artgenève 2014: A small fair with international aspirations

artgenève brings Asian contemporary art to Geneva collectors.

In its third edition, which took place from 30 January to 2 February 2014, Swiss fair artgèneve aimed to attract more galleries from outside Europe, in line with Director Thomas Hug’s vision of bringing international art to Geneva collectors’ doorsteps.

The third edition of artgeneve took place from 30 January to 2 February. Photo by Karel Blondeel. Image courtesy Art Radar.

The third edition of artgenève took place from 30 January to 2 February. Photo by Charlie Bland. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Geneva’s residents have a long history of art collecting. However, most Swiss art lovers used to travel to buy. In the last few years this has begun to change, thanks in part to artgenève and the myriad of international galleries establishing a foothold in the city.

artgenève’s Director Thomas Hug is banking on affluent collectors who have a taste for contemporary art from across the globe to attest to the ‘internationalisation’ of artgenève and the Geneva art market.

artgenève entrance decorated with installation by Swedish artist Henrik Håkansson. Photo by Karel Blondeel. Image courtesy Art Radar.

artgenève entrance decorated with installation by Swedish artist Henrik Håkansson. Photo by Charlie Bland. Image courtesy Art Radar.

The exhibitors

In an interview with Art Media Agency, Hug explained that the aim with this year’s fair was to maintain a moderate-sized event with a highly controlled level of quality. While restricting the number of exhibitors to around 60 galleries, the fair has expanded its reach by opening its doors to more international galleries.

Hong Kong-based Anna Ning Fine Art was the only participating gallery that hailed from Asia. The private gallery, which specialises in contemporary Chinese art, showed works by Zao Wou-ki and Sanyu.

African art specialists Magnin-A came out in force, bringing close to ten of their represented artists, including Nigerian photographer J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, who exhibited at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

Luxembourg & Dayan, which has galleries in New York and London, made a statement choosing to come to the fair with only one artist, the Korean Minjung Kim.

Fair Director Thomas Hug, Luxembourg & Dayan’s Alma Luxembourg, Anna Ning Fine Art’s Founder Anna Ning and Magnin-A’s Mariam Diop spoke to Art Radar about Geneva’s growing enthusiasm for culturally diverse contemporary art.

Anna Ning Gallery booth side by side with Magnin-A at artgenève. Photo by Karel Blondeel. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Anna Ning Fine Art booth side by side with Magnin-A at artgenève. Photo by Charlie Bland. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Thomas Hug – Director, artgenève

What is artgenève and what makes it different from other art fairs?

artgenève is a young art fair and is only in its third edition. It is also a small fair with only about 60 participating galleries, but what we lack in size we make up for in quality. The galleries who are showing their works at the salon are high quality galleries who also participate in big international fairs like Art Basel, also in Switzerland, and London Art Fair. Since we started, the fair has expanded: from being a primarily European fair, it is becoming truly international with galleries coming from all over the globe.

Could you describe the typical artgenève attendee or collector?

The collectors who come to the fair reflect the internationalisation process that I spoke about earlier. We have collectors from the Lake Geneva region, from nearby Paris, London and Berlin, and also Greece and Italy.

artgenève takes advantage of this key period in luxury tourism in Switzerland, which takes place in the first few months of the year, to attract an audience that has a great purchasing power. [This] is also a period when there are not a lot of other events on the arts calendar.

Certainly, artgenève also benefits from the already diverse and affluent inhabitants of the region.

Fair visitors on opening night. Photo by Manuel Faustino. Image courtesy artgenève.

Could you talk a little bit about the current trends in terms of sales. What type of works are popular among artgenève’s attendees?

As in previous years, we expect to see a lot of big individual and institutional collectors coming to the fair; I expect that modern and contemporary art are going to be popular. In terms of what we expect will sell, it’s very difficult to say, tastes are very diverse.

Have artgenève’s attendees developed a taste for non-Western art?

artgenève is expanding internationally. This year we only have one gallery coming from Asia and that is Anna Ning Fine Art gallery from Hong Kong. However, several exhibiting galleries are representing Asian artists. Just one example is Luxembourg & Dayan, which will be representing the work of a Korean artist. Our hope is that, as the fair expands, we would receive more demands from Asian galleries to participate.

What are the future plans for artgenève? Will you be focusing more on new markets, like Asian art?

Asia is definitely an interesting region and I myself will be travelling there after artgenève. I will be going to Singapore with the hope of expanding artgenève’s reach. There is some interest in artgenève’s format, which focuses on offering a very human scale. We think it would be interesting to see how this could be translated or how it could complement the platforms that exist in the region already.

Sanyu, Nude, 1940s, sketch. Image courtesy artgenève.

Sanyu, ‘Nud’e, sketch, 1940s. Image courtesy artgenève.

Anna Ning – Founder and Director, Anna Ning Fine Art, Hong Kong

What is the appeal of artgenève and the city, for you as an Asian gallery?

Geneva is an international city, a finance centre and the worldwide headquarters of many important international organisations. This has resulted in a diversified culture and a sophisticated collecting environment. Naturally, we already know many collectors in the region.

artgenève caters to Geneva’s diverse inhabitants and the affluent. There are also many tourists who come to Switzerland for the ski season. This surely makes for a diverse audience. Nevertheless, have you noticed any major trends in terms of collectors’ taste and what they buy?

I would say that visitors to artgenève are above all looking for high-quality art works. We have presented works by leading artists from both China and the West.

Has there been an increase of interest in Asian art in Switzerland? If yes, why?

There is a long tradition of art collecting in Switzerland and there are Swiss collectors who have been collecting Chinese art since the 1980s or 1990s. Perhaps the greatest collector of Chinese art is Dr Uli Sigg, who was the Swiss Ambassador to China from 1995 to 1998. He has one of the largest collections of Asian art in the world. Of course, his example has encouraged other Swiss collectors.

Wouki Zao, 'June 24, 1967', 1967, oil on canvas, 54 x 73cm. Image courtesy artgenève.

Zao Wou-ki, ‘June 24, 1967’, 1967, oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm. Image courtesy artgenève.

Can you tell us which artists you represented at this fair, especially Asian artists, and if they have received interest from visitors to artgenève?

I presented lithographs by Zao Wou-ki, and etchings by Henry Moore and Joan Miró at the fair. Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013) was China’s most famous master of the twentieth century and a key figure of lyrical abstraction. He lived in France from 1948 and passed away in Switzerland in 2013. His style combined traditional Chinese landscape painting with the freer language of European abstraction studied from Paul Klee and Picasso.

European collectors have a great affinity with Zao Wou-ki’s art and his works attracted the attention of many visitors during the fair. Henry Moore and Miró are among the most famous western artists of the twentieth century, so of course visitors were keen to view their works.

How have this year’s sales of Asian art been at the fair?

This was my first participation in artgenève, and the level of interest and sales came up to my expectations.

Andre Magnin founder of Magnin-A in Paris exhibited works of artists from Africa. Image by Karel Blondeel.

Andre Magnin, Founder of Magnin-A in Paris, exhibited works of artists from Africa. Photo by Charlie Bland. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Mariam Diop – Gallerist, Magnin-A, Paris

What is the appeal of exhibiting at artgenève and of having a presence in the city of Geneva?

This is the first time that we are participating in this fair. Because we don’t have a showroom, we have to participate in fairs to show our artists and our gallery. We chose this fair because this is one of the most important fairs in Switzerland and that’s why we wanted to come here. There are many, many collectors in Switzerland, maybe more than in France, so we wanted to come and discover the market here. artgenève caters to Geneva’s diverse inhabitants and the affluent vacationers coming to Switzerland for the ski season.

Romuald Hazoumè, 'Ayoyo', 2013, plastic and metal, 45 x 28 x 32cm. Installation view at artgenève 2014. Photo by Karel Blondeel. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Romuald Hazoumè, ‘Ayoyo’, 2013, plastic and metal, 45 x 28 x 32 cm. Installation view at artgenève 2014. Photo by Charlie Bland. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Are there any major collecting trends that you have noticed?

We know maybe one or two collectors from Switzerland so we are really discovering [at the moment]. This is our very first time here. We want to bring contemporary African art to Swiss collectors, because African art is not well known here. It’s a way of introducing it to the Swiss public. We’re trying anyway, [so] we will see.

Has there been an interest for non-western art or for contemporary art produced in the newer art centres?

We think so, yes. We did an exhibition already a few years ago at the MAMCO [Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva] for example. Yes, there’s interest. Even at the start of the fair we have already received a lot of interest.

Visitors check out Minjung Kim's work at the Luxembourg & Dayan booth at artgenève. Photo by Karel Blondeel. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Visitors check out Minjung Kim’s work at the Luxembourg & Dayan booth at artgenève. Photo by Charlie Bland. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Alma Luxembourg – Dayan-Luxembourg, New York and London

What is the appeal of exhibiting at artgenève and of having a presence in the city of Geneva?

Luxembourg & Dayan has ties to Geneva thanks to one of its founders, Daniella Luxembourg: she was the President of Sotheby’s Switzerland. She then had a private dealership here for a long time. We have a lot of relationships here with clients and we like coming back. This is our second year.

In Switzerland in general and in Geneva specifically, there is a long tradition of collecting art and I think that having an art fair here taps into that sensibility.

artgenève caters to Geneva’s diverse inhabitants and the affluent vacationers coming to Switzerland for the ski season. There are surely very diverse tastes in collecting. Nevertheless, are there any major trends that you have noticed?

I can tell you that definitely the fair has become more international. It has more variety. It is bigger and I think that from the people in the opening night, there are so many people with real engagement, so I think it’s great.

Kim Minjung, 'Alveare', 2012, mixed-media on rice paper, 64 x 95cm. Image courtesy artgenève.

Kim Minjung, ‘Alveare’, 2012, mixed-media on rice paper, 64 x 95 cm. Image courtesy artgenève.

Has there been an interest in non-western art or for contemporary art produced in the newer art centres across Asia?

Specifically in Geneva? I don’t really know how to answer that. I think there is a lot of interest in art in general here. And you can see through the fair, it is full of all different varieties of art and a lot of people are engaging with it.

Joanna Cordero

Related Topics: art fairs, art tourism, collectors, galleries, globalisation of art, interviews, overviews

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