The appeal of the commercial art fair model is obvious—whether one goes to speculate, buy, assess trends in contemporary art or just to cop some free champagne during the vernissage, it’s terrifically convenient to get it all done under one roof. Furthering this efficiency, PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai does away with painting, sculpture and the rest of it to solely showcase photographic works. This singular focus is a refreshing antidote to the art-blindness experienced at more multifarious fairs, fending off that mid-day, over-stimulated shutdown by allowing visitors the mental space to consider each work and its relationship to others in its genre.
Inside the exhibition centre, PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai was organised by three categories: Main, Connected, and Platform. Main was dedicated to commercial galleries showing widely recognised artists, including Robert Mapplethorpe and Daidō Moriyama at Shanghai-based gallery BANK, and Yang Fudong at one of ShanghART’s two booths. Organised by Chinese curator Feng Boyi, Connected was devoted to the moving image, while the Platform sector supported emerging galleries who have yet to participate in an art fair in China. Included in this group was Hong Kong’s The Empty Gallery, whose entirely black exhibition space will reopen in Aberdeen this November after renovations. Taking centre stage in their booth was Ancestor Bone Hug, a series of monochrome photographs of bits of skulls by Indian artist Amit Desai. Desai’s project was inspired by the Hindu ritual of Kapala Kriya, a tradition in which a son smashes his father’s skull after the elder’s death in order to release his soul. With their minute bumps and crevices rendered in extreme detail, the bone fragments read as curious abstract forms or asteroids atop black backgrounds, far removed from their previous responsibilities of cradling brains.
Formerly known as Photo Shanghai, PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai's third edition was hosted in the Shanghai Exhibition Center from 9 - 11 September. While many exhibitors hailed from mainland China and the surrounding region, the 2016 edition of PHOTOFAIRS was its most international so far, with presentations by 50 galleries from 15 different countries including Iran, Israel, Denmark and Belgium. The fair aims to present photography as a collectable medium, which it does well, given that some buyers hesitate before forking over big sums for two-dimensional and easily reproducible objects. This is a longstanding struggle; photography has long fought to prove its legitimacy and thus purchasability as a fine art form. Yet, ‘the photography market in Asia has seen an unprecedented burst of activity in recent years,’ Christopher Philips, Curator, International Center of Photography, New York said in advance of the fair. ‘Regional institutions and private collectors, having finally recognised the significance of photography as a visual medium, are now making serious acquisitions of top-tier historic and contemporary work.’ Devotees recognise photography’s diverse artistic value: the last century has seen artists exploring the camera’s potential for research, documentation and conceptual experimentation, in addition to fuelling the primary practices of big-name artists such as Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky. Let us also not forget how photography has comforted the mourning after all of painting’s many purported deaths.
Ocula was on the ground for the fair’s third edition in Shanghai to report on highlights from the booths.
The next edition of PHOTOFAIRS will take place in San Francisco from 27 - 29 January, 2017. —[O]