Art Market
ART021 Cements Its Place as the Chic Mainstay of the Chinese Art Market
ART021 2015. Photo courtesy of ART021.

ART021 2015. Photo courtesy of ART021.

Named after the city’s dialing code, ART021 fits Shanghai to a T: young, trendy, and very fashionable. In just three short years, the fair has grown from a somewhat last-minute, little publicized affair in 2013 to a thoroughly credible highlight of the Shanghai calendar. With booths from some 75 galleries—up 21 from 2014, and a whopping 46 from its inaugural edition—expansion hasn’t come at the expense of quality. Indeed, with not one but two days solely for collectors, ART021 remains uncompromising in its mission to bring top-notch galleries, both established and fledgling, to eager buyers of all levels. Slick, sophisticated, and mature, ART021 has most certainly come of age.

ART021 was founded by PR honcho Bao Yifeng and former gallery director Kelly Ying (another co-founder, David Chau, launched his C.C. Foundation at PIMO Contemporary Art Festival just this week). The fair now spans multiple sections—Main Galleries; the small-scale solos of 1+1 Projects; a special exhibition by Beijing Council Collection; and an outdoor sculpture section, BEYOND Public Projects, among them—as well as a series of educational symposiums.

ART021 2015. Photo courtesy of ART021.

ART021 2015. Photo courtesy of ART021.

Having outgrown the Art Deco buildings and storefronts close to the city’s historic Bund waterfront that were once its home, ART021 now occupies the Soviet Neoclassical architecture of Shanghai Exhibition Center. Although the switch-up was welcomed by most, several galleries reckoned their position towards the start of a winding corridor of booths put them at a disadvantage. Without the cut-throughs and shortcuts of a conventional hall setup, they said, would-be buyers are less inclined to pop back to reappraise potential purchases.

That passageway leads to a dramatic central concourse populated by high-end galleries and blue-chip artists. Stealing the show is Gagosian Gallery in what marks not only its first foray at ART021, but also its return to a mainland China fair after a decade-long break. The gallery’s presentation treads boldly with Urs Fischer’s gargantuan big foot (2014); positioned around the cast bronze sculpture are works by Thomas HouseagoAlbert Oehlen, and a particularly lovely Richard Serra work on paper. Gagosian Hong Kong director Xi Li, estimated that 80% of artworks had been snapped up on opening day, applauding the openness of mainland Chinese collectors to a diversity of works. Case in point: Dan Colen’s darkly humorous mobile, The Last Night of the World (2013). All Mickey Mouse hands, cigarettes, and a whoopee cushion, it was one of the first to sell.

Similarly pleased with the fair thus far was Lehmann Maupin. “It’s a young fair that attracts new collectors—particularly from mainland China and Korea,” noted Rachel Lehmann, praising ART021’s energy and quality. Garnering particular attention at the booth is a new work by Robin Rhode: called Dragon, it comprises 18 photographic prints and is priced at €80,000. Sales by the end of preview day two included a super-size Billy Childish painting (€45,000) and a wonderfully cinematic, retro-feeling Alex Prager photograph ($45,000).

Up and down the aisle of booths, feedback was similarly promising. Melle Hendrikse, founder of Beijing’s C-Space described a slow but steady build up of momentum come preview day two. Delighted at the sale of three works by young Chinese artist He Wei (CNY 10,000–30,000)—think subdued jewel tones, peppered with pleasingly geometric shapes—Hendrikse commented on ART021’s rise from what felt like a “boutique fair” back in 2013, to its current blockbuster format. “In terms of mainland China and the scope of market that exists here, they do a good job in bringing collectors,” said Hendrikse. “As a gallery, what we’re doing here is pitching younger artists at a more-or-less entry-level price point to a growing market of young collectors.”

Similar in remit is Shanghai’s Antenna Space. Having just secured the CNY 20,000 sale of Li Ming’s 370 (2015), one of a series of works based around cigarette lighters and the labor conditions of factory workers in China, gallery representative Zian Chen spoke positively of what marks his gallery’s third participation at ART021. “It’s not extremely busy, but those who approach us find our works persuasive,” he said. Drawing the crowds is Guan Xiao’s three-screen video work (edition 4 out of 5) comprising fragmented footage, united by rhythm (CNY 60,000). Showcased at Frieze London earlier this year, and due for an ICA London solo in 2016—not to mention on the shortlist for this year’s Hugo Boss Asia Art award—she’s certainly one to watch.

Occupying a prime corner position to maximum effect is Beijing’s Ink Studio, with Yang Jiechang’s tongue-in-cheek neon on wooden box installation, God created the World, the Rest is Made in China (2015). Highly photogenic, the work has been drawing palpable attention. Executive director Nataline Colonnello explained that the France and Germany-based classically trained talent is well-established in the West, and currently piquing the interest of Asian collectors. A 2013 showcase at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of New York’s Asian Contemporary Art Week has furthered interest, with the aforementioned work (CNY 19,600,000) already attracting several international museums.

For ART021, this third edition is most definitely the charm: all quality and character, this chic showcase has fast become a Shanghai mainstay.

—Frances Arnold

Explore ART021 2015 on Artsy