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Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber Ocula Report Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber 15 Mar 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...

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Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...

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China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...

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Related Press

Alex Errera

Anna Dickie Hong Kong 14 March 2014

Alex Errera has become a familiar and recognizable figure in the Asia art scene in a very short time. Errera is the founder and CEO of Artshare an online platform for the exhibition and sale of Chinese contemporary art. Launched in 2013, and supported by an Art Advisory Committee made up of some of Asia’s most influential art figures - including Johnson Chang, Philip Dodd, and Dominique and Sylvain Levy - Artshare reflects a new breed of gallery that understands, has embraced, and is successfully navigating the unchartered world of the Internet. While it does offer to view works in person via private appointment, Artshare’s primary site for its carefully curated exhibitions is online. Leo Xu, founder of the influential Shanghai gallery LeoXu Projects and in 2012 named by Artinfo as one of the 30 most influential people in the art world under the age of 30, is the curator of Artshare's current exhibition: JPEG: New Practices in Photography. It presents a considered selection of four important Chinese artists and collectives: Cheng Ran, Chen Wei, Guo Hongwei, Zhang Jungang & Li Jie.

Ocula caught up with Alex Errera to discuss how he came to Chinese art, where the idea for the online gallery came from, the latest exhibition, his views on the Chinese art market, and The Armory Show’s recent China Focus section.

Tell me about how you came to be interested in Chinese art?

It was mainly through a number of inspiring encounters with collectors. They shared their addictive passion, and it made me want to know more. I started reading about artists, browsing the Internet for images - trying to learn. The more I saw, the more I wanted to dig deeper. I realised that focusing on Chinese art also offered a unique opportunity to connect with its society, its people, and witness the changes the country is undergoing, in a very special way. There’s not a day where I don’t learn something new, and that is what I love. From a business perspective, I felt that there was an opportunity to do things differently, and the timing was right to launch my business. I was also always fascinated by Asia, and particularly China, which was a key focus of my university dissertation.

What was the epiphany that led you to want to create an art gallery online?

It was probably my trip to Hong Kong during Art Basel (then Hong Kong Art Fair) in 2012. I talked to many galleries from around the world and realised that many were not using the Internet at all, and were, by definition, very local, in contrast with how global collectors were. The fair also felt like a jungle to me, and it pushed me to want to create something that was very personal, and relying on the advice of experts, rather than just a mass-scale, Amazon like website – which would make things even more confusing. It also made me understand that to focus on one part of the world was key. Focus, simplicity, and knowledge were the three driving factors behind artshare.com. Of course, like many projects and ventures, the idea evolved, but I do still see that fair as a critical moment for me. It could not have been possible without the precious support and advice of many, and particularly the people on my Advisory Committee, who supported me from day one.

A Hiscox Report, 2013, on the online art trade reported that 64% of collectors were buying art unseen via a website, with little or no contact with the seller. Now, my feeling is this is possibly true of cheaper works, but that once a collector is spending over a certain percentage of their income, they will only buy based on an image if they know the artist and the gallery? What is your view on this? And to what extent was this need for trust the driver behind your Advisory Committee?

It is true that you probably don’t need to know much if you buy a poster online, but when you deal with artworks worth several thousands of dollars, it is a different story. Trust is crucial, and this is why we work with renowned curators, artists who have always been exhibited in galleries, and put a key emphasis on giving personal advice. That being said, we have had many collectors who bought important artworks from us without knowing about the artist until they saw them in our show. The Advisory Committee does play an important role in making our collectors feel confident about working with us – they know that if such key figures lend their support and image to us, it is because we are a very serious platform, aiming to work with the best artists and curators.

To quote the Hiscox Report again, “buying art based on a digital image alone has become the norm, rather than the exception”. Your current exhibition references the JPEG, and I thought it was interesting that Leo Xu discusses his archive – his collection – of JPEGs. Perhaps you can discuss the current exhibition and its relationship to the JPEG?

I wanted to work with Leo for a long time. He’s an exceptional curator, and really embodies our vision at Artshare focusing on the discovery of rising stars, and promoting them to a global audience. When I called Leo, I gave him complete freedom to do what he wanted, and he immediately wanted to do something around photography, which is also his passion. The current show is important, as it focuses on a medium that has been for too long under the shadow of painting, especially in China. This is changing, and we look at four key artists who are re-inventing the practices of photography and offer a unique take on modern life in China. They are stars in the making, who have already been exhibited in great international galleries and museums around the world. Their inspirations are very much from the likes of Cindy Sherman, rather than traditional Chinese literature, so my guess is that those who see the show will be surprised.

You are a regular contributor to Forbes on the topic of the Chinese contemporary art market.  Is there one significant overarching factor that defines this market, in your view?

It’s impossible to simplify the Chinese contemporary art market to such an extent. We are talking about thousands of artists, dozens of art currents, and a country with a 5000-year history. That being said, if there was one significant driving factor behind what we are witnessing in this market, it is its extreme dynamism and capacity to learn and adapt so quickly. For example, ten or fifteen years ago, there were no auction houses here; twenty years ago, pretty much no gallery system. Yet, today they play a major role in the global art eco-system. Actually what we witness in the Chinese contemporary art market is quite similar to the sharp growth and complexities facing China in its broader economy.

You were recently at The Armory Show in New York at which a section was devoted to Chinese art and Philip Tinari curated this – any comments on it within the context of the Fair as a whole?

The China Focus section of the Fair was the first market test for Chinese contemporary art in the United States. It happened in a context of much chatter about this part of the world. The recent MET show on Chinese ink, Ink Art, and the Rubell Family Collection exhibition on young Chinese artists awakened American collectors’ interest – and the Armory was as important. It was very much focused on the post Cultural Revolution artists, which was interesting as it was far away from what most collectors have in mind when thinking about Chinese contemporary art. Within the context of the Fair, I thought the Section was particularly successful, and often more crowded than the other parts of the Armory. Phil Tinari did a great job of bringing very dynamic galleries. People were eager to learn, important collectors came and bought artworks, so I think we can safely say that it was mission accomplished. —[O]

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