Mon, Nov 18, 2019 - Page 8 News List

‘The scene has exploded:’ China gets set to be leading global center

Shanghai is fuelling China’s transition to the world’s biggest art market — despite the thorny issue of censorship

By Sophie Hastings  /  The Guardian

French President Emmanuel Macron, second left, President of Centre Pompidou Serge Lasvignes, left, and Fong Shizhong unveil a plaque on Nov. 5 at the inauguration of Centre Pompidou West Bund Museum in Shanghai.

Photo: AP

Sitting at one of her exhibits in the West Bund Art & Design booth of Shanghai art week — a sake bar that has just been placed on hold for a collector — Pilar Corrias reflects on the huge change she has seen since she started exhibiting here in 2013.

“Energy has been building in China for well over a decade, but the way the scene has exploded over the past five years has been extraordinary — and it is driven by the fairs,” says the London-based art dealer, pouring sake from the bar, a work by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled 2019 (The Form of the Flower Is Unknown to the Seed).

“I’ve been coming to Asia for 10 years and got in early, via Hong Kong. I could never do that now: there’s too much competition. They all want to break the market,” Corrias said.


The focal point of activity in China is Shanghai, which two weeks ago hosted the November art week, a host of art and design fairs and the landmark inauguration of the Center Pompidou x West Bund Museum Project: a five-year partnership that sees the latest iteration of the Paris behemoth housed in a 25,000m2 building designed by British architect David Chipperfield.

Shanghai is known for its dynamism but the buzz during the week was particularly intense. According to the analysis of members of the global art community, the city is not just having a moment, it is changing the art world order. Currently the world’s third-largest art market, after the US and the UK respectively, and with more ultra-rich citizens than the US for the first time, China looks set to become the greatest art market of all, and Shanghai is fueling this shift.

Of course, there are caveats to the prognosis, not least the bothersome matter of how to reconcile art with the repressive Chinese state. But the general feeling among western gallerists seems to be that this is China’s century.

“There are some macro-economic and bureaucratic factors that have to be ironed out,” says Nick Buckley Wood, the Asia director at Thaddaeus Ropac gallery.

Buckley Wood is half-Chinese, grew up between London and Hong Kong and lived in Shanghai for five years.

“If political tensions increase and the government continues capital controls on transferring money out of China, it’s an issue. VAT was actually lowered this year, as was art tax last year, but it’s complicated, and the rules change all the time,” he said.

Shanghai’s buoyancy, in light of these concerns, as well as issues of censorship and a sense that government controls are increasingly heavy-handed, is all the more remarkable.

Art week sprang up around the openings of two museums founded by local contemporary art collectors, the Long Museum (2012) and the Yuz Museum (2014), coupled with the launch of two fairs, Art021 in 2013 and West Bund Art & Design the following year. It has evolved into a major art world fixture with all the frantic activity of the best international art fairs and biennales. There is even an outpost of the Parisian nightclub Le Baron, which pops up at Art Basel Miami Beach and has become a louche signifier of substantial art world presence.

The week’s launches included that of a new fair, Unique Design Shanghai, the first platform dedicated to collectable design in China, as well as 23 exhibitions at museums and foundations and 24 gallery shows. The scene-stealer, though, was the Pompidou. Billed as “the largest ever cultural exchange and cooperation project between two countries,” the extensive, multidisciplinary program will also include the training of Chinese museum professionals in curating and conservations as part of a skills exchange.

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