Itis somewhat of a truism in Asia’s art circles that Art Stage Singapore and Art Basel — Hong Kong have reached a maturity that is the envy of its regional counterparts. With marquee dealers displaying high-end art, both fairs attract celebrity collectors and their hangers-on. Yet at Taiwan’s oldest and preeminent contemporary art fair, Art Taipei, which opens to the public on Friday and is celebrating its 20th anniversary, there are riches to be found.
“Art Taipei is the hidden jewel of Asian art fairs,” Pascal de Sarthe, director of de Sarthe gallery in Hong Kong, tells the Taipei Times in an e-mail.
“Although it is considered to be a regional fair, you still meet major collectors,” adds the dealer who will participate for the third consecutive year.
But the fair’s organizer, the Taiwan Art Gallery Association (TAGA), has spent the past two years giving Art Taipei an image makeover, seeking to make it more international in scope. And if TAGAs’ statistics are anything to go by, recent results have been impressive.
According to association figures, Art Taipei’s first year saw 56 booths, a number that climbed to 150 last year. Transactions have jumped a whopping 733 percent, from NT$150 million (US$5 million) in 2007 to NT$1.1 billion last year. Over the same period, international gallery numbers grew from 17 in 2007, to 80 last year, while Taiwanese galleries went from 50 in 2007 to 70 last year.
For Richard Chang (張學孔), this year’s convener, a previous director of the fair and one of the organizers spearheading changes to the fair, it’s all about transforming de Sarthe’s notion of Art Taipei being a regional fair to one that is global in scope.
“We want to internationalize the fair,” Chang says. The eventual goal is to reduce the number of local galleries to 40.
The reality, of course is more prosaic, as fully 80 percent of these international galleries hail from Asia, particularly China, Japan and South Korea. Still, the fact that there has been so much rapid growth in such a short time suggests that TAGA is taking Art Taipei in the right direction.
Yet as international galleries gain a greater presence, there are growing concerns that Taiwan’s artists will be left behind.
There is little doubt that Taiwanese collectors are the reason why international dealers are setting up booths at Art Taipei.
“Collectors determine the market,” says David Lin (林岱蔚), director of Taipei’s Lin & Lin Gallery (大未來林舍畫廊 ), a 21 year-old venue that focuses on modern and contemporary Taiwanese and Chinese art.
In addition to Yageo Corp founder and chairman Pierre Chen (陳泰銘), who ARTnews ranks as one of the world’s top 10 collectors, there are several local “collector groups” throughout Taiwan who have earned a reputation for their collecting largesse.
“Taiwan’s art market is small in comparison to, say, Hong Kong,” Chang says. “But the world pay’s attention to its collectors.”
Chang says the strategy to boost the number of international dealers serves two purposes.
“International galleries will encourage their collectors to come to Art Taipei. These collectors will then encourage other collectors to come,” Chang says.
He adds that overseas galleries will help to professionalize local galleries to an international standard.
Reducing the number of local galleries — at a time when member numbers have gone up by almost half — has caused tension within TAGA’s 110 member galleries. But Chang is sanguine about these growing pains, saying it is necessary if Art Taipei wants to remain competitive.