Colin Chinnery, director of ShContemporary, on future of Shanghai Art Fair – interview Artron

SHANGHAI ART FAIR INTERVIEW

Colin Chinnery was in a precarious position as the new direction of ShContemporary, the Shanghai art fair, in 2009. The young art fair, having its 3rd incarnation in 2010, faced an uncertain future last year while the financial world dealt with the possibility of economic collapse. However, the anxiety leading up to the event was unfounded, as ShContemporary attracted over 30,000 visitors and decent sales. Colin Chinnery talks with Artron.net about the challenges of leading an art fair within such adverse economic circumstances, his plans for ShContemporary 2010, and Chinese art collectors.

Colin Chinnery, director of ShContemporary

The initial panic regarding the contemporary art market that followed the economic crisis of 2008 seems to have subsided. As you begin working on ShContemporary for 2010, do you feel an increased optimism?

The panic was understandable when the economy seemed to be in free fall, especially when there was a clear analogy (and connection) between the phantom wealth conjured by Wall Street and easy money bloating the art market. Everyone knew that something like this was around the corner, and when we finally hit that corner we had no choice but to do the necessary work in order to readjust. With ShContemporary, we have perhaps turned another corner. The 2009 edition saw a lot of optimism return to the market, and that makes life easier for 2010. The playing field is different because the number of players in the art market increased exponentially during the boom years, and now there are more mouths to feed, so to speak. As an art fair whose job is to fulfill these increased expectations, we have to prove ourselves every year, not just for one year. I don’t think the pressure will relent for many years to come, and that is a good thing. It keeps people at the top of their game.

The contemporary Chinese art market has experienced a significant downturn. How does this lack of confidence in contemporary Chinese art impact the fair?

ShContemporary includes art from all over Asia and beyond, so the slowdown in demand for certain Chinese artists’ works didn’t affect us at all. Certain galleries are very sensitive to the current demand, and bring the right works. Sales were good among Chinese galleries this year at ShContemporary. Those who visited the fair will have noticed that there were very few works by top-priced Chinese artists; the prices and the kind of work on offer represented a change in attitude. Now that the market is shifting [its] attitude, I think it’s an opportunity for different voices to be heard, which was very evident at the fair.

Given ShContemporary’s location and history, how much of next year’s edition do you expect will be focused on Asia, as opposed to having a more global perspective?

The fair as a whole does have a regional focus on Asia, and that is reflected in the participating galleries and the kinds of work being shown and sold; in 2010 it will have an Asia Pacific perspective whilst presenting work from Europe, the U.S., and other regions. The market should always help to mix up the regional DNA as much as possible. How much that is possible will increase each year.

How would you position ShContemporary in relation to the other fairs in China, including Art Hong Kong (ART HK)? What makes ShContemporary unique for dealers and collectors?

We want to create a fair that is thinking about the future in all kinds of ways, from artistic values to the structure of the market. I feel that can be reflected by the two new initiatives that were launched this year. On the artistic side there is the Discoveries section, a thematic exhibition and lecture series dealing with the topic, “What is contemporary art?” Instead of being a special section a side attraction peripheral to the fair, it became a central feature. It also deliberately included challenging work not necessarily suitable for the market, but necessary for the exhibition to make sense thematically. The exhibition dealt with issues relating to the term “contemporary” from different perspectives, ranging from pioneers such as Joseph Kosuth, Martha Rosler, and Marina Abramovic to social-historical perspectives such as Anri Sala, Liu Wei, and Shi Qing, and emerging Chinese and Japanese artists. As the first thing that visitors saw at the fair, it left a deep impression on collectors, curators, artists, and other guests, and seemed to define the fair’s identity…

See Artron.net for the full interview with Colin Chinnery on the Future of ShContemporary.

The 3rd edition of ShContemporary, the Asia Pacific Contemporary Art Fair, is Sept 9-12, 2010.

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