Recently Christie's invited collectors, scholars and art patrons to its New York headquarters in the Rockefeller Centre for what it described as a special exhibition and symposium about the rise of Chinese contemporary art. However, as the NYT reports, the 29 works in the show were not produced by the politically focused Chinese artists who had helped Christie's earn millions of dollars at auction over the past five years. They were mostly by a group of realist painters whose work had been ignored by collectors and curators outside the country, and they were selected by a Chinese government-appointed panel.
The show, Trans-Realism, is part of a partnership between Christie's and an affiliate of China's Ministry of Culture which began just a year after the Chinese Government denounced Christie's for trying to sell two Qing dynasty bronzes that Beijing insisted were looted from the country 150 years ago. As part of the partnership, Christie's is considering financing a series of exhibitions with Chinese institutions like the Ministry of Culture's Centre of International Cultural Exchange.
Christie's art diplomacy is drawing criticism on the grounds that moves to promote artists selected by the Chinese government would alter the the role of the auction house and undermine its credibility with collectors. Others believe that Christie's has bowed to pressure from a government that often tries to silence critics and politically focused artists. But none of this is likely to deter Christie's as it moves to gain entry to China's booming auction market, which the Beijing-based group Artron says has grown to from $1.1 billion in 2004 to about $3.2 billion in 2008.
Image: the two disputed Chinese Qing dynasty bronzes