Chinese artist Tao Hongjing reveals he’s a Frenchman called Alexandre
As a struggling artist living in Shanghai, Alexandre Ouairy came up with the perfect business plan – a Chinese alter ego whose work sold for far greater sums
A French artist has revealed to surprised international buyers that the work they have been purchasing for more than a decade by a Chinese artist named Tao Hongjin was in fact made by him.
Fifteen years ago Alexandre Ouairy was an unknown French conceptualist living in Shanghai, China’s commercial hub.
The country’s economic transformation was well under way and the Chinese appetite for luxury goods extended beyond cars, clothes and furniture to expensive modern art.
But as just another foreign artist in China, struggling to get his work included in exhibitions, this all passed Mr Ouairy by.
“At that time the exhibitions were in private galleries who had to pay high rent and the people who were promoting me were finding it financially difficult to do so,” he said.
“But China was famous for doing fake Louis Vuitton bags and fake Gucci bags and so on, so I got the idea of making a fake Chinese artist.”
Spurred on by the promise of getting his work shown at exhibitions, Mr Ouairy slipped into the background and re-branded himself as Tao Hongjing, taking the name from a fifth-century philosopher.
The re-invention paid instant dividends and it wasn’t long before his alter ego had established a reputation on the local art scene. He was now being compared to other Chinese artists, but his work neon Chinese characters, golden Buddha statues – had a distinctly foreign feel, which made it stand out.
As the contemporary generation of domestic artists was only slowly emerging from decades of strict, inward-looking Communist rule, this foreign-looking flair displayed by a local artist made waves on the art scene.
Mr Ouairy is the first to admit that his new-found Chinese identity had put him on the map.
“At the beginning when I started, yes definitely, because that generation of Chinese artists grew up in a different time,” he said, comparing his artistic outlook to those who “worked during a very strong Communist era”.
But with the latest generation of Chinese artists there is a “common cultural bond”, he says.
As Chinese and Western artists have gradually converged in style, Mr Ouairy felt he no longer needed Tao Hongjing, and his Chinese self will be laid to rest with an exhibition opening in Beijing this weekend titled “Death is Going Home".
While the work that Mr Ouairy produced before he changed his identity used to be priced at 1,500 yuan (£150), prices at the Beijing show are up to 200,000 yuan (£20,000).
Mr Ouairy said that while many in the West knew his real identity, he had worked hard to keep it a secret in China, often avoiding press interviews and not appearing at his own exhibitions.
The response from art lovers on discovering that Tao Honjing is a fabrication has generally been warm, Mr Ouairy said, with the Chinese appreciative that he is keen to understand their culture and Westerners “amused”.
But for him, the bold idea that helped to establish him as an artist is simply another one of his artistic creations.
“This was a concept. Like a installation, but a more elaborate one,” he said.
Article by Neil Connor, Beijing, The Telegraph.