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Can't afford a multi-million yuan canvas? How about a silk scarf?

ART galleries are hooking up with hotels, art projects are on hold, and artists are printing fine art onto silk scarves. Just about everyone in the art world is compromising in the economic downturn, reports Wang Jie.

In these hard times, it takes real creativity to survive financially in the art world. As fewer and fewer people are willing to spend on art, especially to spend big, artists, gallery owners, art dealers and promoters are coming up with new ideas and changing their strategies. Products are changing, venues are changing and some projects are on hold.

For some, it's a time of unpleasant but necessary compromise - like printing copies of multi-million-yuan paintings onto silk scarves.

There's speculation that ShContemporary, one of the biggest and the most influential art fairs in Asia, will be suspended this year and "take a nap" due to the bad financial situation.

"No comments, but more details will be given later," says Gu Zhihua, director of the organizing committee of Shanghai Art Fair, and the Chinese partner of ShContemporary.

Last month, Gu and his team began media promotion and planning for the 2009 Shanghai Art Fair scheduled for September at ShanghaiMart - a half year earlier than usual.

"We will try to find buyers for galleries coming to our fair," says Gu tersely. "The size of the fair won't be reduced, it still covers 24,000 square meters."

Gallery owners, artists and dealers are also changing strategies - teaming up with hotels to open art exhibition or sell less expensive products, like artwork on scarves.

Starting last month, "The Memories" exhibition held in Renaissance Shanghai Yuyuan Hotel aims to make hotel the trendy new address for members of the art circle.

Co-hosted by the hotel, Renaissance Art World and Shanghai Shengling Gallery, it exhibits the works by three artists °?- Qian Liu, Zhang Xinquan and Dai Jiafeng.

Simply Noble Gallery owner Zhang Jun says he is in talks with Hengshan Moller Villa and the Shanghai Xijiao State Guest House about possibly hanging works by Wang Yuhong, Lu Jiren and Zeng Hao, who are contracted to the gallery. Simply Noble is opposite the State Guest House, a five-star lodging.

Zhang is optimistic that exposure in a classy high-end hotel will attract more clients than those who might visit his gallery.

"A five-star hotel could be a helpful venue," he says. "I want to give more exposure to the art in my gallery instead of locking them in the warehouse" due to hard times.

He might be onto something. Hotel guests are mainly businessmen and tourists who aren't visiting to satisfy their aesthetic sense, but a picture might just catch their fancy.

The Xijiao State Guest House is not alone. Two weeks ago, Hilton Shanghai also joined hands with a local gallery to present a collection of 23 classical Chinese artworks in its lobby.

"The artworks will definitely enhance the cultured ambience of our lobby and allow our guests to enjoy the best of China's tradition without stepping outside the hotel," says Guy Hutchinson, general manager of Hilton Shanghai.

Several Hilton guests already have inquired about some of the pieces.

"Hotel art," however, isn't just hanging art around a hotel. To be effective, it should complement both the art and the hotel culture.

"Otherwise, it would ruin the whole atmosphere inside," says Zhang from Simply Noble Gallery. "For example, Wang Yuhong's still life has a nostalgic feeling for the old days, a sensibility more suitable to Hengshan Moller Villa, a historic old building of vintage."

When the artwork suits the hotel culture, it needs not be confined to hotel walls.

For example, Hilton Shanghai developed some art side-products, such as postcards and albums. The idea is to create an artistic image of the hotel.

Other art products include art dolls, limited edition silk screen prints and scarves. It's not like selling the real thing, but it's much better than nothing at all.

"I am quite lucky, and the economic turndown hasn't affected me at all," says Li Yirong, a 30-something artist. "Why? Because I held my exhibition two years ago and all my works were sold. Now I am in a period of creating new artworks."

Although Li is not in a position to sell her paintings - she couldn't sell them for what they're worth - some of her clients still go to her studio to buy other artsy things.

"I designed and made a series of side-products such as scarves and dolls just for fun," she says, "but I didn't expect that many people would like them."

Her subjects on canvas are typical floral patterns and kitty dolls, quite pleasing for many ordinary folks. Their prices, compared to paintings costing several million yuan to 10 million yuan (US$1.46 million), are 100 yuan to 1,000 yuan.

"Not many art lovers can afford the original piece," says Li, "but these side-products offer them another way to own my art."

Li Lei, director at Shanghai Art Museum and a professional artist, is considering printing his art onto scarves.

"I haven't decided yet," he says. "My art is serious, and many friends give me different suggestions."

However, in the face of financial straits, compromises sometimes need to be made.

"In this bad financial situation, the main thing for many non-established artists is to get their art exposed to more people," says Li. "We have to do something instead of hibernating."


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