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Chinese art — not a bust

Beijing artists and gallery owners say the economic downturn will improve quality.

“None of them had time to study what it was that was making contemporary art so successful,” Fryns said, “so they bought the pieces that were going for the highest prices.”

A sprawling gallery complex known as 798, which occupies a former military factory complex, became the third most popular tourist destination in Beijing. By the time it had succeeded, however, the more exclusive galleries and many of the more serious artists had already moved to more remote art villages, including Songzhuan and Caochangdi, where F2 is located.

Brian Wallace, who runs the Red Gate Gallery in an ancient guard tower on a remnant of the city’s original Ming wall, noted that 798 seems to be evolving from gallery space to retail space. But Wallace had no doubt that China will continue to inject enormous creativity and professionalism into the contemporary art scene.

"Art is a career path in China,” Wallace said. “It is like being a doctor or a lawyer.”

The recession’s impact on real estate speculation connected to art may be a different story. Beijing’s dazzling Today Art Museum, the city’s first independent museum focusing on contemporary art, will probably succeed. But a flashy nearby gallery complex known as 22 Art Plaza International, which had intended to capitalize on the museum’s attraction, stands largely empty.

Fryns said F2 and other leading galleries prefer the more remote location at Caochangdi, because the space is reasonable, and there is a lot of it. A collector who has flown to Beijing, ready to spend a million dollars or more on a painting, has no difficulty finding the location.

“We don’t get the drop-in crowd, the casual passers-by, the young couple with cameras, but that is not what we're looking for,” Fryns said.

And Fryns is convinced that in the long term, the best art will continue to hold its value. “There is very little quality material coming on the market today,” he said. “People are holding on to what they have. There are a lot of newly wealthy Chinese billionaires. Once they have bought everything else, a certain number will turn to contemporary art. They will want to collect the best work that is Chinese, and there is a limited supply of that."

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