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September 18, 2009

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Home » Feature » Art and Culture

City shows emphasize the art of selling

THE real deals at an art fair are often done behind the scenes.

For Asia's biggest and best art fair, the deals to be done at last weekend's SHContemporary were much anticipated, as they are an indication of whether the art market had started to rebound.

The result seems positive.

"Most of the attending galleries were satisfied," says Xiao Ge, spokeswoman for SHContemporary.

Even on the first preview evening, there were rumors that one gallery had sold all their artworks worth 20 million yuan (US$2.9 million).

"I don't know if this is true, but our gallery sold better than last year," says Helen Zhu, from the ShanghART Gallery.

It is widely believed that the art market begins to warm up after the SHContemporary, yet the absence of "red dots," indicating works sold, perplexed some visitors. But they are actually like a psychological game: the more red dots, the more desire to possess.

"I really doubt the truth behind the scene," says Yang Hua, a former gallery dealer. "What I found was that more local VIPs were invited for the preview night. But many are not involved in the art community, neither collectors nor art dealers. It was like a big party for celebrities, similar to the new release of a luxury brand in the city."

One industry insider who refused to be identified says: "If you believe that gallery owners are merely trying to sell artworks at SHContemporary, then you are wrong.

"SHContemporary is like a platform, or an exposure. Some of the works hanging at the fair are not for sale but just act as an attraction. Actually some deals will be done outside the fair," he notes.

When SHContemporary was first launched in 2007, only the top Chinese galleries were eligible to attend along with other first-class galleries from around the world.

"This year, I find some very average galleries from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Chinese mainland at the fair," says Wang Yuhong, a local artist. "Compared with the first SHContemporary, obviously the quality and size has gone down."

But facing a tough situation caused by the global economic downturn, fair organizers really don't have much choice.

Due to the shrinking number of overseas galleries this year, the selection of more local galleries is a compromise.

Some distinguished positions inside the Shanghai Exhibition Center were occupied by some not-so-distinguished local galleries.

"Frankly speaking, I was disappointed to see the fair this year. It is a pity that there are too many canvases," Wang says. "I was really impressed by the daring installation pieces and sculptures in 2007."

Compared with their Western counterparts, Asian collectors won't buy installations or video art.

"I don't know whether it is good or bad for SHContemporary," Wang says. "But I really don't want to see it losing its pioneering and courageous approach to art."

Participants in the Shanghai Art Fair, which was held at the same time as SHContemporary, seemed to be happy.

"Our deals reached several million yuan," says Gao Jieqing, owner of Huang Jie Gallery. "We are still negotiating with one French collector who is interested in buying 'Snow Scene' created by late designer/artist Chen Yifei which is labelled at around 10 million yuan."

Echoing Gao's words, Zhang Jun, owner of Simply Noble Gallery, is also elated about the deals the gallery has made at the Shanghai Art Fair. "I can only say that I made a right decision to come," he says.

Deals made at the Shanghai Art Fair amounted to 50 million yuan, according to the fair organizers.

Although SHContemporary and Shanghai Art Fair have different strategies and target clients, some galleries choose to attend both.

"We want to show our support for a local art fair, so we have one exhibition booth at Shanghai Art Fair, though we have another at SHContemporary at the same time," says Zhu from ShanghART Gallery.

But ShanghART is not alone, several local galleries adopted the same strategy.

"In an unclear future of art, it is better not to miss a single opportunity," says Simply Noble Gallery owner Zhang.

"I can understand them, but I won't follow, as I don't believe that the art from one gallery is suitable for all."


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