SHANGHAI— The ShContemporary art fair wrapped up on Sunday with only modest sales, but participant galleries largely satisfied with the outing. However, given the sluggish results expected from the Korea International Art Fair, which concluded yesterday, the message seems to be that the contemporary Asian market as a whole is not heating up as quickly as might have been expected, especially in the wake of the stellar results at May’s ART HK in Hong Kong. All eyes now turn to the contemporary and modern auctions, which commence on October 4 in Hong Kong, for a more definitive read on where the market is going.
The stand-out performers at ShContemporary included Alexander Ochs Galleries of Berlin and Beijing and Bo Yin International Contemporary Gallery of Shanghai. Asia Art Center of Beijing and Taipei, Frantic of Tokyo, and Eli Klein of New York also all recorded some solid sales in the midst of a quiet fair.
Alexander Ochs featured the work of up-and-coming young painter Lu Song. Beijing-born and UK-trained, he had five works on display, four of which sold for $6,000 apiece during the course of the fair. More substantial for Ochs was the sale of a Wu Shugang piece for $70,000, which was reportedly snatched up as a birthday present for a very lucky husband. Ochs also moved a work by the Korean painter Yoo Junghyun on the opening day for $20,000.
Meanwhile, Bo Yin had on offer the striking, if rather histrionic, paintings of Zhuang Baolin. These proved a winning choice for the gallery, which closed deals with collectors from Belgium on five of the artist’s works — one canvas commanding $1.2 million with four others going for around $400,000 each. Another China-based gallery with a reason to be cheerful was the Asia Art Center, with Li Chen’s irreverent sculptures winning bids of up $200,000. The gallery is looking to expand next year, with its sights set on India and Dubai.
Among the international guests, Tokyo’s Frantic Gallery, on their first foray into Shanghai, was featuring works by Taisuke Mohri, Macoto Murayama, and Naritaka Satoh. They sold a Mohri for $13,000 and a Murayama for $25,000. For Frantic, the fair is mostly about building their reputation in China, connecting with collectors, galleries, and museums. Gallery curator Rodion Trofimchencko was enthusiastic about the potential of Shanghai: “There are problems here, but there are always problems. It is such a big market, you have to be prepared to spend time and fix the problems. You have to think about the future. If you just think about the future, you die today.”
Gallerist Eli Klein was upbeat as well. A cheerful party scene by Zhang Gong, titled “Night Club,” went to a collector within a few hours of the fair’s opening for $30,000. Zhang Gong is a professor in the animation department at Beijing’s Qinghua University whose animations and witty, detailed canvases have attracted attention for some years. “Night Club” depicts a droll group of animated characters, including Kung Fu Panda and Gong’s own wispy heroine, Miss Panda — with the boys from “South Park,” caught in the act of looking up her skirt.
Klein believes it is important to recognize that art in China is developing in its own way. “Chinese artists are often making larger works than western artists,” he said. “Some of the galleries in China are huge and dwarf the spaces of many US galleries. The artists here can get used to working in airplane hangars.”
The world financial crisis caused a shakeout in China’s art world, Klein said, adding, “There has been a negative stigma attached to Chinese art — that the prices were inflated.” This was true of some artists, Klein explained: “When the Chinese art market collapsed, an important aspect was that artists who had unreasonable pricing found they would never realize those prices again. This hurt the reputation of Chinese art.”
This was not a problem exclusive to China, of course, but Klein claimed that there are artists he does not want to work with because of their pricing. “In this business everyone has to be happy,” he said. “This is not a one-and-done-deal business. Our clients have stayed happy. The prices for the works they bought have held up or increased at the expected rate.” And yet he admitted that it is a difficult market to learn, “If you don’t know what you are doing and want to dabble in Chinese art without good advice, you are almost sure to get burned.”