Epic landscape paintings with pink stock listing collages in the background are typical for the BBC (British born Chinese) artist Gordon Cheung and show deep thinking about the relationship between money and its environment. Especially his Tulipmania series (2012) is a reflection of the understanding between art and finance. When I asked him whether art could be regarded as a speculative investment today, he said that it had nothing to do with art and that speculative investment were only about making money.
The current state of the contemporary art market, in particular of selling art for several millions, shows something different: Art investors want to resell faster than the law allows, auction houses are influencing buyers to raise the hammer price, and illegal price-fixing has turned the art market even more into a corrupt cartel of the best-selling artists, their galleries and of the world’s largest auction houses. Important at this point is that art and money are different in their nature. Financial investment and its outcome can be rationally explained, while the meaning and liking of art can hardly be defined.
Why do people buy art? Back in the Golden Age in Holland the middle class took an interest in art and increased their purchases. But art was not regarded as a valuable consumer good those days. This changed when the art market started to flourish in Holland. People could justify their purchases by the possibility to gain a monetary revenue. This way of thinking has turned art into a financial investment, and has raised new problems of art valuation and its definition. Art theories have become a popular way to define art and constituted an option to define the indefinable: people’s tastes and preferences.
The international artist Gordon Cheung, with Hong Kong origin, summed it up perfectly for me: “the pursuit of money from art blinds us from seeing the art – it blinds us from seeking the heart of where the art came from.” From the moment onwards we start thinking about money while looking at art the true intrinsic value of art dies. “It can poetically touch our souls and ultimately takes us to the deeper questions of what it means to be human.” Therefore, we can see that the function of art cannot be described. Not by figures, not by numbers, nor by words. This is the art of the art.
Although Cheung addresses financial issues by his art, he says that he does not have the ability to talk about these specific issues in a deep way. For him, it was important to be seen as a landscape painter, and not as an expert for geology or finance. But notably, as he has exhibited his work with various leading galleries in the world, such as with Edel Assanti, HUA Gallery, Lehman and Maupin, his art can be purchased as a form of investment. “I respond to the phenomenon of our financial landscape as an artist bearing witness to it. The financial speculation that is part of this landscape is like a force that I can only try to capture.“
Whether or not Cheung has a strong opinion about art considered as an investment, it is obvious that his paintings – selling for up to £12,000 [March 2013] – are part of the ambiguous state of the art market. Hence, art has always been a cultural good, but only since people are willing to buy it, it can be considered a financial investment.