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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]