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Asia’s Art Not About Money

Art sales in Asia continue to soar. But one expert says it’s never just about the money.

I’ve mentioned several times this summer Asia’s booming art market, which to the surprise of many keeps logging in astonishingly high sales, despite the lingering effects of the global economic downturn.

For example, reports last month showed that world-renowned auction house Sotheby’s saw its targeted sales in Asia rise180 percent in just the first half of 2010, from $96.7 million last year to $270 million in 2010.

Meanwhile, I’ve also hoped that all of the hype surrounding the region’s thriving art business, which is definitely performing well compared with much of the rest of the world, wouldn’t further add to the commoditization of creative expression. For while it’s great that more artists and art aficionados can cash in on their talents, it would be a shame if art in Asia (and the world for that matter) moved into the direction of big industry.

Well, I recently came across an interview in the Shanghai Daily with a director and chairperson at the San Francisco Art Institute, Hou Hanru, who sheds some interesting (and colourful) opinion on this idea.

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Hou, an established curator and art expert, is native to China and has some pretty strong views on the topic of high priced art sales, stating:

‘Some Chinese contemporary artwork fetches an incredible figure, which only leads to one thing—it's locked in a private safe rather than exposed to the public. What is the meaning of collection? The circulation of art should not be privatized and only becomes the possession of the rich people.’

It also seems that Hou is also against artists seeking celebrity status, particularly by appearing on fashion magazines, which he thinks is simply a ‘tragedy for artists’ who have nothing in common with the fashion world.

Hou also makes a point of stating that he’s happy that his work isn’t profit-dependant: ‘I'm fortunate that I use my capacity to help society build up public memories or art and support artists to create works that are not for sale.’

I have to agree with many of his points, and I’m glad to have come across his informed opinion, at least to keep things in a hopeful perspective.