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Powered by the insatiable demand of the global rich, China's contemporary art scene is booming. What a shame that so much of the work is no good

By Ben Lewis   January 2007

Few stock options have risen twenty fold in value in three years—but the oil paintings of Zhang Xiaogang have. Zhang, aged 48, the leading artist of south China, paints large luminous portraits based on family photographs from the cultural revolution. The glazed look and big pupils of his subjects make them seem ambiguously vulnerable—childish, alienated, zombie-like. The artist says these are images of the dissolution of the individual within the collectives of the traditional Chinese family and communist society. It’s a message that few would miss. In 2003, one of Zhang’s portraits sold for $75,000 at auction. In 2006 it…

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