the work of art in the age of the sweatshop and the software engineer

cities, culture

I will admit, sheepishly, that my first impression was ‘Oh my, I would love to buy one of those,’ when I started reading about the oil paintings produced in Dafen, China. The little village, located in the south east of china, has been getting a lot of attention for producing 60% of the world’s market of reproductions of famous paintings (see Chicago Tribune and Der Spiegel). The Atlantic has some incredible pictures. This area has hundreds of factories where artists spend their days slaving away at di Vincis, O’Keefes, Klimts, Manets, and Yue Minjuns, shipping out $120 million worth of art last year alone. What this says about aura will surely be a topic in class on Tuesday. The aura of the sweatshop? I can just imagine my own instinct played out: “Oh, and over here we have our Mona Lisa… That’s right, it is a copy, made in a real Chinese sweatshop!” This is from a conversation with an 18 year old factory worker in the Trib article:

“We divide up the colors among us,” said Zeng, working his way briskly along a line of 10 identical contemporary-style paintings, applying a stripe of brown, while a teenage partner worked on the red. Surrounded by dozens more identical pieces at the sprawling Artlover factory, he explained: “By dividing up the work, contrasting colors stay clearest.”

The Trib article goes on to talk about how they have 5,000 artists, 700 galleries, and a new museum under construction. Will the latter be a mixture of copies of famous works and originals by the copyists? (Mt. Holyoke’s Ajay Sinha has apparenty given talks about the 200 history of the Chinese producing mass art for the West.) Pics from The Atlantic:

I wrote earlier about ‘Sock City,’ and this is a topic that spans both my Media and Technology class and my urban one. There’s also a professor of management science at Instead that has written a program that ‘writes’/’auto-assembles’ books (e.g., ‘The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea’ and ‘The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India’) using relevant information from the public domain. Phillip Parker and his team of software engineers have written 200,000 books. (The above two books sell for $24.95 and $495, respectively.)

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