Fairs that used to be scattered over the autumn months in Shanghai have now, with the exception of September’s PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai, been condensed into just one week. A number of galleries chose to participate in two, and in ShanghART’s case three, though for the most part the uptick in art world activity surrounding the fairs was made manageable by its concentration in one location: the West Bund (西岸). The newest extension to the city’s cultural corridor links the Power Station of Art, the Long Museum West Bund and the Yuz Museum Shanghai along the Huangpu River. Directed by painter Zhou ‘Joe Camel’ Tiehai, the West Bund Art & Design fair is only three years old, and it’s far from the biggest fair in the city—PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai, ART021 and the Shanghai Art Fair have nearly two or three times more participating galleries—but it has the strongest pull with major dealers.
Running from 9-13 November, the West Bund fair again locked down leading global galleries without permanent spaces in Shanghai. This year, Gladstone, David Zwirner and Timothy Taylor joined the likes of White Cube, Perrotin and Hauser & Wirth. Familiar with Chinese fairs, these galleries pursued predictable strategies in appealing to local collectors.
There were the new takes on Chinese traditional forms such as Cerith Wyn Evans’ neon works at White Cube, Zhu Jinshi’s 3D calligraphy at Pearl Lam Fine Arts, Mark Wallinger’s 'id paintings' at Hauser & Wirth, and Qin Feng’s ‘Landscape of Desire’ series at Ben Brown Fine Arts.
Then there was also the presence of work by international artists who’ve broken into the Shanghai consciousness through museum shows. Work by Ugo Rondinone—who had a solo exhibition at Rockbund Art Museum from 2014 to 2015—appeared at Esther Schipper/Johnen Galerie, as did a five-metre-wide acrylic on canvas and plexiglass rainbow by the artist at Gladstone Gallery. Gladstone also showed Matthew Barney's ‘Cremaster Suite’ prints, following up on a recent screening of the 'CREMASTER Cycle' at the Power Station of Art.
Visiting on a cold and quiet day mid-fair, immediately after the US elections, bromide-familiar forms and names, meant for the homes, private museums and KTVs of wealthy collectors, seemed more inadequate than usual, making other works stand out.
One such piece was Sarah Lucas’s MAMMERYLOOLOO (2012)—made with tights, fluff, and a ceramic toilet at Gladstone—a piece that really grabs you by the gag-reflex with its Swiftian disgust titty-twist on often sexualised anatomy. At Hauser & Wirth, Sterling Ruby’s paintings and pastiches in trashy, impermanent materials felt, as usual, both more quotidian and more cosmic than much of the art around it.
Expensive-looking, selfie-friendly chromes, an enduring art fair favourite seen again at Anish Kapoor’s solo show at Gagosian in Hong Kong this autumn, were again on show. The best ones were enlivened by states of distress: the burst blisters of Dale Frank’s Chinese landscape 9—thick curly black hair pushed out from his shirt collar like a well fluffed paisley cravat (2015) at Pearl Lam and the splayed layers of spray paint, like a book drenched and dried, in Eric Baudart’s Concave - Cuivre (2015) and Concav - Caraibes (Caribbeans) (2015) at Edouard Malingue.
Vivid colours also did their antidepressant best in works such as Rob Pruitt’s fluorescent blends—popping out of slippery shaded borders at Massimo De Carlo—and Leonardo Drew’s Number 18C (2015) at Pearl Lam, suggesting toxic toadstools on a forest floor, persevering, bright and murderous. Better still was the neon tube light therapy by Wang Yi, a special project installed by Aike-Dellarco.
As the strength of global galleries attending has increased, the proportion of participating galleries with a base in Shanghai has decreased. Aike-Dellarco is now one of only seven of the thirty-one participating galleries, as is Edouard Malingue, which opened a space nearby just in time for the fair. The gallery, a modest space on the second floor of an F&B hub, launched with a show entitled Festival (November 6-December 31) by painter Cui Xinming, a graduate of the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts.
Local galleries ShanghART, Aike-Dellarco and MadeIn Gallery have all recently opened permanent gallery spaces in the West Bund, winding down their operations at M50, the former textile mill where contemporary art in Shanghai found its feet during the ’90s.
(M50, it seems, is all but over. Leading Chinese abstract painter Ding Yi has left, as has V Art Centre, the chaotic, joyful space for emerging artists that he directed, while Steven Harris’s excellent photo gallery M97 has relocated to Jing’an. (Gu Wenda’s studio, Vanguard Gallery and Chronus Art Center are among the more prominent remnants.)
ShanghART celebrates its 20th birthday this year, and during the fair featured a group show in the new West Bund space, a low Jenga tower of white shipping containers. Next door, Aike-Dellarco showed a duo show with works by Wang Yi and Lee Kit, who still has a lock, in Shanghai at least, on the visual art equivalent of shoe-gaze. In just its second show in its new West Bund location, downstairs from the Edouard Malingue space, MadeIn Gallery held a rowdy, rambunctious exhibition called 'Xu Zhen Store’ of more affordable works—compared to what they show at Long March Space or ShanghART—in editions of 100.
Several of the other West Bund fair participants also found extra wall space near the fair during what’s become an unofficial Shanghai art week, and a critical sales opportunity. Galleries showing at both Art021 and West Bund included Arario, Beijing Art Now, Boers-Li, Edouard Malingue, Esther Schipper/Johnen Galerie, Hauser & Wirth, Leo Xu Projects, Long March Space, Massimo De Carlo, Ota Fine Arts, Pearl Lam, Galerie Perrotin, ShanghART, Tina Keng, White Space Beijing, and David Zwirner. Hauser & Wirth worked with Qiao Space, a stone’s throw from the West Bund fair to mount a Martin Creed exhibition, while Timothy Taylor put on a slick Alex Katz show in a building facing the fair’s entrance.
The pop-up shows by Hauser & Wirth and Timothy Taylor are testament to the pull of West Bund Art & Design fair and to the area it is in. However, the relatively sudden cementing of the West Bund as the locus of Shanghai art activity is complicated by the area’s lack of other kinds of vitality. With pricey apartment blocks still going up nearby, the streets are quiet, and the restaurants and bars uninteresting. Once developed, the area, near Xuhui Riverside Park, only 20 minutes from the city centre, will be nice but likely a little sterile, like South Park’s SoDoSoPa minus the Whole Foods. The task for socially-engaged artists, curators and museum directors will be to find challenging, questioning, pertinent works and bring a broad audience out to see them. —[O]