Of a Chinese sculptor, a slow press day and a sudden media penchant for art . . .

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The more perceptive of you, faithful readers of our blog on chineseart.co.uk, will have noted a certain connection between this blog and the Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng, who last week exhibited more than 40 examples of his work at the Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair on his 200 sq m stand, the largest stand at the Fair.

We have, in fact, known Chen Dapeng for some 14 years and have long been admirers of his work which distils traditional elements of Chinese art with a modern twist. Essentially realist in approach, his work reflects a well practised craftsmanship and fascinated visitors to the Fair with its exploration of the Eastern mysteries of Kung-fu and the spirit of China.

Little is known about Chinese sculpture in the West. It is not exactly a sexy subject and spreading the news of Chen Dapeng to the British public presented enormous challenges. Having decided to mount his first exhibition in the UK, the problem was very much how to bring him to the attention of the British public. Generally speaking, the UK media is uninterested in the specifics of art although it will carry news and features based around figures renowned for their activities outside the art arena: a case in point being dissident protester Ai Weiwei, who took on the government of China using his art as a blunt instrument.

Pursuing this train of thought, we suggested to Chen Dapeng that he might think about executing a very British piece of sculpture. And what could be more British than the rightly revered figure of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II? The Chinese sculptor enthusiastically took up the challenge, spending almost five months moulding Her Majesty in clay and then firing her in white porcelain, an enormously difficult medium to fire successfully. On the 13th attempt at firing, a successful version was achieved. We were all hopeful that this might be cause for some useful publicity in the UK . . .

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The unveiling by Chen Dapeng at Olympia on November 2     Photo by Paul Harris

On November 2, when the Olympia Fair opened, Chen Dapeng was totally unknown to the British public. He had half a dozen entries if you had looked him up on Google. Not a single newspaper or magazine in the UK had featured him after sending out hundreds of press releases in advance of his arrival at Heathrow . . . dragging a red draped trolley with what was to become, for the week ahead, the most famous sculpture in the world.

At 10am on Monday November 2, the sculpture was unveiled at an Olympia photocall and press releases were distributed to photographers and journalists. There wasn’t much news around that morning . . . It was what is known in the business as ‘a slow news day’.

By midday, The Daily Telegraph Online had posted a story in which their art critic Mark Hudson likened the appearance of the bust to Tom Hanks. This was the catch line that would propel the story all around the world. Within minutes, the telephone ran red hot: What was our reaction to Mark Hudson’s judgement  – on a sculpture he had never seen ? First on the line was The Daily Mail Online, followed by The Independent. By lunchtime, the story hit New York, as the city woke up, and Vanity Fair and The New York Times came on the line.

Whether or not you agreed with Hudson, this became the hottest story online and in the media worldwide: a quarter of a million Tweets, more than 200 articles and features online (that we have tracked) in more than 25 countries from Greece, Poland, Sweden and Spain to The Philippines, Indonesia and, of course, Dapeng’s native China.

On Tuesday morning, the bust was ceremoniously ferried to ITV’s This Morning for Philip and Holly to open the programme seated beside it. Philip adjudged it ‘impressive’. He was, of course, unlike Mr Hudson, seated right beside it. This Morning would be followed with interviews on Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, pieces on NBC and Fox News,  and, last Friday, with a segment on Have I Got News for You?

People flocked to our stand at Olympia to see the bust. Twelve pages of our Visitors’ Book were filled with comments: 80% positive from those who had actually seen it. Meantime, on social media and on showbiz sites in the US people were posting from offices, attics and basements their own particular view of who it looked like to them: Mrs Doubtfire, Liberace, Martin Sheen, David Walliams and, even, The Duke of Edinburgh, Her Majesty’s husband. Despite all these suggestions, the Tom Hanks label stuck.

Also, many patently untrue suggestions made it once into online print and were relentlessly repeated worldwide without any further research: a particularly unappealing facet of the online world. The Daily Express (to quote the aforementioned Duke of Edinburgh speaking many years ago, ‘A bloody awful newspaper’) told its readers (both of them) that Buckingham Palace had declared it had no knowledge of the sculpture being offered to HM. Well, chaps, I could offer to share with you my five months of correspondence with The Keeper of The Royal Collection. On second thoughts, I won’t!

By the end of the week, Chen Dapeng was the most famous sculptor in the world. More famous, even, than Ai Weiwei. But he was getting a bit doubtful about all the publicity. ‘What about my other sculptures?’ he asked. Of course, the bust of HM was the least important on the stand in strictly artistic terms. His vastly impressive and challenging other works had merited scarcely a mention. But he had become famous worldwide.

It is probably a parable of our times: of a world dominated by the power of an all pervasive digital media. Of a world where real appreciation of anything other than the immediate, the sensational and the easily digested must be regarded as a prized rarity. However, it could be said Chen Dapeng is now a name to be reckoned with. After all, he now dominates almost twenty pages of entries on Google. Is that success, or is it not?

Paul Harris

 

Frenetic setup day for Chen Dapeng at Olympia Art & Antiques Fair!

Today was a frenetic setup day for the Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair which opens at 5pm on Monday with a glitzy private view. On Shanghai sculptor Chen Dapeng’s stand it was all go. At 0800 in the morning, three large trucks containing almost 50 sculptures waited in line to decant their cargo all packed in wooden packing cases lately arrived from Shanghai. By 5pm all were unpacked and the stand completed! Our pictures tell the story.

 

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0900 Saturday Unpacking of crates begins . . .

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1700 The stand is all set up!  Photo Paul Harris

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The set up team from Fine Art UK together with Chen Dapeng (second from right). Photo Paul Harris

Chen Dapeng’s secret sculpture is of . . . H M Queen Elizabeth II

exclusive sloping to top

It can now be revealed, exclusively by this site, that the top secret sculpture that Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng has been working on since May of this year is of the British Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Chen Dapeng with clay QE2

A September 2015 picture of Chen Dapeng working on the clay version of his sculpture of HM Queen Elizabeth II  Copyright Photo by Paul Harris

This information will be revealed tomorrow morning at 1030 Beijing time (0330 UK time) at a press conference being held in the Chinese capital’s No. 1 prestige venue, The Great Hall of the People. It will also be revealed that Chen Dapeng is to be recognised by the Chinese government as official sculptor for UK-China Cultural Exchange Year.

On Friday, Chen Dapeng and his team will leave China and fly to London. The bust of the Queen – the final version is to be in priceless white porcelain crafted by Jingdezhen’s Hanguang Factory – will go on public show on the evening of Monday, November 2 at the opening party for this year’s Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair.

Asian art auctions crowd the calendar in November

gavel 1 Auction fever in November

For the Asian art buyer next month promises to be a taxing, wallet emptying experience . . . It is the busiest month ever for Asian art auctions. Starting November 3 with London’s Chiswick Auctions, the next 28 days of the month of November will see no fewer  than 20 major auctions of Asian art.

The sales range in size from Sotheby’s November 11 sale of Classical Chinese Furniture from a European Private Collection with just 28 lots of fine-looking huanghuali furniture, to Woolley & Wallis’s usual two day extravaganza on November 17 and 18. They range in location from Bonhams Edinburgh rooms to Dukes in Dorchester and Peter Francis in Carmarthen.

The plethora of sales raises problems of logistics for the avid follower of Chinese auction offerings. Even if you only peruse catalogues on line, you have to set aside at least a couple of days. As for attending all the sales, that is a practical impossibility given the distances involved and the fact that many sales compete with each other on the same day!

Things calm down, thankfully, at the end of the month, although you may care to take in, if you have the energy and the bank balance left, the Lyon & Turnbull auction at Crosshall Manor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire. L&T are again abandoning their elegant Edinburgh saleroom for a small barn in order to be within relatively easy reach of the London market and Heathrow airport.

The auction mania is effectively driven by other surrounding events. The prestigious Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair has a strong Chinese and Asian showing this year and starts with its private view on November 2. Asian Art in London starts on November 5 and runs on until the 14th. Both events bring thousands of Asian buyers to London.

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      Lyon & Turnbull . . . at Crosshall Manor again     Photo Paul Harris

Listings for all the auctions can be found on our Auctions Nationwide page which is accessible from the slider bar on the Home Page of chineseart.co.uk

Shanghai sculptor Chen Dapeng announces Olympia exhibition: welcomed by Minister for Foreign Affairs

From Paul Harris in Shanghai SONY DSC The renowned Shanghai sculptor Chen Dapeng today opened a major retrospective exhibition of his quarter of a century of work and took the opportunity to announce publicly that he will exhibit at this year’s Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair (November 2-8 2015).

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More than 150 people attended for the announcement and exhibition opening. Minister of Foreign Affairs Xie Wei speaks.

Following his successful exhibition at the Carousel du Louvre in 2013, he now seeks to expose his body of work to the British audience. Several Chinese government ministers and other dignitaries attended the event which was held in the grounds of The Dragon Building in the Songjiang suburb of Shanghai.

The Dragon Building, built in the shape of China’s most significant emblem, was designed and built by Chen Dapeng and, together with other associated buildings, provides studios, workshops, offices and home for the 53 year-old sculptor. More than 150 guests from the media, government, business and academe attended the event which also featured tai chi demonstrations, and traditional Chinese music and dance. It was also attended by Ana Perez Grassano, the Paris-based Argentinian artist who is in Shanghai to paint Chen Dapeng. The event was filmed by Xinhua News Agency and Shanghai Television. It is an integral part of The Shanghai People’s Festival 2015.

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The Minister of Foreign Affairs from the office of the government of Shanghai (now a region of some 25 million people), Mr Xie Wei, welcomed Mr Chen Dapeng’s efforts to export art from China to the west and evinced his support for the Olympia exhibition. Mr Chen Dapeng also publicly announced that Paul Harris Asia Arts (www.PaulHarrisAsiaArts.co.uk) has been appointed to represent him in the UK and to organise his exposure at Olympia. Paul Harris Asia Arts is a sister business to ChineseArt.co.uk.

A 200 sq m series of stands have been booked at the Olympia event and it is thought he may well be the largest single exhibitor at the Winter Art & Antiques Fair, the most significant public exhibition of its type held in the winter months.