About 1,000 contemporary artworks were displayed at last year's Affordable Art Beijing.
Artworks are ready for this year's event.
Affordable exhibitions and galleries inside furniture stores that sell inexpensive pieces make works accessible to all. Chen Nan reports in Beijing.
At first glance, the shopping cart filled with canvases looks like it could be an installation that equates paintings with groceries. And indeed, that's the intent of Affordable Art Beijing (AAB) - artworks so affordable, you might want to stock up.
"Prices for contemporary art have been skyrocketing," says Tom Pattinson, AAB founder and director, who brought the concept to Beijing in 2006. "Ordinary people get the chance to buy quality art for a reasonable price and take the elitism out of art."
The event, from June 2-3, is held annually in the capital's 798 art district. Laid out more like a supermarket than an exhibition, the art fair has thousands of booths where artists talk about their work with visitors.
The coming AAB will see hundreds of Chinese contemporary artworks, ranging from just a few hundred yuan to the maximum price of 20,000 yuan ($3,200).
Pattinson says advances in technology have given emerging young Chinese artists a shot at reaching new audiences - not through exclusive shows where a few works sell at high prices but, rather, through venues where low-priced creations can sell in volume.
"I am sure I sell more because of the low price and direct communication with buyers," says Chi Lijia, a 26-year-old Beijing-based artist, who infuses science in her works.
As a science major at university, Chi developed her interest in art while doing laser experiments. "I was amazed by watching the light beams in the dark," she explains. "I want to display the beauty of science or, in other words, make art through scientific approaches."
She presented her works at AAB in 2011. Most are pictures captured under the microscope. "People came over and were curious about the pictures. Then I told them the story behind each photo," she says.
For 30-year-old Tian Xiaolei, who graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, AAB brought him closer to clients and upgraded his art career.
When Tian displayed his "amplified" animals rendered in a traditional Chinese ink painting style at last year's AAB, he was spotted by a curator from the United States.
In January 2012, Tian had his first solo exhibition, Song of Joy, at Meulensteen of New York, which saw the artist's digital techniques interpret the conventions of traditional Chinese landscape painting.
"I used to be more inclined to accept the concepts of Daoism, which praise the integration of man and nature," Tian says. "With the development of technology, we are now experiencing a transition from being in awe of Mother Nature to conquering and changing it. AAB helped me express my ideas to more people."
Pattinson gives the example of artist Liu Zhonghua, who has participated in AAB since 2009. He sold two pieces for 10,000 yuan each in 2009, and one year later, he sold nine pieces at the same price. In 2012, he has already held three international solo exhibitions - two in the US and one in Germany - selling works for 150,000 yuan.
According to AAB statistics for 2011, more than 50 percent of the artists are born after 1980. The youngest was born in 1993 and the oldest was born in 1948.
AAB organizers have spent more than six months searching for emerging young talent and working with established artists before selecting a limited number of the highest-quality works to curate the largest event of its kind in China.
"Affordable art does not mean lower-quality art. I'm constantly amazed at the amount of talented artists that apply to take part," says Pattinson.
According to AAB, the global annual art market was worth $60 billion in 2010, which was up 52 percent over 2009. China's share of that market doubled from 2009 to 2012 and has 30 percent of the total global art market, second only to the US. However, in China, less than 33 percent of art sold is affordable, while 70 percent of all art sold in Europe and Western markets is affordable.
The veteran art dealer goes to Russia twice a year to look for artworks from established and rising artists. In spring, she brought more than 600 oil paintings from Russia and is having an exhibition at Easy Home, one the country's biggest furniture chain stores. Min located her galleries in furniture stores so ordinary consumers can get closer to art.
She says the market has increased since she started in the business 13 years ago. "I have been to galleries inside 798 art district before, but the prices there are really high. Usually, paintings are sold in US dollars, which makes the visitors feel distant," she says. "I feel someone needed to step it up, to bridge the gap between artworks, artists and consumers."
"The potential affordable art market in China doubles year-on-year," Pattinson says.
Min Li, a Russian oil painting dealer who has seven outlets in Beijing, mostly inside large furniture stores, says: "Chinese consumers are overwhelmed by the idea that you can find an original painting for $200 - it's like going to Ikea for a framed photograph."