Contemporary Chinese Artist Won This Year’s Martell Artist Of The Year Award In Shanghai
Earlier this month, the French cognac brand Martell held its annual “Martell Artists of the Year” event at the Shanghai Art Museum, awarding top honors to Zhou Chunya. Zhou, who made his name in the 1990s as a member of China’s first generation of contemporary artists and has become a favorite among international as well as Chinese collectors, is best known for his vivid paintings of green dogs, although his more recent works have taken a more pastoral turn.
This week, Zhou Chunya penned an interesting op-ed for 21CBH concerning the growing number of luxury-arts partnerships that we’re seeing not only in Europe and North America but also in China, writing that although these partnerships have their detractors, he feels they could play an instrumental and constructive role in the development of greater arts appreciation. Translation by Jing Daily team.
Recently, I attended Martell’s “Artist of the Year” opening ceremony at the Shanghai Art Museum. By now, this exhibition has already moved on to Beijing, and its next stop will be at the site of this year’s Asian Games in Guangzhou. I’ve been an artist for a few decades now, and I’ve lost track of the number of exhibition openings I’ve attended, but the one at the Shanghai Art Museum was by far the largest I’ve been to, and never before have I seen so much media attention at an opening.
Over the past two years, major fashion brands have — one after another — cooperated with artists on a range of activities. Chanel created its “Mobile Art” exhibition, Hermes is planning its H-BOX show, LV has hung works by Zhou Tiehai in its stores, and Prada has projected films by Yang Fudong on the walls [of its boutiques].
Some people say that these arts activities are just a matter of luxury brands engaging in high-end marketing in the name of art. So then, as independent artists, should we refuse to serve as a high-end marketing tool for luxury brands? Personally, I feel the answer is, “not necessarily.” Art needs independent creation, but it doesn’t necessarily need “independent display.” Why can’t we use their popularity to promote art? Especially because they can attract so much media and public attention.
Many artists have had similar experiences. Every time I go to Europe to take part in an exhibition, I always see long lines wrapping around the museum. When art appreciation becomes a habit, a way of life, naturally a society’s art industry will develop. To think of it now, perhaps luxury brands have a role to play in helping the general public develop this sort of lifestyle. It’s worth mentioning that over the past 15 years, high-end European luxury brands have continuously worked with artists, lending their name to all types of arts events and exhibitions.
What’s more, there are examples like the Cartier Foundation or Prada Foundation in Milan that have established their own art museums, dedicated to promoting the arts. Even after the financial crisis hit, and the American government suspended support of many art museums, these luxury brands maintained their support for their art programs.
When luxury brands spare no effort to emphasize that “our products are also works of art,” getting help from their art initiatives, they’re actually also doing another thing — they’re exposing the general public to true works of art, letting people know what art is. Even famous arts venues like the Shanghai Art Museum that host large-scale events have trouble attracting more than 5,000 visitors a day. But how many people pass by a downtown luxury boutique and stop to take a look in the window every day?
China’s luxury consumers are increasing, and within five years China may be the world’s top luxury market. If the world’s leading luxury brands can bring art to these consumers, art will naturally reach a greater audience. And as high-end consumption gradually becomes a way of life for people, we could expect art to become a part of these people’s aesthetic consciousness as well.