Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade by Winnie Won Yin Wong University of Chicago Press 4 stars David Bartram Dafen, a small village in the suburbs of Shenzhen, is an unlikely centre of the international art world. Yet over the past two decades it has developed a multimillion-dollar art industry, defined not by unbridled creativity but instead by its uncanny ability to mimic. Thousands of artists produce more than 100,000 copycat oil paintings a year, including the old masters and 20th-century greats such as Dali and Warhol, alongside some lesser-known names and even the odd original. These are then hawked everywhere from the streets of New York, where they are often presented as the work of struggling artists, to fine boutiques in Hong Kong, where they are sold as works by "named" Italian artists. In a climate of growing fear over China's brazen intellectual property infringements, such a set-up might be cause for concern, or even, in the case of artists still protected by copyright, a visit from the lawyers. But, as Winnie Wong argues, rather than write off Dafen as a cynical money-grab, it should be celebrated as a triumph of artistic endeavour which has turned thousands of rural workers into proficient artists through a wide-ranging apprenticeship scheme. Most start out learning to copy Van Gogh's The Starry Night and Sunflowers , because of their relative ease and popularity. Paintings are almost exclusively made to order; when Wong first visits and talks with painters who claim they can replicate just about anything, she has to put in some orders to prove the point. Wong, an art historian from the University of California, Berkeley, takes a multi-faceted approach to her investigation of Dafen. She visits first as a casual onlooker, talks with art traders around the world who buy from the village, and even receives a basic apprenticeship, sharing with the reader a step-by-step guide to painting a perfect replica of Sunflowers . She also makes some interesting arguments on the nature of imitation, pointing out that copying others' work has been a part of the art industry since the Renaissance. But of most interest is the social impact, particularly the way Dafen, which began as a small artists' community in the 1980s, has offered thousands of rural migrant workers a more stable job. The best get the chance to gain an urban household registration which legitimises their residence and offers a series of living benefits in Shenzhen. Indeed, such is the success of Dafen that Shenzhen gave the village a central role in its pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. At the expo, 500 Dafen artists were asked to create individual canvasses, which were then assembled into a giant mosaic which resembles the Mona Lisa. On the back of each canvas, the artist wrote a personal message, relaying their hopes for the future. "To paint my own paintings for the world to enjoy and love," read one. Wong argues that the village epitomises the idea of the "Chinese dream" - that rapid urbanisation, and the development of skilled labour can lead to an almost unimaginable economic rise. There is immense value in the Dafen copyists, says Wong, firstly because they have helped to democratise fine art around the world, but also because their work holds genuine artistic value in its own right. Van Gogh on Demand shines by persuasively making what is to many a counter-intuitive argument. Wong tackles the subject with academic rigour, and while the language is at times a little stuffy, there are enough first-hand accounts from the artists to make the book a fine general interest read. This is a fantastically detailed exploration of a topic which touches the heart of many of the issues surrounding China's economic rise.