So far in 2012, art fairs in Hong Kong and Singapore have had disappointing sales. Last month, Sotheby’s Hong Kong fall auction was down 37 percent from the previous year, with sales of Chinese contemporary art down 51 percent. Yet last weekend, Art Taipei, Asia’s longest-running art fair, saw its highest sales total ever. But even beyond that, for the first time — with top galleries from New York and Europe exhibiting, a Picasso valued at NT$238 million for sale, and the presence of one of the world’s best and highly valued photographers in Hiroshi Sugimoto — the fair was no longer merely regional, it felt international.
Art Taipei’s organizers have reason for excitement, because with lousy economies in the US, Europe and now perhaps China, this year could have potentially been pretty awful. Instead, their results confirm the art market’s growing embrace of Asian markets and the buying power of wealthy Taiwanese collectors. Following Art Basel’s purchase earlier this year of Hong Kong’s art fair, Art Hong Kong, it seems clear that mainstream Western galleries must at the very least diversify into Asia.
“The poor economies in the US and Europe are really the main reason why we’ve had more galleries from those places this year. Many of them are trying to find new collectors from Asia,” says Eva Lin (林怡華), Art Taipei’s director.
Increasingly, that means connecting with Taiwanese collectors, who, Eslite Gallery director Emily Chao (趙琍) calls “the most active and most discerning in Asia.”
Total sales at Art Taipei, held Nov. 9 to Nov. 12 at the Taipei World Trade Center, are estimated at NT$1.1 billion, a figure which includes expected “after-sales,” or sales that were generated through the fair, though the actual transactions happen later. This represents about a 10 percent gain over 2011, which saw sales of around NT$1 billion.
“The Hong Kong and Singapore fairs didn’t really do that well compared to last year, so for us this is a really good result,” says Lin.
The 150 galleries exhibiting was the largest total ever, up from 124 galleries last year. Again, more than half the galleries were from outside Taiwan. But the real difference was a growing vanguard of galleries from the US and Europe. New York’s Robert Miller Gallery showed photographs by Diane Arbus, large prints by Willem Oorebeek (also currently showing in the Taipei Biennial) and paintings by Lee Krasner (Jackson Pollock’s wife) and Patti Smith (the new wave rock star). In all, there were around a dozen galleries from the US and Europe, also including James Cohan (New York), Gallerie Perrotin (Paris and Hong Kong), Elms Lesters Painting Rooms (London), [DAM] Berlin, and others.
“The Shanghai fair is like LA, with so much going on. But this is more like New York. It’s elegant, like a fair you would see in Europe,” said Corinna Steiner, of Vienna’s Gallery Steiner, adding that though it was her first visit, “I will definitely be back next year.”
The entry of Western galleries comes in addition to the bevy of top Japanese and Korean galleries, who began making a sizable presence at Art Taipei around five years ago.
Works on view included a slew of contemporary and 20th century masters, including Anish Kapoor, Yoko Ono, Ai Weiwei (艾未未), Wim Delvoye, Vik Muniz, Anri Sala (who will represent France at the next Venice Biennale) and of course the Picasso (whose painting failed to sell).