Manufactured Masterpieces

ShenzhenIt’s no secret that the sale fake works of world famous artists is a profitable business. It’s not about forgery, though. It’s about copying and imitation.  In recent decades, the commercial mass-produced art of this kind is, largely, made in China. Chinese jostled for the leading place by putting “production of art” on an assembly line, literally.Shenzhen-05Shenzhen-06

The city of Shenzhen in the southeastern province of Guangdong, near the border with Hong Kong, is a home of a great number of “art factories” where thousands (!) of Chinese artists stamp copies of the world masterpieces — paintings, drawing, graphic art etc. Shenzhen-09

And not only masterpieces either. Anything that would be of interest to consumer is copied and mass-produced — all sorts of popular images from icons and souvenirs to portraits of politicians and kitschy landscapes.Shenzhen-03

Majority of Shenzhen’s “workers of art” are recent graduates of colleges and Academies of Arts. The young artists have very little choice but to earn a living this way — the art field is fiercely competitive and highly unpredictable, their own works rarely sell and cannot support their livelihoods.Shenzhen-04

Guangdong produces nearly half the world’s total number of copies, replicas and artwork “in the style of” famous painters of the past and present.Shenzhen-02

Some of these works are quite good, not merely cheap copies but the art in its own right.Shenzhen-10

The cost of these mass-produced replicas, however, is very low, which is quite frustrating for the European (and American) copyists — they simply cannot compete.

A good copy of, say, Van Gogh produced at such an art co-operative can cost as low as $10 to $20.

Shenzhen-01 Clearly, dealers and distributors command much greater prices when they sell the “products” to Westerners. The prices vary widely, “customized” to lure middle-income buyers, and always depend on the state local art markets.Shenzhen-07 Shenzhen-08

Photos by Reuters. Material for this post, in Russian, can be found here.

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