There’s a retrospective of Zeng Fanzhi’s work at the Ullens Center in Beijing. On that occasion, The New York Times spoke to the artist about his career. He dwelled for an extended period on his—and his peers’—experience of the development of the Chinese Contemporary art market.
I first moved to Beijing in 1993. The people who bought my works back then were mostly Western, like people who worked in the foreign embassies or taught at universities.
Then, around 2004 and 2005, we started to see more and more Chinese people buying art. I remember it very clearly because before no one was buying and for 10 or so years the prices for our works hadn’t changed at all. We didn’t really know these new Chinese collectors, and we couldn’t tell if they actually liked the art.
But then, starting around 2007, we started to see a lot of people flipping works. At first I thought the buying was good, but when the market began to overheat, I went on alert. I didn’t sell to a person who wanted to buy 20 of my paintings because I was suspicious.
Then, in 2008, there was the financial crisis and all of a sudden a lot of galleries in China closed. Some people had bought so many paintings. One person even bought 100 paintings from one artist.
After having gone through 2008, most of the artists here have matured. The art market is something you can’t mess with. Just take it one step at a time, develop slowly, and honestly work together with galleries to sell works to people who actually like art and not to people who are trying to speculate on art. Now that we’ve worked with a lot of international galleries and museums, artists here pretty much get it. It’s not like 2007 anymore. We needed this time to mature.