For decades, Tsang Tsou Choi – shirtless, a towel around his neck, supported by crutches – roamed the streets of Hong Kong armed with bottles of black ink and a calligraphy brush. From the 1950s to the 2000s, he turned everything from lamp posts to phone boxes into calligraphic graffiti.
As soon as they were painted over by the authorities, he would rewrite them.
Tsang was born in 1921 in Liantang village, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. He arrived in Hong Kong at the age of 16. For much of his life, Tsang worked in manual labor and trash disposal. In 1987, he seriously injured his legs after a waste container fell on him.
One of his outlandish claims was that his ancestors had once owned the territory of Kowloon. Tsang said he had seen a family tree which connected him to an important courtier of the bygone Zhou dynasty. His graffiti was filled with references to this lineage, and vitriol against the British who had apparently stolen his lands.
Tsang became such a cultural icon that he once starred in a commercial for the household cleaning brand Swipe, in which he used the detergent to wipe away his writing.
The art world seems to have decided Tsang, who died of a heart attack in 2007, is more genius than madman. In 2003, facsimiles of his work could even be seen at the Venice Biennale, where his pieces sold for as much as US$100,000/- each. In 2013, a Vespa adorned with Tsang’s graffiti fetched HK$1.84mn at a Sotheby’s auction. Of course he didn’t get a single dime from any of that.
Now, don’t get me started on art dealers and arty-farty “collectors” please. Most are greedy exploitative scumbags who are cultural illiterates taking advantage of artists.
To be fair, many artists are also douche bags who overestimate their worth, they think they are Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt reincarnated.
Artland Magazine said the elements of art value are extremely numerous and often highly subjective rather than empirical.
The market value is mainly determined by the galleries and auction houses. The consensuses that are born in this context are accountable for establishing a history of pricing for an artwork or an artist, which helps new works or works resold on the market to be priced.
Finally, the market values extremely the artist who produced the work. Whether the artist is unknown, emerging, or a blue-chip artist, it makes a huge difference. The price is based on the artist’s exhibition history, sales history, and career level. In general, the greater the demand for an artist, the higher the prices fetched on the market.
When I was only in my teens, I exhibited in Paris as well as locally. Lots of interested buyers then and Dr Teng Ping Ming urged me to sell my paintings.
But now everyone appreciates art. A piece I did for a relative as a gift ended up thrown under his bed. He probably thought it was a piece of crap. A similar piece I painted was sold for US$30,000/- which was a lot of money back then (in the mid-70’s) so don’t get me started about art and what it costs and all that rubbish about “knowledgeable” collectors who “know” art. Many of them don’t even know their asshole from a hole in the ground!
Anyway, back to Tsang; the Art Basel presentation by Lucie Chang Fine Arts in Hong Kong this past July exhibited Tsang’s “works” as well.
For his part, Tsang seemed to display little enthusiasm for anything. “I don’t care about money and fame,” he told an interviewer a few years before his death. “They should just give me back the throne.”