Interview Questions from Gan Yu to Ethan Cohen
Gan Yu : The Cohen family has lots of friends in China, and Mrs. Cohen is extremely well known in the Chinese Contemporary Art circle. I know your family is among the earliest who made substantial efforts in promoting and advocating Chinese contemporary art. Even though the Cohen family has made a great contribution to the establishment and development of Chinese contemporary art in the earlier stages, we haven't seen aggressive actions from Ethan Cohen Fine Arts during the hot period of Chinese contemporary art, especially after 2000. Do you have any plan to expand your investment efforts inside China in the coming years?
Ethan Cohen: Actually Ethan Cohen Fine Arts has been busier than ever over the past 10 years and has always occupied an important role in the promotion of Contemporary Chinese Art. I have been giving art lectures across the United States on Chinese Contemporary Art and collaborated with and hosted at my gallery in New York distinguished curators and institutions such as the Beijing Millennium Museum’s exhibition “Chinese Maximilism” curated by Gao Minglu in 2004. I curated and produced “The Chinese Art Invasion”, the first major Contemporary Chinese Art exhibition in Miami Art Basel in 2005. In 2007, I co-curated the show “We Are Your Future” for the Moscow Biennale, an exhibition that brought Chinese and Latin-American contemporary art to Moscow . What hasn't always been readily seen is the continuous work I do under the radar with collectors and investors in bringing awareness and sound advice on investing in Contemporary Chinese art. One example is having my collectors lend important works by artists such as Qin Feng, Gu Wenda, Xu Bing, and Wang Dongling to a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York over the past several years. Charles Saatchi, Uli Sigg, the Rothschilds, and the former Treasury Secretary of the United States, Michael Blumenthal, are just a few prominent collectors who have bought from me. Art education and opening collectors’ eyes to the beauty and power of Chinese art is what I do, and I have assisted in building art collections that specialize on China. I have always been quite active in China researching, consulting and buying for collectors and myself. As the market there grows, I find myself spending more time in China. It is a very exciting time indeed.
Gan Yu: Mr. Cohen, could you please briefly talk about the next promotion plan or market strategy for Mr. Qin Feng's artworks?
Ethan Cohen: I have been privileged to work with Qin Feng as his dealer and advisor for over ten years. We have had four major solo exhibitions with him and have been able to take his work to many exhibitions and art fairs, involved him in biennales, helped to include him in major museum exhibitions and seen his paintings’ value rise more than twenty fold. I plan to continue to promote Qin Feng and expect that we will see many exciting museum shows of his in the future.
Gan Yu: You just mentioned that Ethan Cohen Fine Arts has formed a partnership with Pace Prints recently . You are going to produce high quality, limited edition prints from some renowned works by elite Chinese contemporary artists, and sell them to collectors inside China. You said you want to make these prints have value comparable to other masters such as Pablo Picasso. Is this a kind of derivative product you mentioned many times before?
Ethan Cohen: Actually, to clarify your question, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts has entered into a co-publishing venture with Pace Prints. And what we have been doing is certainly anything but derivative. We are producing top quality editioned works from some of today’s most relevant Contemporary Chinese artists. The main difference between these projects and previously produced prints from artists is really found in several areas. First, Pace Prints and I are not producing reproductions of already existant images. What has been in the market previously are reproductions of well-known paintings by famous Chinese artists, and many of these are simply lithographs that are a high quality posters; this is exactly what Pace Prints and I are not doing. Pace Prints and I require the full engagement of the artists in producing new images and artworks specifically created for print making. “Vive l’estampe” (long live the print). Our print collaboration allows us to bring extraordinary Chinese artist talent and the most skilled craftsmen and printing professionals in the field to work together. We have engaged Sol Lewitt’s long-term print-master to make our silkscreens and Chuck Close’s personal woodcut master carver, and, in the case of our etchings, we are using the same press that Picasso used to create many of his editioned etchings. We are bringing work of outstanding quality by the most talented Chinese artists to the global art market at fair prices. This is significant because Chinese artists are now accepted into the mainstream print market, and this gives each Chinese artist more power and legitimacy as a player in the global art market. Now prints are exciting and important to collectors. For example, if a collector wants to buy a Yue Minjun, but doesn’t want to pay $ 1,000,000 USD for a painting, he or she can purchase the best quality woodcut or silkscreen print by Yue Minjun for $ 5-8,000 from Pace Prints and Ethan Cohen Fine Arts. We currently have editions by Yue Minjun, Qin Feng, Qi Zhilong, Zhang Dali, Luo Brothers and Bai Yiluo, and other artist editions will follow.
Gan Yu: I heard that the total transaction amount of arts and collectables in China has surged to number one in the world recently. Facing strong competition from local Chinese enterprises, how do you (international corporations) prepare if you move to the domestic Chinese market?
Ethan Cohen: There are a lot of numbers and statistics out there that, while saying different things, all do point to the well-known fact that the market for Contemporary Chinese Art has finally found a growing place on home soil. As I said earlier, it is a very exciting time, and I have already been collaborating with a number of Chinese galleries, curators and auction houses over the past decade. Yes, I see a lot more potential for Chinese art. As the markets and collectors develop in China, what will be sought out are the dealers and advisors who have the trust and expertise as well as a proven record of success. For over 25 years I have been promoting, showcasing and educating people about Chinese art and its importance aesthetically, spiritually, and yes, financially. This is why dealers like myself and galleries like ECFA around the world will find continued importance.
Gan Yu: CitiBank recently predicted India will be surpassing China to become the second world economy within the next 10 more years . Same remarks came from the Wall Street Journal, reporting that India is likely to overtake China as the world's fastest-growing major economy within the next 12 months, according to the latest range of forecasts. I personally attended to a panel discussion on Contemporary Art in South Asia sponsored by Sotheby’s and The Economist on Wednesday. I felt the current mainstream hot money is preparing to make India the next wave of contemporary art, just like they did in China 20 more years ago. Mr. Cohen, what do you think about it? Is this a real momentum change or will the India wave hardly occur? I was told that Ethan Cohen Fine Arts can always foresee the next move in the art market. Do you intend to invest in the contemporary artworks in South Asian countries? And lastly, will the Chinese contemporary art market be hit by the surging South Asian contemporary art in the long run?
Ethan Cohen: India has had a vibrant and diverse art scene for quite a while. We have worked with collectors and galleries prominent in the Indian art scene for years. Although there are a number of differences between India and China with respect to their places in the global economy and their contemporary art markets, with the increasing economic growth of India we are bound to see increasing interest and a larger number of domestic collectors, as we do now in China. The world attention to what has been happening to the Contemporary Chinese Art market has also greatly helped to sow interest in other non-Western art scenes, including India and Southeast Asia. Certainly in India and Southeast Asia, there will be great opportunity for artists, collectors and dealers. I have been keeping my eye on a number of areas and Indian artists, and have already been working closely with some for years.
Gan Yu: I just read a report saying the big guy Ullens (UCCA) will dump about 10 5 pieces of top notch contemporary Chinese artworks at the coming Sotheby's Spring auction in Hong Kong. Someone suspected this may be the beginning of a turmoil, even crash of the Chinese contemporary art era. Could you please forecast the direction of the Chinese contemporary art market in the years to come?
Ethan Cohen: As to the Ullens’ sale... Ullens has been extremely successful over the years in his dealing with Contemporary Chinese Art and this move just helps to reinforce that. He has even publicly said that he will continue to invest and collect in Chinese art. Overall, I think that this sale is no different from any other large collector liquidating some of his long-enjoyed, but quite valued, works in order to refresh or expand his or her collection or investments. As to the future of the Chinese art market… I think that the recent economic turmoil has shown us that the Contemporary Chinese Art phenomenon and its most talented artists are here to stay. Of course, we saw many value adjustments and a weeding out of the less significant and overpriced art, but what we have left is a truly talented group of dedicated artists as well as a far more educated and savvy base of collectors. When I started out many years ago, Contemporary Chinese Art was seen as new and exciting, but still a niche market. My colleagues and I have worked hard to accomplish a major change. Chinese artists are not seen anymore as a select or unique group but are more fully integrated into the international elite of contemporary artists. If we examine the lists of top selling contemporary artists worldwide or look through any major auction sale, we see Chinese artists taking their place next to all the big names from Europe and America. Art schools in China, India, South East Asia and the Middle East are producing fresh, talented and relevant contemporary artists. The future is certainly bright.