Give and take

The NYT reports on a little known industry that has been outsourced to China.

Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art!

At 26, Mr. Zhang estimates that he has painted up to 20,000 copies of van Gogh’s works in a paint-spattered third-floor garret here where freshly washed socks and freshly painted canvases dry side-by-side on the balcony.

A block away, Ye Xiaodong, 25, is completing 200 paintings of a landscape of pink and white flowers in another third-floor garret. And down the street, Huang Yihong, also 25, stands in an art-packed store and paints a waterfall tumbling gracefully into a pool, mixing the paints on an oval palette.

China’s low wages and hunger for exports have already changed many industries, from furniture to underwear. The art world, at least art for the masses, seems to be next, and is emerging as a miniature case study of China’s successful expansion in a long list of small and obscure industries that when taken together represent a sizable chunk of economic activity.

I was a little but shocked and amused to get to the middle of the article and find out that the seat of production had formerly been near my hometown.

Northern New Jersey used to have a small but thriving cluster of businesses with artists churning out inexpensive paintings for restaurants, hotels and homes across the country. But these enterprises have been switching to imports, like the Dae Ryung Company, which had seven painters two decades ago at a studio attached to its offices in Hackensack, N.J., and let the last one leave four years ago without finding a replacement.

“In the beginning it was better here, because we were able to tell them exactly what we wanted,” said Helen Cho, the company’s purchasing and accounting manager. “But after a while, the Chinese caught on.”

Should New Jersey residents be upset that outsourcing has moved yet more crappy, pointless jobs out of our state to a faraway land where people will appreciate them more?

Two days later, the Times printed another article on another industry that is now just beginning to boom in New Jersey.

TEN years ago, New Jersey had 14 wineries. Today it has 27, and within the next year or so the number is expected to reach 40.

Ten years ago, New Jersey made 873,000 gallons of wine (about 360,000 cases). Now it makes almost twice that much, more than 1.5 million gallons. In 1995, it was eighth in the nation in wine production; now it is fifth, behind only California, New York, Washington and Oregon.

But one thing hasn’t changed in that decade of extraordinary growth for New Jersey wine: hardly anyone knows a thing about it. Less than 1 percent of the wine consumed in New Jersey was made in New Jersey – not surprising, considering that few restaurants serve it and few liquor stores carry it. Even experts like John Foy, a consultant who writes a wine column for The Star-Ledger of Newark and assembled the world-class wine list at Restaurant Latour in Hardyston, confess ignorance.

Amazing. Is there really still room for vineyards in the nations most populous state amidst the chemical factories and urban sprawl? Will The Garden State earn its name?

Addendum: A second newspaper reports on a long established Newark, New Jersey based manufacturer whose entire production has been outsourced.