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September 11, 2011

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Turning around ShContemporary

SHCONTEMPORARY'S third and latest director Massimo Torrigiani is under a lot of pressure to turn around the fair's fortunes and reverse a slide.

After its huge success in 2007, ShContemporary has faced turnover, falling participation and generally tough times since the global financial crisis in 2008. The previous fair directors - Rudolf Lorenzo and Colin Chinnery - didn't stay long.

Since Art Basel purchased ART HK early this year, taking it to a far higher competitive level, observers are watching whether ShContemporary will still be what it aspires to be, Asia's No. 1 art fair. ART HK is already very hot.

How far can the publisher of Italian culture magazines take it?

Torrigiani is the former editor and publisher of an edgy Italian art magazine Rodeo and the force behind the new photography quarterly Fantom.

Some consider him an unusual choice, but fresh blood and new vision may be just what the fair needs.

Q: The fair hasn't lived up to its initial success. Why did you take the job?

A: The project was intriguing, full of potential; the story of the fair is full of suspense, the creative and commercial energy running through the Asia-Pacific; and the prospect of working in Shanghai is stimulating. I cannot resist challenges, I couldn't refuse the offer.

Q: What's new about this year's fair?

A: Let's say everything. We have unmounted and remounted it, from its concept to its mission to the organizational structure. My team is fantastic. We have new galleries, new projects, inside and outside the fair, new partners, new sponsors. We are using Shanghai as one of our main asset - the word "Shanghai" triggers the imagination, as did "Florence" for the English in the 19th century and "Rome" for North Americans in the 1960s.

Q: What's the critical part?

A: Every case is different. For us it is trust. Our trust in the chance to build such an ambitious project. The trust of galleries, artists, curators, partners, sponsors and the media. The trust of collectors in the galleries and trust in us to be an efficient, reliable research tool. A successful fair is based on exchanges - cultural, commercial, intellectual, personal, artistic - good exchanges are based on trust.

Q: What's the difference between running art fairs in the East and West?

A: The contemporary Western European-American art system is around a hundred years old. It has a well-established canon, supported by a system of art schools and cultural institutions. Here the system is young and in full development. It is growing in a strongly international and interdependent way - it's 2011, not 1911. It is a collective work in progress, making the system - actually a cluster of systems - more unpredictable but also multifarious and exciting.

Q: What's your view of China's contemporary art scene?

A: An art scene is like the market. It's not an abstract, metaphysical entity. The art scene depends on all of us, our desires, expectations and intervention. On how much we are willing to contribute to a collective growth rather than to individual speculations. And not simply in economic terms.

For example, this edition of ShContemporary hosted the premiere of the first joint venture between the Private Art Museum Alliance and the directors of 28 Chinese private contemporary art museums. In the last few years an amazing number of private museums have opened in China. They face similar strategic, managerial and cultural issues.

This alliance will collectively address these issues - sharing resources, information, collaborating and interacting. The museums have agreed on a set of self-regulatory rules and a common long-term strategic plan. Moreover, as an industrial union, they are promoting further investments in outstanding art works and developing shared services and projects.

Q: What's the hardest part of being a new fair director?

A: Not having enough time to meet people, develop projects, travel, see all the art. I love this project. You should ask me on September 11 - the day after it ends.

Q: Do you collect art?

A: Drawings and photography, but I don't consider myself a collector: I buy too little and too randomly, following extremely personal trajectories across centuries and continents.


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