Shanghai: A September of art fairs

Shanghai played host to four different contemporary art fairs in each week of September 2014.

The arrival of four art fairs in the month of September 2014 – on the heels of the opening of two new museums, the Yuz Museum of Contemporary Art and the Long Museum West Bund – suggests that a tactical cultural renaissance in Shanghai is progressing on more than one front.

West Bund Art and Design 2014, general view. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

West Bund Art and Design 2014, general view. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

The contemporary art fair is an international phenomenon. Leading players such as Art Basel (founded in 1970) and Frieze (founded in 2003) draw an international art public travelling with an aim: to experience international art and culture from a metropolitan perspective. These fairs support galleries with spectacular commissions and public displays, and by fostering a panoply of associated new exhibitions across the host city, thus making it the place to be, at the time, to live and breathe contemporary art.

Art fairs focus and inspire the existing art map of their city. For the group of internationally-minded art cognoscenti, the fairs are on a circuit of compelling events where the emergence of new art can be more than just seen: it can be sensed and experienced, discussed and checked against the pulse of a city context. More than the sums of their parts, leading art fairs have become cultural events in their own right.

Art Radar visited four art fairs in Shanghai in September 2014.

Zhu Lanqing, 'A Journey in Reverse Direction' (detail), 2011-12, installation view at Minshing Museum, "Contemporary Photography in China 2009 – 2014". Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Zhu Lanqing, ‘A Journey in Reverse Direction’ (detail), 2011-12, installation view at Minshing Museum, “Contemporary Photography in China 2009 – 2014”. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Photo Shanghai | 4-7 September 2014

September got off to a dazzling start with Photo Shanghai, a new fair dedicated to photography. The fair attracted 42 galleries of consistent quality: local, national and international, from cities such as London, Paris, Beijing, Hong Kong and Tokyo. There was a sense of ambitious spectacle, despite the fair being implicitly for the entry-level collector. Affordable images were available and all works fell in the price range of USD1250 to USD175,000.

Large format contemporary works punctuated the forceful monochrome icons of historic process photography. The works linked emerging Asian photography with well-established names and images. Three of the highest priced works were snapped up on the opening evening. Collectors visited from eighteen countries, and a series of talks and tours provided a context for them and embedded the relevance of the fair in Shanghai and the Chinese art world.

The presence of additional, specially curated new media events linked the fair to current and recent shows in the city, such as K11’s “Metamorphosis of the Virtual 5 + 5” (5 July – 31 August 2014) and Chronus Art Centre’s “Jeffrey Shaw and Hu Jieming Twofold Solo Exhibition” (9 May – 28 November 2014).

Minsheng Art Museum was on board as well with “Contemporary Photography in China 2009 – 2014 (1 September – 15 October 2014), portraying images of ‘a liquid society’. The exhibition identified three thematic areas that give order to and make sense of a wide range of images. The show was profound, seemingly unaffected by the marketing perspectives of its commercial partnership.

The OCAT exhibition of Roger Ballen and Daniel Lee, entitled “Metamorphosis Mirror (13 July – 14 September 2014), also reinforced a sense of the relationship between photography and fine art. Additionally, Ballen’s work was well represented across several galleries. Long Museum West Bund’s anticipated show of Vic Muniz‘s work (23 September – 1 November 2014) also suggested that the photographic image was being taken seriously as art in Shanghai. It was no surprise that the fair was popular.

Wang Xieda at James Cohen Gallery at SH Contemporary. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Wang Xieda at James Cohan Gallery at SH Contemporary. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

BolognaFiere SH Contemporary | 12-14 September 2014

Less than a week after Photo Shanghai, the cavernous halls of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre were reordered to accommodate SH Contemporary, an annual event that has run since 2007. Against the pizzazz of top quality photography and great organisation, the contemporary art show was a diffident affair. Rather than employing the central hall, the show stretched out into over 12,078 square metres through the wings of the building. This left the heart of the complex for special projects, but none were forthcoming. The imposing vacant space acted as a foil for Candida Höfer’s portentous empty interiors presented by Matthew Liu Fine Arts, who unintentionally held the space almost single-handedly. The vast desolate area overpowered other displays, such as Michael Wolf’s crowded large format photos of Hong Kong.

The SH Contemporary organisation did not appear to have done much after the show: no market report on footfall or sales was available. There were, inevitably, some fantastic things to see, such as ShanghART’s showing of Wu Yiming; but overall the show didn’t bring anything that would compel a detour to Shanghai to see new art.

Installation view of Zhu Jinshi at Pearl Lam Galleries' space at Art in the City. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Installation view of Zhu Jinshi at Pearl Lam Galleries’ space at Art in the City. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Art in the City | 11-14 September 2014

Art In the City is a new initiative: an exhibition and an art app highlighting the exhibitions of participating galleries. It was described by Massimo Torrigiani –one of its founders who was previously with SH Contemporary – as a “curated selling exhibition developed with the galleries – not like a fair.” In fact, sales at Art in the City were restrained, but the ambition to spotlight Shanghai’s galleries in an ‘ongoing project’ is promising.

The event connected fifteen of Shanghai’s leading commercial galleries, of which several were represented at both Art in the City and SH Contemporary. Usually, the geographic separation of galleries in Shanghai makes a survey view of the city a daunting and exhausting trek, so there was some sense in creating this unified platform in K11’s sumptuous central location beneath their attractive shopping mall.

The exhibition was dominated by an insistent livery, a pseudo-Parisian street scene, produced by Kokai Studios. The jaunty graphic created an air of lightness, rather at odds with the intensity of much of the art. As with SH Contemporary, one looked for jaw dropping effects, larger than the pervading theme of the context. Pearl Lam Galleries delivered this, possessing their space with a single staggering painting by Zhu Jinshi.

Nam June-Paik, 'Eskimo Man', 1995, at Art in the City. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Nam June Paik, ‘Eskimo Man’, 1995, at Art in the City. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Elsewhere, there was a feeling that the works were drawn from stock, so there were few surprises if one was familiar with Shanghai’s gallery scene. This left it to the curation of the spaces to invent new perspectives for the work. Some, such as 55, Hakgojae, Aike-Dellarco and BANK, pulled this off very well. Hakgojae’s deployment of Nam June Paik’s Eskimo Man (1995) – with his jolly, antenna-like umbrella and body assembled from retro radio hardware – harmonised with the street theme and invited thinking about the character of the visiting collector and the audience in the venue.

Yutaka Sone and Rirkirt Tiravanija, 'Titles', 2014, at West Bund Art and Design 2014. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Yutaka Sone and Rirkrit Tiravanija, ‘Titles’, 2014, at West Bund Art and Design 2014. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

West Bund Art and Design | 25-29 September 2014, 1-26 October 2014

The much-anticipated West Bund Art and Design fair appeared after a week’s hiatus, occupying a novel venue close to the aforementioned new Shanghai museums. The stunning exhibition hall certainly looked like a contemporary art fair, where Frieze and Art Basel have set the bar quite high. With a total of 25 galleries, the new venture included some significant ones such as Hauser and Wirth and Pace, who do not have spaces in Shanghai.

Overall sales were reported as being positive, although few foreign collectors were compelled to make the journey to this cultural peninsula of Shanghai. Mathieu Borysevicz, the director of BANK, observed that, “Demographically speaking, most [buyers] were top Chinese veterans and young collectors.” Some local galleries reported healthy sales: Pearl Lam consigned Jim Lambie’s Metal Box Hyacinth Orchid to the Long Museum for USD255,000 and sold several of Ren Ri’s bee sculptured honeycomb in Plexiglas cubes, as well as paintings by Zhu Jinshi. Shi Zhiying, presented by Beijing’s White Space, reportedly sold out. Hauser and Wirth sold works by Thomas Houseago, Zhang Enli, Sterling Ruby, Christopher Orr, Wilhelm Sasnal and Jakub Julian Ziolkowski. Elsewhere, sales were only described as “quite positive”.

For the general public, the isolation of the venue conspired with the self-assured art to give an impression of elitism. There was no counter-effort to engage, educate or share, particularly towards fostering the interest of young people.

Installation at West Bund Art and Design. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Installation at West Bund Art and Design. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

Meanwhile, London’s Frieze art fair is discussed and embraced as a ‘festival’ because of its engaging programme, at a tangent to the core purpose of showing and selling art. Both collectors and the public want a sense of event that creates new trends rather than follows them: contemporary art as a live experience, not as a stock report.

The art fair is an opportunity to bring together new, challenging and exciting work in extraordinary places. It is one element of a robust art sector that connects people with their shared culture, and public interest urges artists to make even better artworks. Who knows who the patrons, philanthropists and collectors of an emerging generation will be?

Andrew Stooke

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Related Topics: Chinese art, promoting art, art fairs, round up, art and the community, events in Shanghai

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