'Cheng Shifa is one example of a contemporary master whose works have taken a battering in the market. Four months ago, a buyer paid a record 448,165 yuan per square foot for one of his pieces, but the price has since slumped to 58,688 yuan per square foot.' SCMP, February 2 YOU HEAR THAT, Sotheby's? Art market punters in the mainland have one up on your auction methods. The next time you sell a van Gogh I want a mention from you of what the goghing (sorry, couldn't help it) price is in dollars per square foot. That's per square foot nva (net visible area) by the way. I'm not having any of your marketeering tricks. Don't try and quote that price to me on an fai (frame area included) basis. But I will accept a price in dollars per square inch as van Goghs are still rather pricey. I like my board lots small when I deal, you see. It's easier to trade them again later that way, just like in the stock market. Do you people at Sotheby's know of any van Goghs of only one square inch? Never mind if you don't. I have an idea. Get one of the bigger van Goghs and cut it up into square inch ones. Think of the possibilities. From a one square foot van Gogh you can get 144 separate square inch van Goghs. They would still be genuine van Goghs, remember. All that you would have to do is frame them big and sell them on an fai basis. You may have to state that it's an fai price in the documentation, of course, but do it in small print on page 10 and few people will notice. It's bound to drive up the price of van Goghs per square foot. Or maybe you can sell them in dollars per milligram. You could also get a pretty low unit price for van Goghs this way as old Vincent used to slather his canvases with great gobs of paint. They are weighty art works, you know, well up there on the ratio of milligrams per square inch. And, if that still does not do the trick of supporting prices, why not take a lesson from ski resort agents and sell van Goghs on a timeshare basis, two weeks a year, let's say. There will be a requirement to change the plaque with the owner's name every second Monday if shown in art museums. We can then express the price for one square inch van Goghs in milligrams per hour annually. Dirt cheap they will seem that way. Better get your thinking cap on, Cheng Shifa. Yes, it appears that the market for mainland paintings has matured. I always thought the market consisted of little more than the staircase gallery at the China Club but, no, many more people are apparently buying now because, according to our report, art is a better bet than property. As one Shenzhen auctioneer put it: 'If you buy an apartment in China, you can hold on to it for only 70 years. The government can confiscate it after that. But you can hand down artworks from one generation to another. Besides, you don't need to worry about whether the authorities will set the rules to affect your collections, as they have done in real estate and mining. All you have to do is wait for the appreciation.' Wait for the appreciation. Methinks I hear an echo of the routine Shanghai sales pitch for residential property or for stocks or even for cars (until recently that is). When a story for a money making prospect blows up in your face, keep the story but change the prospect. It's art's turn now. Personally, I have never been able to value paintings in anything but thrills per viewing and the thrill amortisation rate on repeated viewings tends to be high for me. I certainly have never known how to set a money value on these thrills. As I understand it, van Goghs became the highest priced things in art in the 1980s because Japanese corporate chieftains found his name easy to mispronounce and thus his paintings easy to bid up. To pronounce that name correctly, clear your throat twice and stick the letter 'o' between. Now tell me that a van Ghchoghch is worth US$50 million to you. Other than that, old Vincent is dead and there are no more new van Goghs on offer (except in New York) and thus we have the equivalent of a closed end fund. Want a career enhancing move, Cheng Shifa? But I think I know what really drives the art market in China. Our report gave the game away by mentioning that art purchases can be treated as operational costs deductible from taxable income. Artworks, it reported, are also perfect gifts for bribes because art is not a declarable asset for government officials. I imagine that then when a government official has taken his gift he will also find it an excellent way of evading the mainland's closed capital account. Just roll the painting up, put it at the bottom of the suitcase and see if there is a bid for it in real money on the next trip abroad. It will certainly be a better price per square foot than Shanghai property will get you these days. Aw shucks, they must have been right after all. Art is a better bet than property.