The story appears on

Page B3

August 16, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Stock markets for art stir controversy

CHINA'S art market is known for craziness, swings and bubbles and the latest way to cash in on creativity - artistic and financial - is art stock markets. Wang Jie shares the story.

Stendhal once said, "Art entrapped us with craziness, laziness and flashiness." And as inflation rises and the stock and property markets become "iffy," some adventurous Chinese investors are buying not artwork, but shares in works of art in brand-new, yet barely regulated "art stock exchanges."

There are now 20 such exchanges around China, according to, five of which are in preparation.

Three of the better-known "experimental" exchanges are the public Tianjin Cultural Artwork Exchange (TCAE), which opened in January, and the Shanghai and Shenzhen cultural artwork exchanges, which both opened last year for private members only. None is supervised by the China Securities Regulatory Commission.

Only the Tianjin exchange is open to the public, and anyone with 50,000 yuan (US$7,824) can open an account and trade.

In July, China's Ministry of Culture announced the Tianjian exchange, despite controversy, rocketing prices and a case of suspended trading, to be a legal entity.

No officials of any exchanges have agreed to be interviewed, and when Tianjin shares on two paintings rocketed in March, trading was suspended for a week. It has since resumed.

The Shanghai Cultural Artwork Exchange, like others, keeps a low profile and declines comment.

The membership fee is reported to be 1 million yuan and there are around 200 members.

This month, works of contemporary artists Xue Song and Zhao Zhunwang, a water-colorist, are listed. Both artists have a management team making business decisions.

Zhao's works are widely collected by museums in Singapore, Australia, France and Germany. His team is based in Hangzhou and the target buyers are wealthy private entrepreneurs in Zhejiang Province.

Xue's involvement comes as a surprise to many people since he is considered a pioneer in contemporary art. Thirty-four of Xue's paintings, together valued at 20 million yuan, are priced at 18.18 yuan per share, according to his business management team.

"Don't be surprised," says a female industry insider, declining to be quoted by name. "Xu realizes he can no longer move further along his art path because his paintings are not selling well either at galleries or at auctions, so why not use this opportunity to cash out? Twenty million yuan is not a small figure."

According to Shen Leiming, the head of Xue's business team, the target is a 15-percent appreciation in value per painting per year.

"The pricing of art is quite subjective, and dividing it into shares is an illusionary game of capital," says Ye Tan, a famous business commentator. "Real collectors won't buy the shares at an artwork exchange, nor would top artists list their works at an exchange. But inflation plus the slowdown in the real estate area causes a worry about capital flow. The art market is small and it's very easy to stir big waves."

According to the Tianjing website, "The aim (of art stock exchange) is to associate the art world with the capital market, and boost the mutual benefit of cultural and financial industries by attracting more public attention and participation in culture through investment."

The whole idea of dividing works of art into shares, assigning value and buying and selling them horrifies some people. Others say why not and want to learn more?

The first reported international art stock exchange, A&F Markets, opened in January in Paris, to great controversy over turning art into a commodity and "financializing" it. Investors can buy and sell shares in art as they would any other commodity, the prices quoted on a public index. The works are late 19th-century painting and sculpture, plus modern video installation and photography by Anselm Kiefer.

The Tianjin Exchange opened with the listing in January of two traditional ink-wash paintings - "Roaring Yellow River" (2001) and "Autumn in a Fortress" (2005) - by the late and relatively unknown Bai Gengyan (1940-2007). The owners were not disclosed.

In March shares in "Roaring Yellow River" jumped to 17.2 yuan from the issue price of 1 yuan, valuing the work at 103 million yuan - 52 times higher than the top price for any of Bai's auctioned work.

From the very beginning in China, the idea of an art stock exchange has drawn criticism.

"You could set a trap, but you can't wheedle money from the pockets of ordinary people in such a nasty way," Dong Guoqiang, director of Beijing's Council Auction House, tells Shanghai Daily.

According to him, Bai's paintings earlier sold at local auction for only less than 100,000 yuan.

"Isn't it weird to divide one artwork into several million shares? Even if it is not Bai Gengyan, say masters like Zhang Daqian or Qi Baishi? Then what does one share means? One brush stroke? What about the empty space in the painting? It's just ridiculous," says Kou Qing, vice director of Guardian Auction House in Beijing.

Obviously art stock exchanges are potential competition to traditional gallery and auction sales. Criticism from established quarters is predictable.

The practice, if it becomes established and considered reliable, could attract hot money into the art market.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with the idea," says an independent Chinese investment adviser who declined to be quoted by name. "It's too early to pass judgment, but I would point out that when a painting is listed on an artwork exchange, it is no longer a painting. It is a stock, a stock with great potential. Only a few artists paintings are listed but the money in the market is daunting.

"It's no surprise that the value of one painting could be double or triple in one day. In my eyes, art only provides another excuse for hype," he adds.

Wang Cheng, a primary school teacher in his 30s, wants to learn more about opening an account and in buying shares that will appreciate.

"This is a golden opportunity to make money," he says. "The first pot of money is always easy to get, especially with government support." He refers to the Ministry of Culture giving its stamp of approval to the Tianjin exchange last month.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend