Beijing’s New Art Fair Attracts International Mega-Galleries
Installation view of Gallery ALL’s booth at JINGART, Beijing, 2018. Courtesy of JINGART.
About one mile south of Mao Zedong’s portrait overlooking Tiananmen Square sits Beijing Fun, an upscale creative zone launched in January 2017 as a “new cultural landmark of Beijing” following a recent “full-scale refurbishment” of the narrow alleyways that line the area. Since opening, Beijing Fun has hosted a street exhibition of Parisian graffiti art, a zero-waste-themed eco-art event, and, this past week, the inaugural edition of JINGART, an art fair founded by Kelly Ying, David Chau, and Bao Yifeng, the trio also behind the Art021 fair, which launched in 2013 in Shanghai.
This past week, the Beijing fair welcomed 32 exhibitors—many of whom have been regulars at Art021—to a stately, Qing Dynasty-era commercial structure built in 1905 in a Western architectural style; after several fires in the early 20th century and multiple efforts to repurpose the building during the Mao era, it was restored in 2011. Heavyweights David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth anchored this inaugural edition, situated opposite each other on the venue’s ground floor. Though common names on the international art fair circuit, neither gallery had previously participated in an art fair in Beijing.
Installation view of the David Zwirner booth at JINGART, Beijing, 2018. Courtesy of JINGART.
Leo Xu, director of David Zwirner’s recently opened Hong Kong outpost, said the gallery wanted to take the opportunity to introduce “the typical David Zwirner program to a Beijing audience, not compromising anything.” Xu highlighted Beijing collectors’ particular interest in traditional media like painting and sculpture as one factor that drove the selection of works for the booth, but he said the gallery also attempted to introduce artists that are lesser-known in the Chinese capital. One wall contained several pieces by Los Angeles-based painter and illustrator Raymond Pettibon, whose pop-cultural cachet is well-established in the West, but not as much in China.
Xu said he hoped Pettibon’s work would appeal to younger collectors in Beijing, who might have come across the artist’s iconic album art for bands from the 1980s and ’90s, like Black Flag and Sonic Youth. “I think there’s a younger generation of [the] Chinese audience who have seen [Pettibon’s] work, but never had the chance [to] figure out who the artist is, and to look at the work closer,” Xu said.
The David Zwirner booth also prominently displayed Josef Albers’s 1963 painting Homage to the Square, which Xu said fit well with what he saw as JINGART’s positioning between modern and contemporary art.
Hauser & Wirth also focused on painting and sculpture, but put the emphasis squarely on works by well-known masters. The booth was split into two rooms—one arranged like a living room, one like a drawing room—and its focal point was a weighty, aluminum Louise Bourgeois sculpture that also featured prominently in JINGART’s promotional materials.
“Here [in Beijing], I feel big names have a much bigger draw,” said Vanessa Guo, the gallery’s director of Asia development, making a comparison with the relatively more cosmopolitan Shanghai, where she said collectors are “more willing to experiment.” According to Guo, the Bourgeois sculpture attracted attention, but was at a price point that made it hard for collectors unfamiliar with the artist’s history to “get into.” A trio of paintings by Wu Dayu, the 20th-century artist widely credited with bringing abstract oil painting to China, also connected with fairgoers, according to Guo.
“It’s going to take time for people to see us as not just one of the big international galleries, but as uniquely Hauser & Wirth,” she said, adding that the selection was meant to give Beijing collectors the first taste of the gallery’s “brand DNA.” Crediting a positive relationship with the Art021 team, Guo said that the fair’s first crack at Beijing had been “a perfect opportunity” for Hauser & Wirth to start developing its presence in the city.
Many of the galleries participating in JINGART appealed to a traditional aesthetic, showcasing artworks that referenced classical Chinese forms. Taiwan’s Tina Keng Gallery exhibited a 2016 triptych by Sichuan artist Peng Wei, which reflected the artist’s ongoing interest in imbuing traditional materials, such as rice paper and embroidered cloth shoes, with contemporary themes. A four-panel video work by Yang Yongliang, presented at JINGART by Shanghai gallery Matthew Liu Fine Arts, took scenes of urban verticality derived from the skylines of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Chongqing, and mixed them with forms from classical Chinese landscape painting.
JINGART was also the first Beijing fair for Chengdu’s A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, which has been present at every edition of Art021. The gallery positioned its booth between the poles of tradition and modernity with a dual retrospective for two artists who are core to its program: Shu Yang, whose brightly-colored paintings and assemblages evoked the gritty urban environment of his native Chongqing, and Chengdu-born Wang Chuan, whose relatively starker canvases reflected the Chinese ink-wash tradition.
“Since the mid-’80s, they’ve started provocative discussions about the language of painting,” said gallery founder Liu Jie of the two artists’ work. He said he wanted to exhibit “most representative works” from each decade of their respective careers to give a sense of the range of their practices, which he said “spans from modern to contemporary.”
JINGART also hosted several Beijing galleries, including Long March Space, which, like A Thousand Plateaus, has participated in every edition of Art021. The gallery’s booth showcased five artists from its stable, including Liu Wei, whose solo show at the space recently closed, and painter Zhao Gang, whose exhibition just opened.
Installation view of Long March Space’s booth at JINGART, Beijing, 2018. Courtesy of JINGART.
Long March previously participated in another major Beijing art fair, Art Beijing, but hasn’t shown there for several years, instead relying on its large gallery space in the city’s 798 Art District to function as a showroom for visiting collectors, said sales director Jia Mingyu. Jia said that the gallery chose to showcase a variety of artists and works for its booth at JINGART, which it participated in due to its close relationship with Art021’s founders.
JINGART’s program also included several exhibitors positioned at the nexus between art and design, including Swiss watchmaker Hublot, which displayed a timepiece featuring imagery by painter Yue Minjun, priced at 107,500 RMB (about $16,800).
Los Angeles and Beijing’s Gallery ALL also took an interdisciplinary approach at the fair. One of the most popular booths during JINGART’s two public viewing days, it featured two snaking bronze candelabra designed by architect Ma Yansong, as well as a pair of fluctuating wall clocks by Swedish design duo Humans Since 1982.
Both the fair’s organizers and its participating galleries declined to disclose sale figures at this inaugural edition. But surveying the fair’s run, A Thousand Plateaus’s Liu suggested that it was a success and praised JINGART’s founders’ attention to quality.
“They’ve always insisted on this small but nicely curated [program]; they’ve always had a high standard in selection of galleries,” he said. “It’s great, and it really suits the atmosphere in Beijing.”