Why is Asian (Thailand, China, Philippines, Indonesia) imported bronze sculpture so much cheaper than sculpture from American foundries?|
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Monumental Bronze Tiger Sculpture
Albert Lea High School
Albert Lea MN
The primary reason Asian bronze sculptures are priced so low is the quality of the bronze metal itself, the quality of the craftmanship, and the price of labor and working conditions.
The United States has a minimum standard for bronze of at least 90% copper and most American made sculpture is cast with bronze which is 95% (or higher) copper. Asian sculpture on the other hand tests at around 50% to 55% copper.
A sculpture's resistance to corrosion is a function of the copper content in bronze. This determines the longevity of your artwork, bronze with a 95% plus copper content is made to last thousands of years regardless of the environment. Bronze with a low copper content will begin to develop a corrosive residue almost immediately (similar to the corrosion on a car's battery terminals)and depending on the amount ferrous compounds in the metal will begin to rust as well. Repair work on low quality bronze sculpture is nearly impossible
Another problem with low quality bronze is the colorization process. The patina (color) of a sculpture is created by a reaction between the copper content in the bronze and chemicals applied by the artist. Each foundry has it's own proprietary formula for bronze. However a 95% copper, 4% Manganese and 1% silicon is the baseline for bronze made in the United States and allows for patina's that are longest lasting and richest in color.
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Monumental Bronze BYU Cougar
Student Athlete Building of BYU
Because of the low copper content the coloration on most of the bronze statuary from Asia is obtained by dipping the sculpture in dyes that adhere to the surface of the bronze to give it the desired color. That is not a permanent patina and will fade and come off over time and is almost impossible to re-apply.
Many of the foundries strongly suggest using lacquer for outdoor pieces. It does seal and protect color changes in the patina for a much longer period of time. There are good and bad lacquers on the market. Most Asian bronze statues are coated with a clear coat lacquer to preserve the finish. It is really important to continue the maintenence, and we generally recommend cleaning and waxing twice a year on an outdoor piece.
Besides the value of the metal itself, the talent of the artist in creating the piece, as well as the skill of the craftsmen that cast the sculpture, complete the welding and metal work and apply the patina (usually done by the artist) all have an influence on the value and longevity of the piece.
Many Asian foundries employ unskilled labor to make reproductions of existing pieces. The quality of the art on these reproductions is evident and they depreciate from the moment you purchase them as opposed to the appreciation realized by an original work from a well known artist. These people are paid slave wages with little or no concern for workplace safety and the end result is nowhere near the quality of the fine art produced in the United States.
Another significant problem with imported sculpture is that there have been many instances where Asian artists have copied the work of living artists that is still protected by copyright. This can cause a significant legal problems for the buyer, beware of any bronze that does not identify the artist and always research the artist to be sure fictitious name has not been used.
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