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Pale but powerful art that shimmers

SUBTLE grayish strokes and thousands of pale dots on white canvas make some of these abstract paintings seem almost invisible, like suggestions, shimmers and vapors against white walls.

The works of He Peng, Shen Chen and Yang Liming resemble each other to a large extent in their visual effects suggested by the title of the exhibition, "Remembering How the Air Shimmers," underway at 1918 Art Space. The rather intellectual title was bestowed by curator Irina Pavlov.

A member of the gallery staff says when similar works of Shen were shown in one museum, a visitor wondered why the exhibition opened without showing any works - Shen's pale images on white canvas are so subtle that they almost blend in with the white walls.

Similarly, He recalls that a visitor to his studio once admired a blank canvas while some finished paintings were placed beside it. Actually, He's works consists of 30,000 to 100,000 tiny subtle dots or spirals.

"I should have claimed that it was a new work, put my signature on it and sold it to him," the artist laughs.

For the opening of the exhibition, He flew from his home in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Although he was the only one of the three to attend, his words described the situation of a particular group of artists, the middle tier, facing the economic downturn.

Compared with big-name contemporary artists whose works fetch astronomical prices, the artists at 1918 Art Space create works that are more reasonable in price, and available. They attract a certain group of faithful collectors with rational prices.

So, according to He, what these collectors could afford in the good days are what they can still afford tomorrow. Significantly, the hometowns of artists such as He are quite different and more affordable than big cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

The Sichuan cities of Chengdu and Chongqing have long been "R&D centers" in the Chinese fine arts field as there's strong tradition of fine arts there. More important, the cost of living is lower than that in big cities. Thus, He points out, artists there are better prepared to weather the economic slowdown.

At the exhibition opening, people chatted about how gallery owners should react in hard times. Some said it might be a good time to purchase at a bottom price and to "fish in troubled water."

One visiting gallerist, who declined to be identified, says he is strongly against that idea and says no one should hype the idea of purchasing at the bottom price because that would undermine the whole industry.

If the media exaggerates and says a price slump or price war is necessary for artists and galleries to survive, he says, then speculators and even international financiers could push the insiders. Some weak-minded people are bound to give in, and in the end, artists and galleries lose their credibility.

"Now is the time for true art lovers to buy," this gallerist says, "despite the economic situation."

Unfortunately, the fact is that most art buyers tend to treat art works as stocks, and follow the "buy-low-sell-high" pattern. People at the opening said the visiting gallerist clearly respects the true value of art itself, but he's too idealistic for these hard times.

Date: through March 31, 10:30am-7pm

Address: 1918 Art Space, 78 Changping Rd

Tel: 5228-6776


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