As art fairs go, Art Taipei can be a bit quirky. At most fairs, the best and most expensive works sell during the vernissage, a VIP-only event that gives high profile collectors first access. In Taipei however, much of the business happens in the fair’s final hours, in a sort of a mad rush, like at a department store on Christmas eve, with the shoppers staring down the increasingly nervous storekeepers — the gallerists — and waiting to see if they will drop their prices. The fair always ends on a Monday, because on Sunday the banks are closed.
So this past Monday afternoon, with less than an hour before crews would start ripping up the exhibition hall carpets, what was potentially the weekend’s biggest transaction, a Picasso oil painting from 1963, Le peintre et son modele, on offer for US$4.4 million (NT$129.8 million), had yet to be resolved.
“We are in serious discussions, but it is not like you buy a pair of socks,” said an optimistic Stephane Le Pelletier, director of Singapore’s Opera Gallery. “With these things, you need to think about it.”
The total value of transactions in paintings, sculptures, photographs and other works during the Art Taipei long weekend was estimated by Oliver Chang (張逸群), chairman of the Taiwan Art Gallery Association, at NT$1 billion (US$33.8 million), a slight decrease from the NT$1.1 billion last year.
If sales of the Picasso or similar follow-up sales go through, this year’s total could swing by 10 percent or more.
Art Taipei, Taiwan’s largest event for selling contemporary art, was celebrating its twentieth year last weekend. Exhibitors included 148 galleries, more than half from outside Taiwan. Total visitors were estimated at around 35,000.
Sales were strong for top regional galleries, but overall results were mixed.
Strong regional sales
At least six galleries from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China logged over NT$10 million in sales — Eslite Gallery, Soka Arts Center, Tina Keng Gallery and Modern Art Gallery from Taiwan, Hong Kong’s Galerie du Monde, and China’s Long March Space.
Works by famous East Asian artists like Yayoi Kusama, Zao Wou-ki (趙無極), Walasse Ting (丁雄泉) and contemporary Chinese painters — established tastes among Taiwanese collectors — also did a vigorous trade.
Western artists and galleries sometimes found themselves testing tepid waters. Lehmann Maupin, a first time exhibitor from New York and Hong Kong, sold only three works, a drawing by Tracy Emin and works by Robin Rhode and Gordon Chang. Ben Brown Fine Arts, a Hong Kong-London gallery, had one of the most star-studded booths, with works by Warhol, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Yayoi Kusama and Vik Muniz, but failed to close any deals.
The results could have been better at a time when Art Taipei is increasingly aware of the need to compete with other fairs in East Asia and project an international image.
Earlier this year, the world’s largest art fair, Art Basel, launched its first franchise fair in Asia with Art Basel Hong Kong, which immediately became the king of the regional hill. Close behind are Art Taipei, Art Stage Singapore, Tokyo Art Fair and the Korean International Fair. Art fairs in Beijing and Shanghai are also in the running for their huge sales totals, but have the drawbacks of chaotic organization and political instability.