Where Art Meets Cash; Banned in Beijing? No Need to Fret. Just Look for a Wealthy Real-Estate Developer

By Ansfield, Jonathan | Newsweek International, August 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

Where Art Meets Cash; Banned in Beijing? No Need to Fret. Just Look for a Wealthy Real-Estate Developer


Ansfield, Jonathan, Newsweek International


Byline: Jonathan Ansfield

They were an odd couple: the Armani-clad property developer Zeng Wei and the scraggly-haired rocker Cui Jian, together at a bash last month at Zeng's new condo complex, Beijing Palm Springs. The developer welcomed new tenants, and then on came his star attraction, Cui. Rain began pelting down as Cui's band launched into "Balls Under the Red Flag," an anthem to the anomie of post-Tiananmen China that is forbidden during his big public concerts: "Money flutters in the air... We have no ideals... although the air is clear... We can't see any further."

Cui dedicated the song to his host, whose money provided him with a relatively rare place to play. The musician was effectively banned from performing publicly for much of the '90s; only last year was he allowed to play in Beijing again. Their joint appearance represents the convenient new partnership of capitalism and art in China.

For cutting-edge artists, property moguls like Zeng offer things the state cannot: ample performing space, advertising money to fill it--and enough clout to keep nosy bureaucrats at bay. Developers, meanwhile, faced with a property glut, are seeking new ways to lure jaded Yuppie clients. "I've always thought commercial institutions were allied with political institutions" in China, says Cui. "If commerce can unite with the arts, this will be very positive for society."

The development group SOHO China helped set the trend three years ago, showcasing permanent art installations in its lobbies and corridors and sponsoring "carnivals" to help woo upscale buyers. …

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