When art industry insiders say “Chinese collectors,” they’re often referring to the tycoons of unimaginable wealth who are dotting the mainland with private museums in Beijing, Shanghai, and many lesser-known cities spread across the country.
But some dealers say this shorthand ignores a more expansive definition of “Chinese collector,” the burgeoning and massive class of newly wealthy individuals coming into their peak years as consumers, who already conceive of contemporary art as an integral part of their lifestyle. Nurturing and capitalizing on that bigger opportunity, they say, takes a bit of a leap of faith—but judging by the sales and the discussions at Art021
, the opportunity is only going to grow.
Five years ago, a forward-thinking Shanghainese trio—Kelly Ying, David Chau, and Bao Yifeng—spotted this opportunity early on, launching the Art021 art fair specifically to go after this new audience.
“We wanted to bring an international culture project to China,” said Bao. “Among the three of us, we tried to bring in this new crowd, to help them become collectors.”
They each brought complimentary skills, backgrounds, and most importantly, networks. Bao comes from the fashion PR world. He not only has experience pulling off complicated, large-scale productions at short notice (the first edition of the fair in 2013 came together in just three months), but also a long list of clients who were routinely buying handbags and other luxury goods that cost more than many works available at Art021. Chau’s investing background means he is close with the current generation of entrepreneurs with bank accounts freshly plump from big IPOs. Ying brought both an acumen for sales and the art world (she’d previously worked at luxury publishing giant Modern Media), and personal connections to many of the sons and daughters of China’s first generation of entrepreneurs—young people who were, at the time, just beginning to return from studying in the West where they had developed a taste for contemporary art.
No surprise, then, that dealers at the fifth edition of Art021 often describe the clientele as “young” “fashion-led,” and “lifestyle-centered.” But there’s a nuance in how those words were uttered: Those among the 104 dealers here (the fair will launch a Beijing edition in May) who used those terms disparagingly, or brought lower-quality work than they show elsewhere, tended to not have that much success this week. Others, whether international or domestic, who see those qualities as an opportunity for long-term investment in cultivating and educating clients (and even helping shape a new contemporary art culture for China), enjoyed significant success.