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.
“I think Western galleries are starting to look more to Asia, because there is already so much competition for that limited pool of collectors in North America and Europe. But there is so much money now in Asia, and they are starting to realize that. With art fairs, the Western galleries are looking at us to see which one can be a good access point,” said Eva Lin (林怡華), director of Art Taipei.
The London gallery Ibid, a first time exhibitor at Art Taipei, had come on just such a random exploratory mission. “Every year, we join one fair for the first time in a part of the world we are not familiar with. We do it just to see what is there,” said gallerist Magnus Edensvard. Though he did not sell out his booth, he claimed his results were “fantastic.”
The hottest selling artist last weekend was probably Yayoi Kusama, the octogenarian female Japanese artist known for polka dots, gourds and patterns she calls “infinity webs.” Tokyo’s Whitestone Gallery sold 10 of her paintings for a total of around NT$59 million (US$2 million), and several other galleries sold her works as well.
“Clients here like the work from the 70s and 80s. They prefer the more figurative works to her abstract pieces,” said Whitestone’s Park Ji-young.
Other notable sales included a NT$35.4 million (US$1.2 million) tally of works by Liu Kuo-sung (劉國松) at Modern Art Gallery (現代畫廊) and NT$9.3 million in sales of sculptures by Katsura Funakoshi by Imavision (晴山藝術中心).
And even if the Picasso sale does not go through, Le Pelletier’s Opera Gallery still did well. By the closing public address announcement, he had netted US$ 280,000 (NT$8.2 million) on sales of just four works, including two Salvador Dali sculptures and a painting by Andre Brasilier. He had also found a potential buyer for a Marc Chagall still life from 1956, for which he was asking US$750,000.
“Taiwanese collectors are very serious,” he explained. “They want to collect the works and hold on to them. We met with several that already own Picassos, Chagalls or other 20th century masters. Some even have pieces I want to buy, but they won’t sell them.”