2008 and is set for completion in 2015. Upon completion the tower will be the tallest in the Shanghai skyline with 121 floors, 2,074 feet tall.

Since I have found that the art market is made up primarily of expatriates and internationals I began the interview by asking Marshall if this also seamed to be the case in the field of architecture? To which he responded “We are Expats and that community is more visible to us rather than the local, simply because we do not read Chinese.” He then followed up by noting that the expat architectural community is quite large in China because there is more work by volume here than in other parts of the world, and that most large architectural firms have offices in Shanghai. This being said he explained that the difference in the art world and architecture world is that each project done by an expat architect must have a local partner to “chop the drawings” as expat firms are only allowed to design up to the DD phase. He concluded by saying that 85% of architecture was local and 15% was international.

The next question I asked was if there were differences in the way he would design a building for Shanghai as opposed to a city in the United States. When proposed with this question he listed off several differences cost (it is much cheaper to build in China), time (construction is about 3-4 times faster in China than in the west), materials (Chinese materials are more high end, but with poor detailing), and culture (China is looking to create an international standard of Commercial Buildings). Relating to this topic I also asked if the Chinese cultural belief of Feng Shui was something taken into consideration when designing a building. ” It is a Chinese tradition in building. It couldn’t hurt, so we do it. This superstition Feng Shui is publically ignored, but privately and quietly followed.” He explained that the Shanghai tower has curved edges and will not have a 14th floor, both principles of Feng Shui.

Following this question I asked if he could identify any architectural trends taking place in Shanghai? “China and the Middle East have driven the shift to a more ‘formalist approach’. This is architecture determined by an unusual, odd, or ‘new’ shape rather than determined by function.  Architecture, is taking lessons from the fashion world, meaning that only the new is noteworthy. The building cycle starts with trendiness and move to a more sophisticated idea for function. Myself as an architect always tries to create architectural forms as a result of function.  I think the next trend to come is simply better buildings, and this means better in all respects.”

Lastly I asked what he thought was next in the architectural future of Shanghai. To which he explained that there are several different factors that would determine the architectural future of Shanghai, the key factor being space. As the population continues to grow the city will reach a point at which it can no longer expand. However “we have almost unlimited and unused vertical space in all our cites. The future trend will be more dense cities, but with less cars.”

From left to right: Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai Tower

From left to right: Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai Tower

Although there are many differences between the developments of the art market and the development of Shanghai’s architecture there are also many similarities. tBoth markets have seen immense growth since the opening of China, and both have strong ties to western influence. The main differences arise when the considering the actual building of the structure, and that the art market is a more fluid field, while architecture is stagnant. What is made today will stand to a testament of the times for years to come.






An Artist’s Insight into the Shanghai Art Market

IMG_3815-e1382278155941Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit down with Katy Roseland, an American artist, to discuss her first hand experiences with creating art in Shanghai and the Shanghai art market. Katy moved to Shanghai 6 years ago and has been working here as a freelance artist. She is primarily a painter but also works in multimedia creating installations. In the past few years Katy has dedicated a majority of her time to founding Basement 6 an artist collective. As an artist collective Basement 6 offers studio, gallery and other multifunctional spaces for artists.

After drilled Katy with questions about Basement 6 and how an artist collective works, we talked about her general views of the Shanghai art market. Katy addressed a few issues she saw within the art market; how many of the key figures in the Shanghai art market are ex-patriots, the type of art being produced and government regulation of art.

Most artists Katy knows in Shanghai are either expatriates or internationals and most gallery owners and curators are as well. She attributes this to the art education westernized societies provides to youths and the art appreciation instilled in these societies. Katy experienced this first hand when she had the opportunity to teach a few art classes to Shanghainese children. “Nobody has ever taught them that being creative is cool. In art there are no rules, and the kids are blown away by this idea. You should have seen heir faces when I told them they could mix colors”.

The types of art being produced in Shanghai was another issue Katy spoke passionately on. She identified photography and more modernized artistic styles (silk screens, digital, video works, installations) as art forms that she had seen done with great skill throughout Shanghai. Painting, drawing and printing on the other hand are art styles she doesn’t see often and are typically of a low quality. These styles are considered to be traditional Chinese art forms. “I think it’s hard for Chinese to experiment in these are forms because they don’t want to challenge tradition.” Katy believes that experimenting with these styles could be seen as a form of rebellion and thus newer art forms, with no traditional relevance, are a safer method of artistic expression.

The last issue we touched on was Katy’s experience with government intervention in the art market. Katy said that usually government intervention isn’t an issue, but it occasionally comes up. “If the art being displayed is clearly challenging the government or societal norms, or if an art movement gains to much support and can’t be regulated the government will step in and shut it down.” We talked about how this kind of government regulation has potential to stunt the development of the art market.

In the future Katy hopes for the art and the art market to become more diversified; integrating more local Chinese and Shanghainese artists, collectors and administrators as well as the display of more artistic styles. Both of these aspects of the art market however are contingent on the actions of the government. Katy thinks the Shanghai art market has a long way to go if it’s going to compete with New York and Paris, but that at the rate the city is developing she think’s its bound to happen sooner rather than later.

Shanghai’s “Art Districts”

Among the many great things we had the opportunity to do while in Beijing one of my favorites was getting the chance to wander the streets of 798, Beijing’s premier art district. 789 is made up of abandoned factories from the 1950’s which have now been renovated and are used as galleries, museums, artist studios and small independent stores. Although 789 is advertised in almost every travel guide as a must visit Beijing destination the area has managed to withstand commercialism, capitalism and continues to produce independent, compelling art. The art districts ability to keep it’s focus on art is not something I’ve seen is in Shanghai’s art districts, Red Town, Tianzifeng and M50.

Red Town

Red Town

Red Town is set in a renovated steel plant. It’s construction was planned out as part of the Mater Plan for Urban Sculpture and endorsed by the municipal government. Red Town is intended to be an epicenter of Shanghai Sculpture as a space to create and display sculptural works.

A 15 minute cab ride away is Tianzifeng an old neighborhood made up of Shikumen style houses and small interlocking alleyways. In 1988 Chen Yifei, renowned contemporary artist, moved his studios to Tianzifeng. After Chen Yifei both accomplished and emerging artists began setting up studios in Tianzifeng.

Often compared to 789, M50 is also located in old abandoned factories. M50 is home to several well-known Shanghai art galleries and claims to have over 100 artists working in the district.

Prior to visiting 789 I had been enamored with the vibe and aesthetics of Shanghai’s art districts, however, after seeing 789 it is had to feel the same about Shanghai’s art districts.  789 has a certain gritty feel to it which can be attributed to it’s grass roots development and the sometimes controversial art it produces. In comparison Red Town, Tianzifeng and M50 all feel polished and planned. Red Town was developed as part of a government initiative and all art pieces displayed here are endorsed by the government. Under these conditions artistic exploration has the potential to be stunted and develop homogeneously. In contrast while Tiazifeng’s development happened independent of the government the district appears to be dominated not by art, but tourism. The area claims to have 53 galleries scattered among it’s small alleyways all of which are nearly impossible to find. Bars, restaurants, boutiques, gift shops and throngs of tourists on the other hand can be found with great ease. The galleries which can be tracked down all feature commercialized art; cheap to produce, easy to sell, and could be found in most cities or even in somebodies living room. M50 suffers from a simialr issue as it is filled with deign firms, boutiques, and furniture stores. These stores are designed to cater to the upper class Shanghai craving for decorative arts. People come to M50 to feel like patrons of the arts, but who really just want something pretty to hang up in their living to show off to their friends. The art produced in M50 is not created with the intent to make a cultural artistic impact but to sell at extremely high prices and fuel the capitalist economy.

Entrance to Tianzifeng

Entrance to Tianzifeng

The art districts in Shanghai attempt to combine art, creativity and entrepreneurship, but instead the result is art that is made to generate capital and comply with the government.

“In China, the art market boomed during a transient era, when the country witnesses several parallel processes: the transformation to market economy with macro-level monitoring, the shift to consumerism- driven society and the emergence of New Rich, and experimental reform of former socialist institutions that is constantly re-interpreted by the state” – Jun Wang

For the Shanghai art market to continue to develop it’s art districts are going to have to either undergo drastic changes or relinquish their titles as “art districts” and be replaced with a new district with the aim of actually producing compelling, cutting edge art.