By Le-Min Lim for the Bloomberg News:
In a village in southern China, Wu Ruiqiu is worried about the effect of an economic slump on the art market. He should be. Mr. Wu represents artists that make 60 per cent of the world’s oil paintings.
Mr. Wu is chairman of Dafen’s art association, which groups 8,000 artists in a suburb of Shenzhen, China’s biggest manufacturing hub. While employees in the city make cheap DVD players, computers and T-shirts, workers here produce Rembrandts, Monets and Warhols – by the millions… Exports have fallen by a third this year, he said, the worst decline since the SARS epidemic in 2003 curtailed movement of people and goods in southern China. The drop in sales, 85 per cent of which are exports, has forced the smaller of Dafen’s 800 galleries to close. Others have slashed prices to compete.
An earlier article from Reuters, Mona Lisas by the Dozen at China’s Fake Art Village, reported:
Dafen artists’ ability to produce paintings en masse means the replicas are sold for just a few dollars. And if you can’t find that museum piece or landscape you’re hankering for, the artists will rustle up a copy in no time…
Recently, the studios have been producing more reproductions of Chinese contemporary paintings, testament to the growing popularity of homegrown artists in China and abroad. International auction houses, including the world’s largest, Christie’s, have seen red-hot demand for Chinese artwork, especially contemporary paintings.
In Der Spiegel’s Van Gogh from the Sweatshop by Martin Paetsch, these factories were called “The McDonalds of the Art World”:
[Wu Ruiqiu’s] business “Shenzhen Artlover” ships 300,000 paintings a year and is one of Dafen’s model companies. The businessman is dreaming of industrial mass production, complete with assembly lines. The creation of every painting would be divided into standardized production stages. Ruiqiu wants to “get into the business of oil paintings the way McDonalds got into the business of fast food.” By the end of the year, he wants to have set up an art school for training talented new painters — even if mass production doesn’t require all that much talent.
More information about Dafen can be found here.
See also a related article on antiquities copying in China: Re-Made in China by Ron Glukman.