We already know about China’s huge proliferation of museums, studios and creative spaces on a scale totally dwarfing that of the West. But did you know that there are also enormous artists’ studios designed solely for replicating famous works?
Dafen Village art copies
This is copying on an industrial scale. At one of the largest sites known as Dafen village, over five million copies of Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and more are produced annually. Dafen’s most skilled workers claim they can produce thirty paintings a day, each indistinguishable from the original to an untrained eye.
Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition 2015
Such ‘art factories’ might sound repugnant to audiences who have grown up believing in the unique power of the original. Now, one Chinese replica painting is being installed in the place of its original at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London – itself a traditional example of a 19th century British approach to displaying and preserving masterpieces of original artwork. The game is this: which painting has been changed? The Gallery will invite the public to guess, and the answer will be revealed as the exhibition closes, when original and replica will be displayed side by side. Without ruining the fun of it all - the famous painting replaced by a fake was revealed on 26th April as Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 18th-century work Young Woman. Did you guess right?
It would be easy to see this exhibit as a media ploy or an eccentric take on audience participation. On the other hand, the made-in-China reproductions can tell us something important about how culture is produced and consumed in 21st century, ‘communist-capitalist’ China. Customers who purchase the workshops’ copies clearly do not expect that their Mona Lisa will be mistaken for the original; instead, these objects are opportunities to display sophisticated cultural knowledge of the Western canon, at the same time as investing in what is still a hand-made piece of art.
Perhaps this experiment at Dulwich Picture Gallery will open up a wider debate for art in London: how will the value of an original piece be calculated, or even proven, in the decades to come?
|Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project, Dulwich Picture Gallery
|Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, London, SE21 7AD | MAP
|Clapham North (underground)
10 Feb 15 – 26 Jul 15, 10am - 5pm Tuesday - Friday 11am - 5pm at Weekends
|££6 (£5 without donation) Senior Citizens £5 (£4 without donation) Free for unemployed, disabled, students and children under 18
|Click here to book tickets