Inside Shanghai Art Week 2015

Art Radar explores the three art fairs powering Shanghai Art Week 2015.

From Photo Shanghai to the West Bund Art and Design Fair and Art in the City, Shanghai Art Week is bringing the city under the art world’s focus. 

Photo Shanghai 2014

Photo Shanghai 2014. Image courtesy Photo Shanghai.

The month of September 2014 was an exhausting experience for art lovers in Shanghai. There was a different art fair opening every week. This year, the landscape has shifted. While one of the city’s longest running fairs Bologna Fiere’s SH Contemporary has decided not to run for unspecified reasons, the remaining three fairs, Photo Shanghai, West Bund Art and Design Fair, and Art in the City have come together to provide an unprecedented week of exhibitions and art activity.

Art Radar walks you through each art fair.

Chen Qiulin, 'The Empty City No.4', 2012. Courtesy A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, Chengdu. © Chen Qiulin.

Chen Qiulin, ‘The Empty City No.4’, 2012. Courtesy A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, Chengdu. © Chen Qiulin.

Photo Shanghai 

Photo Shanghai is the first international art fair devoted to photography in China. It takes over the Shanghai Exhibition Centre and includes 50 international galleries from 20 countries – almost half of them are leading photography galleries in China. The fair is run by the World Photography Organisation and attracted over 25,000 visitors in 2014.

There is a portent in the West Bund Fair’s strapline for 2015, ‘The Meaning and Impact of Art and Design in our Lives’, as last year it was the exclusivity of the ballooning art market that made some of these events seem targeted over the heads and budgets, not to mention the cultural horizons, of most Shanghai lives. Photo Shanghai was the exception in 2014, tapping into popular interests in staging photographic portrait images for social media and an ongoing succession of high quality photographic exhibitions such as the Himalayas Museum’s “Still/Life – Contemporary Dutch Photography”, Minsheng Museum’s, “Work, Rest and Play: British Photography From The 1960s To Today”, and Yuz Museum’s current solo show “Twin Tracks: Yang Fudong”. The works on offer last year certainly provided opportunity for collectors at all levels, but galleries, such as Shanghai-based M97, reported cautious sales to the crowds.

Photo Shanghai 2014

Photo Shanghai 2014.

This year’s edition is extended with five more galleries but, more significantly, an imaginative programme of seven special sponsored exhibitions, including Taryn Simon, Wulf-Diether Graf Count of Castell-Rüdenhausen and Mary McCartney, as well as a ‘fly past’ by performance photographer Li Wei. Last year’s programme of talks and discussions has been extended with an emphasis not only on collecting the photographic image but also on curating photography and its history, such as the educational panel with the WSJ. Wall Street Journal Magazine Director of Photography Jennifer Pastore on the relevance of the artist’s portrait in 21st Century journalism.

The Fair’s Director Alexander Montague-Sparey says in an interview with Art Radar, “Shanghai has more photography galleries than anywhere else in Asia”. Indeed, June saw the opening of Liu Heung Shing’s museum-like, Shanghai Center of Photography in the West Bund area, consolidating the important persistence of the medium in the city. Like established festivals of contemporary photography, such as Rencontres d’Arles in France, the Fair has invited artists to Shanghai who will extend the potential for public engagement. Montague-Sparey tells us,

Our very extensive talks programme offers a unique platform for novices and experts alike, to meet some of the most exciting artists working today.

With media art, also a vital aspect of Shanghai’s art world, the Fair will develop this dialogue across lens-based media with more than 60 productions from artists using video in a moving image programme curated by Zhang Peili in the Fair’s dedicated video room.

Photo Shanghai, Shanghai Exhibition Centre, 10 – 13 September 2015.

West Bund Art and Design. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

West Bund Art and Design. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

West Bund Art and Design

West Bund Art and Design is the first large-scale international fair in China to break the boundary between art and design. The 2015 edition brings a group of more than 30 international contemporary art galleries to the West Bund Art Center on Xuhui Riverside, with design spread throughout the West Bund Cultural Corridor. The fair is organised by West Bund Development Group Co. Ltd and the 2015 edition sees the Fair adopting a more conventional week-long format.

If Photo Shanghai connects with Shanghai’s persistent fascination with the photographic image, West Bund Art and Design brings in international contemporary art that is perhaps less easy to access in Shanghai, where only a few galleries have the scale, capacity or courage, to accommodate the most ambitious contemporary works. The difference, as confirms Scott Gray, Founder of Photo Shanghai in an interview with Art Radar, is that the fairs “work together, they complement each other and as such ensure there is an even greater reason to visit Shanghai.”

West Bund Art and Design  Photo by Andrew Stooke.

West Bund Art and Design. Photo by Andrew Stooke.

In 2014 West Bund inaugurated a spectacular new exhibition space, the West Bund Art Center, where the show will be staged again for 2015. It is the hub of the growing West Bund Cultural Corridor. It must be noted, however that although the West Bund area is a locus for cultural institutions in Shanghai, it is not yet a central location, so visitors may find, if they arrive by taxi that they face a long wait for a ride back into town.

Last year, West Bund surpassed the established but ill fated SH Contemporary for presentation, but this was not much of a challenge. Events, such as London’s Frieze, or Art Basel’s multinational stop offs, draw a compelling map of contemporary international art by embellishing their commercial booths with additional art spectacles that attract local press and make the events into contemporary moments. They create a need to be at that special place in that particular week to experience the trajectory of the city in the art world. Last year, on the contrary, the speed, diversity and glamour of Shanghai alongside its quirky art spaces and sweeping urban topography, was somewhat flattened at West Bund by geographic separation from the centre, and a sense of almost cold-blooded commercial purpose.

Galleries such as Gagosian and Hauser and Wirth have pioneered a model based on giving ambitious artists the resources to realise large projects that validate their potential and reposition them in the market. Recently Long Museum, owned by the collectors Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, appears to have adopted a parallel strategy; staging large, single artist survey shows, built around impressive new works conceived with the museum space in mind, and running for a relatively short period. The best art fairs at this level show what contemporary artists are capable of, something jaw-dropping you have to experience live, a sense of carnival, and sales will follow.

West Bund Art and Design, Westbund Art Center, 8 – 13 September 2015.

Samson Young, 'Memorizing the Tristan Chord (Institute of Fictional Ethnomusicology)', 3-channel video and wall text, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Artist Pension Trust Beijing and Global One collection.

Samson Young, ‘Memorizing the Tristan Chord (Institute of Fictional Ethnomusicology)’, 3-channel video and wall text, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Artist Pension Trust, Beijing and Global One collection.

Art in the City

Art in the City Festival is made up of three parts. The first includes 17 invited, curated solo shows and group exhibitions by emerging artists, showcased by galleries and independent art spaces all based in Shanghai. The second section, “BLAST!”, shows new digital films from an call for entries open to everyone residing in Asia. The third includes three new media and interactive projects by emerging artists Hu Renyi, Xie Caomin and Samson Young presented by the New York-based Artist Pension Trust Institute. It all takes place in the K11 Art Museum. Art in the City organises the festival, a project supporting art in Shanghai and China by coordinating information and staging special events.

If West Bund looks for “the meaning and impact of art and design in our lives”, without being specific about whose lives ‘our’ refers to, Art in the City takes a more collective approach; it feels like if you live in, or are visiting Shanghai, then you are included. The exhibition’s theme, “Stop Making Sense”, describes the relationship between ‘small communities and our cosmopolitan world’. The exhibition will create a dialogue between a group of 17 established and emerging local galleries all presenting special projects with a focus on “the impact of digital technologies, the shifting and blurring identity of art institutions and spaces, and the challenges of a critical engagement within a constantly shifting landscape.”

In addition to this are special projects by Hu Renyi, Xie Caomin and Samson Young to support Art in the City’s exhibition theme. Pinning the city’s art activity in one place is helpful in Shanghai, where beyond the cluster of contemporary art spaces at 50 Moganshan Road, you need to travel around to probe what is going on. This aspect of the art week alone does much to give purpose to the consolidated effort of the three participants with Art in the City running helpful tours between the venues and other current shows in town.

Art in the City, K11 Art Mall, 11 – 14 September 2015.

Chen Haoyang, 'World Map', conceptual photography. Image courtesy BETWEEN ART LAB.

Chen Haoyang, ‘World Map’, conceptual photography. Image courtesy BETWEEN ART LAB.

A week to be in Shanghai

The culture of contemporary art museums and galleries in Shanghai is relatively young. In the week following Shanghai’s Art Week, Berlin will stage its citywide seven days of art, involving galleries and national museums simultaneously launching exhibitions alongside the art fairs, abc Art Berlin Contemporary and Positions Berlin, whereas Talking Galleries will be an opportunity for discussion across the platforms involved. Shanghai’s current synchronisation of events is one step towards this more mature model. That said, if you want to experience the sheer cultural dynamism of this international metropolis, it is certainly an exciting week to be on the ground in Shanghai.

Andrew Stooke

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Related topics: Chinese artistsart fairs, festivals, gallery showsmuseum shows, photography, news, events in Shanghai

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