A screenshot of a televised news broadcast from Belgian media outlet Radio Télévision Belge Francophone compares artworks by Ye Yongqing and Christian Silvain. 598x328 - The Controversy Aroused by the Plagiarism Accusation Against Ye Yongqing: How “deep” an influence could art be?

A screenshot of a televised news broadcast from Belgian media outlet Radio Télévision Belge Francophone compares artworks by Ye Yongqing and Christian Silvain. Courtesy of Radio Télévision Belge Francophone.

It’s nearly a month since Chinese artist Ye Yongqing was exposed to the public by Christian Silvain, a Belgian artist that claimed that Ye has plagiarized his works for over 30 years.

Although it has caused a sensation in China, most of the public think that there are no reports in Chinese with credible news coverage from the mainstream media in China. Moreover, it has attracted much attention from the world of Chinese contemporary art while triggering a fierce debate among emerging we-media accounts on Weibo and WeChat. Currently, there are two completely opposite opinions on this: Ye should apologize or he should do nothing.

Critic Li Xianting, who was the first to come forward and apologize as he had earlier praised Ye’s art who was accused of plagiarizing work from Christian Silvain’s creation between 1985 and 1986. Li confessed that he did not know about Christian Silvain and his artworks when he was invited by the Gallery of CAFA to write a preface for the joint exhibition featuring Ye Yongqing and Liu Wei. Although he could not understand the plagiarized deeds that Ye denied, Li sincerely hoped that Ye Yongqing would make a public apology to Christian Silvain as well as the contemporary art circle.

Another collector and owner of the Long Museum who publicly criticized Ye’s omission, was Liu Yiqian, with his wife Wang Wei, the couple were listed in The 2012 ARTnews 200 Top Collectors. He stated in an interview conducted by The Paper(澎湃) “ there is someone who said that if Ye Yongqing apologizes, the developments of Chinese contemporary art in the past three decades will return to zero. But I believe this is just an independent case, a personal moral flaw is not equal to the moral bankruptcy of the entire circle of contemporary art in China.” He also interrogated in his WeChat posts, “Has anyone considered the feelings of the Belgian artist, collectors and institutes of his works? Has anyone thought about the feelings of the public?” As a response, he even decided that the Long Museum would like to present a solo exhibition of Christian Silvain which will constitute a hall of shame for plagiarists while repaying the efforts of Chinese contemporary artists.

Also there are collectors and representatives of Ye that insisted that it is unnecessary for him to apologize at all. Ye replied that he has tried his best to contact Christian Silvain for he has received “deep influence” from this Belgian artist. The director of some Art Project which represents Ye’s works and exhibitions, claimed that they were trying to “find an amiable solution for all parties involved,” while another director of this organization asserted in her WeChat account that “Never apologize!” Those who insisted that Ye has simply borrowed Silvain’s thoughts, forms and techniques and those who have spent millions of yuan on collections of Ye’s works, refused to confirm anything for various reasons. The case seems to be an embarrassing impasse for now but it keeps fermenting among art lovers and artists in China.

Although the phenomenon of plagiarism is not unique to China, Western artists tend to be more aware of issues pertaining to intellectual property rights. The increasing attention from the public in China indicates the consciousness-raising in contemporary Chinese art, we are eager to know the truth and call for justice. Many netizens questioned the motive of Christian Silvain’s accusation at the very beginning as “a publicity stunt”, they gradually realized galleries, dealers, curators and the artist’s employers have all remained silent during this controversy. For the worldly wisdom within Chinese circles, many artists are reluctant to comment but they are still concerned about the progress of this case and many of them privately discuss it and support the Belgian artist.

According to the latest news, Ye Yongqing has arrived in Belgium in person. Will he confront with Christian Silvain and provide a “satisfying” reply to all those who are concerned about it? We will rub our eyes and wait.

The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of CAFA ART INFO.

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