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==== ====Are you an art lover? Would you like to become one? Nothing to buy, simply enjoy art at:http://www.showoffart.com/==== ====The market for Chinese contemporary art has developed at a feverish pace, becoming the singlefastest-growing segment of the international art market. Since 2004, prices for works by Chinesecontemporary artists have increased by 2,000 percent or more, with paintings that once sold forunder $50,000 now bringing sums above $1 million. Nowhere has this boom been felt moreappreciably than in China, where it has spawned massive gallery districts, 1,600 auction houses,and the first generation of Chinese contemporary-art collectors.This craze for Chinese contemporary art has also given rise to a wave of criticism. There arecharges that Chinese collectors are using mainland auction houses to boost prices and engage inwidespread speculation, just as if they were trading in stocks or real estate. Western collectorsare also being accused of speculation, by artists who say they buy works cheap and then sellthem for ten times the original prices-and sometimes more.Those who entered this market in the past three years found Chinese contemporary art to be asurefire bet as prices doubled with each sale. Sothebys first New York sale of Asiancontemporary art, dominated by Chinese artists, brought a total of $13 million in March 2006; thesame sale this past March garnered $23 million, and Sothebys Hong Kong sale of Chinesecontemporary art in April totaled nearly $34 million. Christies Hong Kong has had sales of Asiancontemporary art since 2004. Its 2005 sales total of $11 million was dwarfed by the $40.7 milliontotal from a single evening sale in May of this year.These figures, impressive as they are, do not begin to convey the astounding success at auctionof a handful of Chinese artists: Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Cai Guo-Qiang, Liu Xiaodong, andLiu Ye. The leader this year was Zeng Fanzhi, whose Mask Series No. 6 (1996) sold for $9.6million, a record for Chinese contemporary art, at Christies Hong Kong in May.Zhang Xiaogang, who paints large, morose faces reminiscent of family photographs taken duringthe Cultural Revolution, has seen his record rise from $76,000 in 2003, when his oil paintings firstappeared at Christies Hong Kong, to $2.3 million in November 2006, to $6.1 million in April of thisyear.Gunpowder drawings by Cai Guo-Qiang, who was recently given a retrospective at theGuggenheim Museum in New York, sold for well below $500,000 in 2006; a suite of 14 worksbrought $9.5 million last November.According to the Art Price Index, Chinese artists took 35 of the top 100 prices for livingcontemporary artists at auction last year, rivaling Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and a host of Westernartists.
"Everybody is looking to the East and to China, and the art market isnt any different," says KevinChing, CEO of Sothebys Asia. "Notwithstanding the subprime crisis in the U.S. or the fact thatsome of the other financial markets seem jittery, the overall business community still has greatfaith in China, bolstered by the Olympics and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010."There are indications, however, that the international market for Chinese art is beginning to slow.At Sothebys Asian contemporary-art sale in March, 20 percent of the lots offered found nobuyers, and even works by top record-setters such as Zhang Xiaogang barely made their lowestimates. "The market is getting mature, so we cant sell everything anymore," says XiaomingZhang, Chinese contemporary-art specialist at Sothebys New York. "The collectors have becomereally smart and only concentrate on certain artists, certain periods, certain material."For their part, Western galleries are eagerly pursuing Chinese artists, many of whom wereunknown just a few years ago. Zeng Fanzhi, for example, has been signed by AcquavellaGalleries in New York, in a two-year deal that exceeds $20 million, according to a Beijing galleristclose to the negotiations; William Acquavella declined to comment. Zhang Xiaogang and ZhangHuan have joined PaceWildenstein, and Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaodong showed with Mary Boonelast spring. Almost every major New York gallery has recently signed on a Chinese artist: Yan PeiMing at David Zwirner, Xu Zhen at James Cohan, Huang Yong Ping at Gladstone, Yang Fudongat Marian Goodman, Liu Ye at Sperone Westwater. Their works are entering private and publiccollections that until now have not shown any particular interest in Asian contemporary art."The market hasnt behaved as I anticipated," says New York dealer Max Protetch, who has beenrepresenting artists from China since 1996. "We all anticipated that the Chinese artists would gothrough the same critical process that happens with art anywhere else in the world. I assumedthat some artists would fall by the wayside, which has not been true. They all have becomeelevated. It seems like an uncritical market."One of the key artists buoyed by this success is Zeng Fanzhi, who is best known for his "Mask"series. Five years ago his works sold for under $50,000. Today he commands prices on theprimary market closer to $1 million, with major collectors Charles Saatchi and Jose Mugrabiamong his fans. Now preparing for his first solo show at Acquavella in December, he isconsidered one of the more serious artists on the Beijing scene because he works alone, withoutthe horde of assistants found in most other artists studios in China. Still, his lifestyle is typical ofthat of his equally successful peers. When asked if he owns a mammoth black Hummer parkedoutside his studio, he answers, "No, thats an ugly car. I have a G5 Benz."This success has blossomed under the watchful eye of the Chinese government. Movies,television, and news organizations are strictly censored, but on the whole, the visual arts are not.Despite sporadic incidents of exhibitions being closed or customs officials seizing artworks, byand large the government has supported the growth of an art market and has not interfered withprivate activity. In the 798 gallery district in Beijing, a Bauhaus-style former munitions complexthat has been transformed into the capitals hottest art center, with more than 150 galleries, onefinds works addressing poverty and other social problems, official corruption, and new sexualmores. The icons of the former China-happy workers and peasants and heroic soldiers raising thered banner-are treated with irony, if at all, by the artists whose works are on view in thesegalleries, which are private venues generally not under the strict control of the Ministry of Culture.
On the eve of the Olympics, however, the government asked one gallery to postpone anexhibition until after the games. Considered unsuitable was "Touch," a show by Ma Baozhong atthe Xin Beijing Gallery of 15 paintings depicting important moments in Chinese history, includingone based on a photograph showing Mao Zedong with the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama in1954.The Beijing municipality spent enormous funds to renovate the 798 district before the Olympics,putting in new cobblestone streets and lining its main thoroughfare with cafés. Shanghai,which has benefited less from government support, now boasts at least 100 galleries. Localgovernments throughout the country are establishing SoHo-style gallery districts to boost tourism.One person who seems confident about the future of the Chinese market is Arne Glimcher,founder and president of PaceWildenstein, who opened a branch of his gallery in Beijing inAugust. Located in a 22,000-square-foot cement space with soaring ceilings, redesigned at a costof $20 million by architect Richard Gluckman, the gallery is in the center of the 798 district. "Weare committed to the art, and we wanted to open a gallery where our artists are," says Glimcher.Adding that he normally eschews the "McGallery" trend of setting up satellite spaces around theworld, Glimcher insists that it was necessary to establish a branch in Beijing because there is "nolocal gallery of our caliber" with which Pace could partner. He has, however, recruited Leng Lin,founder of Beijing Commune, another gallery operating in 798, to be his director.Another Western dealer who has taken the China plunge is Arthur Solway, who recently opened abranch of James Cohan in Shanghai. "I started coming to China five years ago, and I wasfascinated by the energy," says Solway, who wanted to introduce gallery artists like Bill Viola,Wim Wenders, and Roxy Paine to Asia but, like Glimcher, could not find a public museum orprivate gallery that he considered professionally qualified to handle such exhibitions. JamesCohan Gallery Shanghai is located on the ground floor of a 1936 Art Deco structure in the FrenchConcession, a particularly picturesque section of the city. The building was once occupied by themilitary, and red Chinese characters over the front door still exhort, "Let the spirit of Mao Zedongflourish for 10,000 years.""From 1966 to 1976, during the Cultural Revolution, people had nothing, but now there are spasin Shanghai and people drinking cappuccinos and buying Rolex watches-its an amazingphenomenon," says Solway, who believes it is only a matter of time before these same newlyaffluent consumers begin to collect contemporary art.Chinese collectors-or the hope that there will be Chinese collectors-are the key draw luring thesegalleries to Beijing. As recently as two years ago, few could name even a single Chinese collectorof contemporary art. It was a truism that the Chinese preferred to spend their money acquiringantiquities and classical works. Since then several well-known mainland collectors have emergedon the scene.Most visible is Guan Yi, the suave, well-dressed heir to a chemical-engineering fortune, who hasassembled a museum-quality collection of more than 500 works. A major lender to the HuangYong Ping retrospective organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2005, he regularlyentertains museum trustees from all over the world, who make the pilgrimage to his warehouseon the outskirts of Beijing. Now he is building his own museum.
Another noted figure is Zhang Lan, head of the South Beauty chain of Szechuan-style restaurantsthroughout China; she also has assembled an enviable collection and displays pieces from it inher chic establishments. The film actress Zhang Ziyi is representative of a new class of collectorsfrom the entertainment industry, while Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, chairman and CEO of themammoth SOHO China real estate empire, have commissioned projects for their upscaleresidential properties.Two collectors who are cheerleaders for the Beijing art scene are Yang Bin, an automobile-franchise mogul, and Zhang Rui, a telecommunications executive who is also the backer ofBeijing Art Now Gallery, which took part in Art Basel in June, one of the first Beijing galleries toappear at the fair. These two do more than collect art. They have hosted dinners for potentialcollectors, organized tours to Art Basel Miami Beach, and brought friends with them to sales inLondon and New York. Zhang Rui, who owns more than 500 works, has lent art to internationalexhibitions, most notably the installation Tomorrow, which features four "dead Beatles"mannequins floating facedown, created by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu for the 2006 LiverpoolBiennial, which rejected it.Zhang is now building an art hotel, featuring specially commissioned works and artist-designedrooms, outside the Workers Stadium in the center of Beijing. "I am trying to think of ways ofchanging my private collection into a public collection," Zhang explained to ARTnews through atranslator. It isnt financially advantageous to do this in China, as no tax benefits accrue fromdonations to museums or other nonprofit institutions.Zhang Rui represents the handful of Chinese collectors who are public about their activities andare building noteworthy collections. Far more typical of buying activity in China is the rampantspeculation taking place in the mainland auction houses. There are 1,600 registered auctioneers,and their sales attract hundreds of bidders. Chinese buyers are more comfortable with auctionhouses, which have been in business since 1994, than with galleries, which werent licensed tooperate by the government until the late 1990s.These auction houses run by their own rules, generating what sometimes seems like a "wild, wildEast" atmosphere. It is, for example, fairly common for a house to get consignments directly fromartists, who then use the sales to establish prices for their works on the primary market. Moreoften, now that China has hundreds of galleries, dealers come to a sale with buyers in tow,publicly bidding up works to establish "record prices" and advertise their artists. This kind ofbidding ring would be considered illegal in the United States, but in China it is viewed as a savvybusiness practice. There is little regulation of auction houses and few developed legal norms inthe field, so that even when buyers have grievances-with fakes and forgeries, for example-they donot feel they can resort to the law. Bidding is a social as well as a business activity, and buyersare happy to flaunt their status by paying record prices or quickly flipping artworks, not only forprofit but so they can boast of their short-term gains.As the domestic market for contemporary art matures, however, many of these practices arecoming into question. "Two years ago it was more necessary for me to bring my artists toauction," says Fang Fang, owner of Star Gallery in Beijing, which specializes in young emergingartists such as Chen Ke and Gao Yu. "Now that the gallery market has increased, I find it is betterto keep my artists out of the auction rooms, and there is much less reason to sell there."
Two mainland firms, Beijing Poly International Auction Company, and China Guardian AuctionsCompany, dominate the field of contemporary Chinese art. Their combined 2007 total of morethan $200 million in sales represented nearly two-thirds of all auction sales in this category inmainland China for the year. Last spring Guardian achieved $142 million in sales of classicalartworks, furniture, ceramics, silver, and coins, and $40 million in sales of contemporary material.The latter figure included the $8.2 million fetched by Liu Xiaodongs Hotbed No. 1, a record for apainting sold on the mainland. In a similar range of sales last spring, Poly sold $130 million worthof works, including $27 million in a single evening contemporary-art sale. (These figuresrepresent a slight decline for the year because both houses held benefit sales for Szechuanearthquake victims, raising more than $20 million to support relief efforts.)Poly and Guardian reflect two vastly different perspectives on the domestic market in Chinesecontemporary art. Guardian is the oldest and most respected auction house in China, founded in1993 by Wang Yannan, daughter of Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party leader who wasplaced under house arrest after opposing the governments use of force against demonstrators atTiananmen Square in 1989. If Poly is known for its vast resources and willingness to make dealsto nab consignments, Guardian is known for its respected specialists and long-term clientrelationships. For example, when the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, decided to sell 20 pieces ofQing dynasty porcelain in mainland China, it consigned the collection to Guardian.The atmosphere of a sale at Poly or Guardian is surprisingly similar to that in the salerooms ofChristies or Sothebys. The catalogues are identical in design, and the bidding proceeds in anorderly, even sedate, fashion, despite the crowds of spectators in the room."From our beginning, we studied what the principles of an auction house should be, and we stickto these principles," says Guardian president Wang. She also serves on the board of the newnationwide auctioneers association, which hopes to enforce regulations on the auction market.Poly is an enterprise within the China Poly Group Corporation, a $30 billion conglomerate that isthe privatized branch of the Peoples Liberation Army. Established initially to repatriate artworksand antiquities, Poly has spent $100 million buying objects such as the bronze animal heads froma water-clock fountain that were looted from Beijings Summer Palace by British and Frenchtroops in 1860; the pieces later turned up in the West. The repatriated objects are showcased inthe Poly Art Museum in the sparkling New Beijing Poly Plaza, a glass-enclosed tower designed bySkidmore, Owings & Merrill.The more freewheeling Poly is known for practices such as putting up for auction works from itsown collection or having consignors guarantee that they will bring buyers to the sale to meet lowestimates. Still, even here there are signs that the market is maturing and has become tooexpensive for casual speculators. "These collectors that you are talking about are actually quitesmall collectors," explains Zhao Xu, senior consultant at Poly. "They bought for several years atvery affordable prices, but now that prices are skyrocketing, the only way they can afford to buy isto sell. The collectors that I know already come from a high social status, and they can afford tobuy pieces worth $1 million or $2 million and are looking for the best works, the masterpieces, toadd to their collections."When asked if Poly follows the rules of the Western auction houses, Zhao sharply retorts,"Sometimes even Sothebys doesnt follow the rules." Or as Gong Jisui, an art-market specialist
who is a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, says, "The Chinese learned thisgame of speculation from the Westerners who played it first."The incident to which both men are referring is the sale of the Estella Collection at SothebysHong Kong on April 9 of this year. The event reaped $18 million for 108 works. (An additional 80works will be up for sale this month at Sothebys New York.) The collection was put together from2003 to 2006 by New York dealer Michael Goedhuis for a group of investors that included SachaLainovic, a director of Weight Watchers International, and Raymond Debbane, CEO of the InvusGroup, a private equity firm.Last year the collection of approximately 200 works was sold to William Acquavella, whoconsigned it to Sothebys. Auction house officials will not discuss financial details, but Sothebyshad a stake in the collection. After the sale it was widely reported that many of the artists wereangered by the auction because, they said, they had sold their works to Goedhuis at discountprices in exchange for promises that the collection would remain together for public display."The idea was to keep the collection intact and to see it safely into some institution," saysGoedhuis, who denies that any promises were made. "The ideal situation was to see it with aninstitution in China, because there is no such collection." The collection was published in a book,China Onward, with an essay by leading China expert Britta Erickson, and it was exhibited at theLouisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem shortly beforethe sale. According to Goedhuis, because of the rapid rise in prices, the investors chose to sellthe collection with hopes that it would not be broken up."Since the museums in China arent mature enough nor are they rich enough to do an acquisitionlike this, my hope was that Steve Wynn would do so for his sophisticated casino complex inMacao," Goedhuis says. He turned to Acquavella because, he says, he believed the dealerwould bring the collection to Wynn; Acquavella paid a reported $25 million. Acquavella directorMichael Findlay laughs at the suggestion that there was any indication that the collection wouldgo to Wynn. "I think this whole thing is surrounded by so much rumor and speculation," he says."We bought a group of paintings, and we sold a group of paintings, and thats the whole story."According to Maarten ten Holder, Sothebys managing director for North and South America, thefirm received inquiries before the sale from several artists in the collection, wondering why theworks were to be auctioned. There is disagreement about whether Goedhuis made firm promisesto keep the collection together or merely made a sales pitch to artists that inclusion in thecollection would enhance their reputations. Yue Minjun, who had two works in the sale, says nopromises were made. And Goedhuis bought Zeng Fanzhis Chairman Mao with Us from Hanart TZ Gallery in 2005 for the asking price, $30,000, no discount given. It sold for $1.18 million."You have to understand that there was no market for this work when I was buying," says HowardFarber, whose collection brought $20 million at Phillips de Pury & Company in London lastOctober. Farber assembled 100 choice works by assiduously visiting artists studios in Beijing inthe late 1980s, accompanied by the Beijing-based critic Karen Smith, a leading author and curatorin this field. A work for which he paid $25,000 in 1996, Wang Guangyis Great Criticism: Coca-Cola, was sold at Phillips de Pury for $1.6 million. The buyer was Farbers son-in-law, LarryWarsh, who bid on several works at the sale, according to newspaper accounts. "I really didntactually know I was going to buy the Wang Guangyi until that moment," says Warsh. "Howard has
his collection, and its not my collection, and there were many pieces I wanted from that collectionthat I would have wanted to buy but couldnt afford."Many Beijing artists had agreements with Warsh to produce work for his collection and his artadvisory business, which began in 2004, inspired by Farbers example in the field. "I wasenamored by China, and then I was enamored by the art of China as I learned about importantartists," says Warsh. "But what really hit me first was how the pricing did not make sense to meat all-everything was out of whack."Warsh, who amassed a collection of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and KennyScharf in the late 1980s, was the publisher of the now-defunct Museums Magazine, which hesold to LTB Media in 2004. He stated at one point that his collection totaled more than 1,200works; now, he says, he owns approximately 400 paintings and photographs. Part of his collectionis managed by his new business venture, AW Asia, which has a gallery in Chelsea and intends toassemble collections of Chinese contemporary art for museums and major private collectors. TheMuseum of Modern Art in New York recently acquired 23 photographs from AW Asia.With Farber and Warsh circulating in Beijing for a variety of purposes, it was easy for Chineseartists to become confused about who was buying for whom and for what purpose. In recentinterviews, several artists-most notably Zhang Xiaogang, who had an agreement with Warsh-pointed to him as an example of a speculator.Warsh replies, "While some artists are not so pleased with their decision to have sold quantities ofartwork at what was then their current values not so long ago, there are many artists who are notresentful and actually pleased that someone has taken an interest in their work."New York dealer Jack Tilton, who has worked with Chinese artists since 1999, says, "All of theseartists are hoping that their work finds good homes rather than getting churned in the commercialmarket. But they have also played a part in this market, embracing capitalism more than we have,in funny ways. They are not naive about any of this stuff."When asked about the artists reactions to the sale of his collection, Farber was flabbergasted:"So what? Now I am the bad guy. That pisses me off!"A number of major collectors of Chinese contemporary art who have been in the field for sometime are holding on to their collections. Uli Sigg, Swiss ambassador to China, Mongolia, and NorthKorea from 1995 to 1998, has built a collection of key works that he has toured in the exhibition"Mahjong" to museums throughout Europe and, most recently, the University of CaliforniasBerkeley Art Museum (September 10-January 4). Belgian collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens haveused their resources to establish the first nonprofit contemporary-art center in Beijing, where theyare currently exhibiting their historic collection. So far, collector Charles Saatchi has beenhanging on to his purchases in preparation for opening his new gallery in London on the 9th ofnext month with a show of Chinese contemporary art; he has also launched a Chinese-languageWeb site on which mainland artists can post their works.In comparison with Western buying, mainland Chinese participation pales. Though there aremany rumors about the power of the new Chinese buyers, their presence has not been felt in themajor auction houses, where most of the records are being set. "Hong Kong right now covers the
global buyers, especially those from across Asia," says Eric Chang, Christies internationaldirector of Asian contemporary art. "I am not really seeing mainland Chinese buyers-less than 10percent-a drop from around 12 percent." Dealers in China also have seen few mainland collectorsamong their regular clients. "I dont know yet about collectors," says New York dealer ChristopheMao of Chambers Fine Art, which recently opened a branch in Beijing.Despite the current shortage of mainland art collectors, China is emerging as a major art center,having become a hub for buyers from South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, and SoutheastAsia, and for overseas Chinese from all over the world. Reflecting this diversity is the wide rangeof foreign dealers among the 300 galleries in Beijing, including Continua from Italy, Urs Meile fromSwitzerland, Arario and PKM from South Korea, Beijing Tokyo Art Projects from Japan, and Tangfrom Indonesia."In Beijing its getting increasingly difficult to talk about the Chinese market as a separate entityfrom the broader Asian art market or the international art market," says Meg Maggio, an Americanwho came to China in 1988 and ran one of the first galleries in the country, CourtYard, in Beijing,from 1998 to 2006. Now she has her own gallery, Pékin Fine Arts, where she representsan international stable of artists. "How do you describe the market for a Korean artist showing inChina or a Chinese artist living in New York?" she asks, noting that her business can come fromSouth Korean collectors visiting Beijing or European companies doing business in China.One factor in Chinas development as a center for contemporary art is the proliferation of art fairs.Beijing has two, the China International Gallery Exposition and Art Beijing; Shanghai has thenewly created ShContemporary, now in its second year; and Hong Kong just launched ART HK.CIGE director Wang Yihan says her fair attracted 40,000 visitors this year, while the more high-toned ShContemporary brought in 25,000 and ART HK 08 had 19,000. These numbers mayseem small in comparison with the 60,000 who crowd Art Basel, but dealers believe that the fairsin Asia are worthwhile because they attract new buyers and make Asian collectors feel morecomfortable about acquiring art from galleries."Anywhere else, a fair is just a fair," says Lorenz Helbling of ShanghART, one of the oldestgalleries in China and a participant in Art Basel. "But in Shanghai a fair feels like so much morebecause only there can it make an impact on several million people." He is referring not only toattendance but to the intensive publicity and official recognition given to ShContemporary in itsinaugural year.Just a few years ago it would have been impossible to try to sell contemporary art to Asianbuyers, let alone mainland Chinese collectors, in the public forum of an art fair. Now, with theastounding success of Chinese contemporary art, collectors from across the region-and morethan a few from the United States and Europe-are targeting China as a destination. According toNick Simunovic, who has opened an office and showroom for Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong, itis only a matter of time before these regional buyers turn their attention to Western contemporaryart."My sense is that wherever you have tremendous wealth creation, the collecting cycle goesthrough three phases," he says. "First, people collect their cultural patrimony, and then theycollect their own contemporary art. I think the final stage is when they gain a more globalizedcontemporary-art approach."
Gagosian first considered opening an office in Shanghai but encountered obstacles to doingbusiness on the mainland. The most formidable of these is a 34 percent luxury tax on art, whichforeign galleries that participated in ShContemporary found difficult to avoid. Hong Kong, bycomparison, is a duty-free zone. And Simunovic found that even Jeff Koons was a tough sell inShanghai, whereas Hong Kong offers more possibilities for Western contemporary art. Just a yearago Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau paid $72 million for Andy Warhols Green Car Crash(Green Burning Car I). In May Christies brought a Warhol portrait of Mao, valued at $120 millionand for sale privately, for viewing in Hong Kong. (At press time it had not yet been sold.)"Sure, China is hot, but thats just the peak of the iceberg," says Lorenzo Rudolf, former directorof Art Basel and cofounder of ShContemporary. "This is not just about a group of Chinesepainters. Its about a growing market going on in this continent."With the sheer abundance of galleries, auction houses, and art fairs in China, the larger art worldis recognizing the power of the Asian market. Standing in an auction house in New York orLondon watching paintings by Chinese artists sell for millions, one can grouse about this boomand hint that it will turn out to be a bubble. But strolling in a bustling gallery district in Beijing, withstudents and tourists crowding the cafés and boutiques and filling the huge artshowrooms, few would predict a downturn in the near future.Portrait ArtistsArticle Source:http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Linda_Huang==== ====Are you an art lover? Would you like to become one? Nothing to buy, simply enjoy art at:http://www.showoffart.com/==== ====