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Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade

Van Gogh on Demand argues that the global contemporary art world is shaped by two powerful ideas: the postmodern assertion of "the death of the author" and the universalist notion that "everybody is an artist." It does so by focusing on an unlikely case of global art production, China's Dafen Oil Painting Village, a flexible production center of eight thousand Chinese painters who produce five million oil paintings per year, sourced from the Western art canon and made for the world's retail and wholesale markets. Based on five years of fieldwork in this transnational trade, this study offers, first and foremost, a comprehensive account of this "readymade" art. Assessing its full theoretical impact, however, its narrative centers on two unique sets of "authors": internationally-active artists who made Dafen village into a source of appropriated paintings and a subject of conceptual art; and the Chinese party-state, which turned Dafen village into a model cultural industry and the subject of extensive propaganda spanning television and the World Expo. In examining the encounter between contemporary artists and the Dafen painters whose labor they appropriate, the study traces critical issues of artistic authorship and assesses their deployment at a site of anonymous production. In examining how this encounter operated within the Chinese government's embrace of creative industries and its attendant production of creative subjects, it offers an account of art practices in a period of cultural shifts heightened by an ascendant China.

Winnie Wong