The Art Media Hustle

Last month, a gallery worker on Beijing’s East Side sent out a press release for a contemporary art exhibit. The local art media soon came fishing for soft ads. Here the gallerist writes in to share his encounters. The state-backed outlets he mentions appear to have grown symbiotically alongside mainstream auction houses, collectors’ web sites and commercial galleries. Good news here is, no one got killed.

Note: The identities of the “journalists” involved have not been independently verified. Their names and other specifics have been omitted at the gallerist’s request:

About one month before the exhibition opened, I blanketed Beijing media
with a press release and received a couple of interesting responses.

First was a call from Art Market (Ëâ∫ÊúØÂ∏ÇÂú∫) magazine – artmarket.cc – who wanted us to take out an ad for their next issue. Though I didn’t entertain the idea even for a second, I did ask them to send a copy of the mag and a price sheet. Basically, it is all soft ads. The contents page doesn’t pop up until page 26 and according to the price list, every one of the monthly’s 200-odd pages is for sale:

The cost for the cover is 40,000 kuai, which includes four pages of content. One page of content costs 4,000 kuai.

That’s not all! There is also the back cover, which is upside down —
it’s front cover for the “contemporary art section” – which goes for 30,000 and also comes with four pages of content. Flipping through the
contemporary section, it’s clear “contemporary” here is used to mean
everything by people who aren’t dead yet. You can tell because
articles on various artists are attributed to … the artists!

But the most interesting thing is that the name card stapled to the ad
pricing sheet is for XXXX XXXX, “Editor”. You’d think they would
have a sales department … oh wait, they do. The phone number for the
sales department is listed in the masthead on p28 — and nowhere is
Editor XXXX listed in the masthead. I guess with the Ministry of Culture and China Culture Daily at the helm, there are probably too many editors in the bureaucracy to name them all and apparently they all write and sell. Cozy.

The day following this discovery, I received a another call. This one came from XX XX, a producer at BTV [Beijing Television] for a program called “Ëâ∫ÊúØ˵èÊûê” (Art Appreciation and Analysis). She was very enthusiastic about our exhibition,
remarking how her audiences would be very interested in a XXXX
artist’s take on XXXX culture and was impressed that we were going to
have a whole XXXX house as part of the exhibition. She said she
wanted to come interview the artist and curator, shoot the building of
the house or the “process of creation” and also film the opening
reception in all its glamour with the star-studded cast of Chinese
contemporary artists on hand. Then they would winnow it down to a 30 minute program and provide us with two DVD copies, “one for the gallery and the
other for the artist to take home,” — all for the low price of
15,000.

“15000 KUAI??!!” I balked. I asked her again if she was calling
from BTV. She assured me that she was and that this program is very successful and
that we’d get lots of exposure, plus – PLUS! – a DVD momento to take
home.

I was caught completely off-guard. I suppose that is her strategy:
dazzle, dazzle, then drop the axe. I told her I’d run it by my boss,
took down her name and number, hung up and laughed.

The government talks about building the “cultural industry” and the “creative industry” (“ÊñáÂåñ‰∫߉∏ö”,”ÂàõÊÑè‰∫߉∏ö”). I suppose that means more creative marketing of culture than I previously thought.