“People don’t want to buy an object, they want to buy a story”

From commentary on Nicholas Chao in ARTINFO:


It’s not just about the object, the vase, or the seal. “Lost Treasures” was a high point for us, the greatest sale we ever put together. Handling a great collection is wonderful, but putting together a sale that tells a story is very exciting. Of all the sales I’ve witnessed I’ve never seen so much electricity in the room. That’s when you can really feel the excitement, when people aren’t just buying commodities.

But what, we may ask, IS the story, particularly for the contemporary Chinese artist? The notion itself is deeply flawed, but is flawed also in a highly poignant fashion.  In the literary world, at least, by and large stories are the province of the authors who create them.  Indeed, the job of the “author” is to invent or re-create, refashion, or at least in some sense “retell” a story.  By contrast, artists must somehow embody this story, one which, regrettably for the artist and so very unlike the writer, ENDS with its telling.  The artists’ story is therefore terminal, disposable, a command performance that no one really wants to read twice.

But here I am perhaps setting the bar too high. Mr. Chao’s opinion that “the story” deepens the experience of those who purchase art work is unassailable to be sure.  I’m just hoping that the openness of the artistic text can be kept in someone’s view, if not necessarily the one who put down the money to buy it. Truth is, of course, there are a multitude of stories at work in/on/around-about virtually every canvas.

My current “story,” Pacific Northwest (Chinese) artist Z. Z. Wei :



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