Stock Market Upheaval No Match for Selling Power of Shanghai’s West Bund Art & Design
Currently in full swing, Shanghai’s West Bund Art & Design has set the bar high for a triptych of fairs taking place during the city’s art week.
While each of the fairs currently enjoys its respective second edition, West Bund has set itself apart through its variety of mediums, and a palpable bent towards supersized artworks that are right at home in its fittingly gargantuan space. And, judging by the outright grins—or discreet divulgences—of gallerists, the fair is hitting all the right notes among a predominantly Asian collector base, with resoundingly positive feedback halfway through its six-day run.
Housed inside a beautifully renovated airplane hangar in the city’s trendy West Bund arts district, the fair is high-ceilinged and bright. Throw into the mix returning fair director and acclaimed artist in his own right, Zhou Tiehai, a glitzy VIP program, and an evidently effective collector outreach program, and you get an event oozing credibility, and apparently, sales to match.
Testament to the fair’s reputation, a majority of exhibitors have returned for West Bund’s second outing. Among them is New York, London, and Beijing gallery, Pace. Their ground-floor booth spans mixed media works by 13 artists, roughly half of whom are Chinese. “Last year went well for us, so we’ve brought more artists this time around.” explained gallery representative Chloe Shi, noting that results thus far in 2015 were solidly “within expectations.” Works on show include Tara Donovan’s 2004 cubic sculpture, Untitled (Pins), (US $200,000), Chuck Close’s 2007 Self-Portrait on jacquard tapestry, and Siu Jianguo’s Earthly Force #9 (1992), which looks like mysterious flotsam washed up from the nearby Huangpu River. Shi noted a shift in audience demographics at the fair this year: “Last year we met a lot of collectors from mainland China and Taiwan; now there’s also a lot from Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand.”
Echoing Pace’s feedback is White Cube Gallery, having already sold an early Antony Gormley sculpture from a booth that includes both blue-chip names and talents new to China. Stealing the show are three works by young British artist Eddie Peake. “They’ve been attracting a lot of attention,” noted the gallery’s Elvina Chan. In particular, a purple acrylic bear sporting a fetching mohair scarf—Ogni Giorno Vado Al Bar E Ogni Giorno Non C’ Nessuno—is currently under discussion, as is a recent work by Brazilian-born market darling Christian Rosa.
Also back for West Bund’s second edition is Zurich, London, and New York-based Hauser & Wirth. Somewhat macabre within the fair’s wider context, the booth’s mainstay of paintings by Polish artist Jakub Julian Ziolkowski are piquing the interest of Asian collectors, confirmed senior director Neil Wenman. Already sold are The Other Side (€42,000) and Personal Hell (€38,000). In June, the gallery sold its largest-ever work by the artist in Art Basel’s Art Unlimited sector. Ziolkowski, himself, flew over for the Shanghai fair. Wenman reported strong sales at Tuesday’s preview, all the while acknowledging that, “It’s hard for collectors to remain buoyant with large economic changes in the market.” Nonetheless, Rita Ackermann’s gorgeous Fire by Days Blues VIII (2013) (US $120,000) is currently “on hold.”
Showing for the first time in a mainland China fair, newcomer Sadie Coles HQ reported being “pleasantly surprised” by West Bund’s first days. “We’ve shown in Hong Kong for the past five years.” said a gallery representative, noting an abundance of new clients at the Shanghai fair from those with whom they typically transact at Art Basel. The gallery’s booth boasts a cross-section of international artists, with Sarah Lucas’s Tit Cats sculptures, also currently on view in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, drawing particular attention.
Milan’s Massimo de Carlo and London’s Victoria Miro are among a handful of booths not showing any Chinese artists at West Bund. Nonetheless, the latter’s director Oliver Miro recounted, “Huge [sales] activity and a fantastic response.” Specifically, that includes portraiture by Chantal Joffe and Alice Neel, as well as sculptural pieces by Conrad Shawcross who, come 2017, will see his angular works fill a major new structure in Beijing designed by architect Norman Foster.
Local galleries are also well represented at this year’s fair. Though markedly different from its Bill Viola solo showcase last year, James Cohan’s booth remains a must-visit. Highlights include Shi Zhiying’s Grass No. 9 (2010-15), and most spectacular of all, Li Wenguang’s site-specific work, West Bund Plan 1 (2015; priced on the range of $30,000–50,000). Reflecting on the currently tumultuous Chinese economy, Shanghai director Arthur Solway said that the price points for the works on view in their booth were “not so much of an issue” for known collectors. Taking a positive spin on the tumult Solway added that being “sensitive to the market...helps us work with and promote younger artists.” Praising fair director Zhou Tiehai, the director said, “He’s an absolute visionary—not only as an artist, but also in terms of what needs to happen in building a platform for artists and galleries. I’m deeply grateful to him.”
Similarly delighted with West Bund thus far was Leo Xu Projects. By day three, the gallery had sold a majority of works on show, including an oil on canvas by Cui Jie for RMB 200,000 and a Chen Wei photographic work for US $12,000. “A lot of people have asked me about big western collectors, but what’s the point when the focus is right here in Asia?” Xu asked, giving the fair a resounding “two thumbs up.”
Around the corner from Leo Xu Projects is the work eliciting perhaps the most buzz at this year’s fair: Ai Weiwei’s Tiger, Tiger, Tiger at Chambers Fine Art, an installation of 3,035 pieces of Ming and Qing dynasty porcelain, each depicting tigers spanning feline to ferocious. A gallery representative explained that they’re still waiting for the “right buyer,” and that work is priced “in the region of US $1,000,000.” But, with the fair only mid-way through its run, there’s reason to believe that such a buyer is readying to pounce.