For three days last week, a large LED screen in the midst of a spacious pedestrian zone near the Chunxi Road Metro station in Chengdu, China, broadcast a string of celebrities, including Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, all repeating the same tagline: “Chengdu loves art; art loves Chengdu.” The screen was attached to one of two tents erected in the midst of this, the fast-growing city’s commercial center, which typically caters to its many newly-rich residents with luxury fashion. This week, however, the focus here was on contemporary art.
Those three days marked the first edition of the Art Chengdu International Contemporary Art Fair. A mix of 31 well-known Chinese and international dealers set up shop in this pair of tents in the heart of the capital city of Sichuan, a province located in southwest China that is home to the giant panda and famous for its spicy hotpots that numb the mouth. Soon, the city might also claim a special place in the art world.
“Chengdu has a lot of collectors, and there are great museums and galleries,” said Chengdu native Huang Zai, who, with Sichuan collector Huang Yu, founded Art Chengdu. “But we felt that we needed something new, a new platform that could bring everyone together, connecting collectors, artists, and gallerists. There is a need for an art fair here.”
Huang Yu has collected art for the past decade, and he was staging an exhibition of his holdings at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu in 2016 when he got the idea to launch an art fair in the city. The former bodybuilding champion, who graduated from the Chengdu University of Technology, said he had thought about opening his own private museum, but decided he wanted to have a broader impact: supporting artists, other players in the art market, and the city of Chengdu itself by raising the city’s profile internationally and creating an ecosystem that supports artistic development in the western part of China. Huang Yu’s long-time friend Huang Zai—who is an art advisor and organizes art world events, and is also the daughter of Chengdu artist Huang Mingjin—was quick to join the effort.