Finding heart to inject new drive into art markets

09:35, May 17, 2010      

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For Wan Jie, a fondness for works of art is not only an indispensable part of his personal life but also sparked the creativity that is helping his company grow into a comprehensive fine art service provider from an obscure printing shop in Shenzhen.

The founder and chairman of Artron Group's business stretches from premier art printing and publishing to the management of the country's largest digital image warehouse and portal website for Chinese fine art. He said the traditional printing industry could regain vitality when it is integrated with advanced technology and culture.

"Printing used to be considered a sunset industry as the digital age arrived but Artron's unique development path of tapping niche markets and diversifying into an all-round service provider for the art community overcomes that impression," Wan said in a calm but firm tone.

While many printing companies in China are reeling from the effects of the financial crisis, Artron stayed steady because, at heart, it's not just a printing business in any familiar sense, Wan said.

In addition to its main business of high quality printing and reproducing art works, Artron is also operating in other spheres such as online advertisements for art work auctions and information exchanging, as well as being a one-stop service for artists on digital art work image management, publishing and exhibition.

Humble beginning

Finding heart to inject new drive into art markets

The 48-year-old entrepreneur, however, admitted that the current diversified business portfolio was all built on the foundation of excellence and creativity specializing in high quality book printing.

But achieving that goal was not an easy job. Wan still remembers the hardship he endured when he was establishing Artron in Shenzhen with 35 people and facilities he leased with 400,000 yuan borrowed from others.

After graduating from a printing college in Beijing in 1984, Wan first joined a Japanese printing company in Shenzhen as a staff worker before he started his own business in 1993.

Nine years of work at the Japanese firm taught Wan to be hard-working and detail-oriented while he learned the advanced printing techniques employed there.

Wan enjoyed a good reputation among a group of vanguard entrepreneurs who started to build their careers in Shenzhen in the early 1990s, and was praised by the Chinese property guru Wang Shi, chairman of the Shenzhen-based Wanke Group, as an "intelligent and steadfast young man".

The premier printer won the "Gold Benny" award, known as the Oscar of the printing industry, three times, and one of its book collections on Mei Lanfang, the most famous master of Peking Opera, won the title of the most beautiful book worldwide in 2004.

In 2001 and 2002 it was commissioned by the government to print the bidding report for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

"We produce books about art but also we are trying to produce books which in themselves are fine works 0f art," Wan said.

Focus on art printing

Artron stood out from tens of thousands of small printing plants in Shenzhen at the time thanks to its strategy of focusing on the niche market of art printing. Wan firmly believed that being a small but specialized printer was the best way to survive cut-throat competition.

"We did all sorts of printing business at the beginning but soon I found it was hard to grow big in this sector so we decided to shift to art printing," Wan said.

After 17 years of operation, Artron has printed more than 150 million volumes of books for some 50,000 artists, more than 230 publishing houses and nearly 100 museums and art galleries. It had an annual revenue of nearly 700 million yuan in 2009.

Wan's clients include some of the most important museums and dealers in the world and the renowned auction houses of Sotheby's and Christie's.

Wan said just being an award-winning printer did not satisfy him any more and now his ambition is to build Artron into one of the best art processing service providers in the world.

Huge treasure

"The images of art works we collected when printing books for artists are a huge treasure for us. We created a digital warehouse for Chinese art works containing the valuable images," Wan said.

More than 14 million digital pictures of rare and priceless articles of antiquity are stored in the database managed by Artron. Customers are encouraged to archive the images they use in printing their books and catalogs into the database that can be used in the future for other purposes.

"With our close partnership with artists, these resources could be transformed into advertisement materials, book series and electronic publications with limited extra costs," Wan said.

The booming Chinese artwork market in recent years also added impetus to Wan's business expansion. His company is printing about 90 percent of the auction catalogs in China.

In 2000 Wan launched a portal website for Chinese art works - www. artron.net - on which he displays pictures of artworks for pre-auction browsing by potential buyers.

As showcasing catalogs online becomes an increasingly important pre-sale strategy, many auction companies choose to advertise their works on Artron's website before the sale starts.

Rare antiquities

In March, Artron launched an exclusive division for Sotheby's to showcase images of more than 2,100 rare and valuable antiquities that will be on sale in Sotheby's 2010 spring auction in Hong Kong.

Wan said online advertisements could earn as much as 30 million yuan for the company annually, making it another pillar business for Artron besides printing.

Thanks to its state-of-the-art printing technology, Artron is authorized to reproduce a limited amount of thousands of classic and historically significant Chinese paintings and calligraphy works from ancient and contemporary times.

"Our color specialists had the opportunity to see and touch the original artworks, which creates intimacy with the objects and helps them capture the essence of the work," Wan said.

At present, some of China's banking big names, including Bank of China, China Construction Bank, and real estate giants Wanke Group and OCT Properties, are regular buyers of Artron's high quality reproduction works and cultural gifts.

However, Wan said reproducing classic works is not only for the purpose of profit-making but to better promulgate traditional Chinese arts.

"Few people can visit the museums that display the original works but authorized reproduction allows more people to enjoy the classics," he said.

Source: China Daily

(Editor:黄硕)

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