Is outsourced oil painting the new “digital output”?
Below are some resources about the “Chinese Painting Village” phenomenon, such as Dafen or Wushipu in Shenzhen, which employ about 10,000 artists and produce more than 60% of the world’s oil paintings.
For those not familiar with this phenomenon, here are the basic facts:
- About 8,000-10,000 “painting workers” are employed in a single village (actually, an urban district) to produce more than 60% of the world’s paintings. (And I’ll bet you thought the world’s largest population of artists was in Berlin or Brooklyn!)
- Some factories specialize in reproducing famous Western masterpieces; others specialize in creating literally thousands of identical units (for hotels, cruise ships, and retail outlets like WalMart, K-Mart, Ikea, etc.); and other factories specialize in painting custom reproductions of family portraits, pets, wedding photos, and the like.
- Commissioning a custom painting is done with digital images, via email attachments and PayPal, and takes about 10-14 days including shipping. Prices range from as little as $10 to as much as $1000 (for a high-quality forgery); cost factors include the size, thickness of paint, and presence of (for example) people and/or portrait faces. For a painting whose dimensions are 50cm x 40cm, one might expect to pay $30-100 US.
A painting speed competition in Dafen.
Newspaper articles, critical histories and other journalism.
(Lots of good information here.)
- James Fallows, “Workshop of the world, fine arts division.” Atlantic Monthly, 12/19/2007.
- James Fallows, “A little more about the ‘art factory village’ of Dafen“. Atlantic Monthly, 12/20/2007.
- Le-Min Lim, “China’s Factory for Fake Art Tries to Beat Slump“. Bloomberg News, 9/24/2008.
- Evan Osnos, “Chinese village paints by incredible numbers“. Chicago Tribune, 2/13/2007.
- Martin Paetsch, “Van Gogh From the Sweatshop“. Spiegel Online, 08/23/2006.
- Wong, Winnie Won Yin. “Framed Authors: Photography and Conceptual Art from Dafen Village“. Yishu- Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art.
This 7-minute YouTube video provides an excellent overview of the painting economy in Dafen village:
Example painting factories online.
(There are many others.)
Western art approaches to the phenomenon.
(Interesting work which addresses this trend critically, conceptually, and/or politically.)
- Michael Mandiberg. In memory of the man in front of the tanks (Tiananmen 20 years later). 2005-2009 [More at Flickr]. Mandiberg commissioned paintings of the famous Tienanmen photograph, obtaining results which were censored or modified in a variety of ways.
- REGIONAL OFFICE design group. Self-portraiture and emerging artistic consciousness in Dafen. 2007. REGIONAL OFFICE commissioned self-portraits of the Dafen artists themselves.
- Alan Butler. The Image Factory, 2009.
Butler commissioned a painting of the first photograph above (of a painting competition in Dafen village, from Spiegel Online).
- Michael Wolf. Real Fake Art series.
- Christian Jankowski, Super Classical exhibition at Maccarone Gallery, 2007.
- Clement Valla:
- Paintings from Wushipu, 2009.
- 100USD-90USD-65USD, 2008.
- “Original Copies” (RISD MFA Thesis, PDF format), 2009, pp. 24-59.
Valla commissioned a variety of experiments, including the creation of painted feedback loops, open-ended instructional paintings, and paintings corrupted by digital transmission errors. His thesis provides an excellent discussion of the aesthetic and ethical issues.