The last time I visited West Bund Art & Design was four years ago, when the fair was in its first year of operation: a small, boutique offering held in a cavernous hangar that seemed too big for it. Much has changed since then. Mirroring the rapid development of the city itself, West Bund has grown from 25 galleries in 2014 to a fair that welcomed 87 galleries in the main section this year—39 of which were participating for the first time, including Xavier Hufkens, Simon Lee Gallery, and Almine Rech Gallery.
The fair's fifth edition coincided with the opening of the 12th Shanghai Biennale (10 November 2018–10 March 2019), and the sixth edition of Art021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair (8–11 November 2018), which opened to VIPs one day after West Bund. Outgrowing the original West Bund Art Centre, the fair has added an extra hall constructed by government-owned Shanghai West Bund Development Group Co., which has doubled the complex's exhibition space to 20,000 square metres. A small boutique offering this was not in 2018.
The fair opened with a moderately busy VIP preview night on a Wednesday to an audience of largely Asian collectors, with some galleries like Lehmann Maupin reporting swift sales in the opening hours for Kader Attia, Marilyn Minter, McArthur Binion, Hernan Bas (who was also present at the fair and gave a talk on his own art collection), and Angel Otero. West Bund first-timer Thaddaeus Ropac presented a Georg Baselitz upside-down double figure painting (sind wir schon da?, 2018) and a painting by Romanian superstar Adrian Ghenie, Favela (2018), which sold for USD1.2 million.
However, a number of smaller galleries cited interest but few sales in the opening hours, with a couple of attendants remarking that sales seemed sluggish compared to previous years. ('Deals always take a bit more time in China,' one Hong Kong visitor remarked.) Some art fair visitors were nervous that the market was headed for an economic downturn precipitated by the ongoing trade war between China and the United States, which has resulted in a weakening Yuan. Although Chinese-made art and antiquities were spared from inclusion on the list of goods included in US-imposed tariffs, the conflict was still a subject of conversation throughout the opening night.
This didn't quell the enthusiasm and admiration for the fair, however. 'This has to be one of the most beautiful fairs I've been to,' one curator commented. The spacious, well-lit halls made for the perfect setting for understated and elegant presentations in many of the gallery booths, who put together well-curated and thoughtful exhibits albeit with notably fewer experimental and risky works, and fewer surprises. A popular turn to the use of QR codes helped visitors easily navigate the presentations and learn about the works. And unlike many international art fairs, sponsoring brands were discreetly tucked away in corners.
Blue-chip contemporary art was presented by Gagosian, showing Richard Prince, Sterling Ruby, Rudolf Stingel, and this minute's favourite, Jonas Wood. Timothy Taylor presented an electric display of colourful Shezad Dawood textile and neon works in ArtReview Asia's Xiàn Chǎng section of the fair, which brought together larger installations and special projects. Pace Gallery exhibited a stellar booth of all-women artists, featuring several works by German-born US-based artist Kiki Smith, including a large aluminium sculpture (Shooting Star, 2011), and a huge painted stained-glass work, Prelude (2014), which stretched across the entirety of one of the booth's walls. Equally arresting in Pace's booth were the beautiful jade-coloured porcelain works by Chinese sculptor Yin Xiuzhen. The works, made of glazed porcelain, are cut through with gashes and orifices, and stuffed with scraps of discarded second-hand clothes. These 'personalised' objects are a tribute to the lives of individuals who are often neglected in the drive towards excessive urbanisation, rapid modern development, and the growing global economy.
David Zwirner presented a solo booth, where Dan Flavin's untitled (to Sonja) (1969)—a two-part neon installation constructed of gridded barriers of green- and yellow-tinted fluorescent bulbs facing each other—was priced at USD3.5 million. One of the most beautiful and impressive booths was Hong Kong-based Hanart TZ Gallery's installation of Xu Longsen's ink on paper works, which were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017. Six large ink on paper abstract landscapes were shown alongside eight felt and ink on wood columns that looked like they were made of marble, rising through the booth's space like the portico of a mini pantheon.
At the booth of Taipei-based TKG+, Thai artist Mit Jai Inn—who recently exhibited in the gallery's Taipei project space—presented a series of his chromatic paintings. Works by young Taiwanese artist Joyce Ho were also on view, including her fibreglass sculpture of a stack of shirts (Osmosis, 2018) and the video installation titled No Surprises (2018), which depicts a pair of hands typing the lyrics of the eponymous Radiohead song. The works highlight the imminent disappearance of certain forms of labour; in this case, typing and manual laundering. Ho, whose works amplify the small details of daily life, also presented a public art installation outside the fair venue as part of the Xiàn Chǎng section. Titled Balancing Act (2018), a pair of black fences with rocking legs swing to and fro—hinting at the inherent tension in China in maintaining a balance between confinement and protection.
While West Bund was more sober and restrained, Art021 (8–11 November 2018) was a chaotic cluster of art, brands, and people staged across town at the sprawling Soviet-style Shanghai Exhibition Centre. In its sixth edition, the fair has jumped from just 29 exhibitors for its first fair in 2013 to 103 galleries this year. Previously, West Bund and Art021 catered to different collectors and featured different galleries, with West Bund delivering more international and established galleries, and Art021 representing emerging and regional galleries.
Founded by luxury brand marketer Bao Yifeng, Kelly Ying and David Chow, several fairgoers described Art021 as a younger fair 'catering to the fashion set' and focusing on new collectors. And for those who weren't yet ready to take the plunge with art, but preferred a bit of window shopping, there was plenty of distraction provided by luxury and beauty brand-sponsored booths. Unsurprisingly, a Takashi Murakami handbag collaboration with the oversold designer and creative director of Louis Vuitton's menswear, Virgil Abloh, made an appearance at Gagosian's booth.
Although the atmosphere at the two fairs was vastly different, the distinction between the two events became blurrier than ever this year. Peres Project and Ota Fine Arts showed at both: the result, one gallerist explained, of the selection process. Art021 applications were submitted first, with galleries accepted not knowing if they would make the cut for West Bund, resulting in participation in both if the latter application was also confirmed.
For galleries like Hauser & Wirth, for whom art fair participation fees barely make a dent in their budget, the reason was much simpler: 'why not?' shrugged one Hong Kong representative. Galleria Continua, David Zwirner, and Perrotin also showed at both fairs.
The biggest difference between the two was consistency of quality—it was a mixed bag at Art021, where the prevailing trend was for bold, colourful, and eye-catching works. Successful examples of this approach included Kasmin, showing for the first time with Mark Ryden's Salvator Mundi (2018): a cute, big-eyed blue fluffy creature holding a crystal ball guarded by two security guards, playfully echoing the Leonardo da Vinci work of the same name that sold for USD450 million at Christie's last year. (Ryden's work reportedly sold for USD350,000.)
Hong Kong's Blindspot Gallery presented a beautiful and eye-catching immersive booth of Sarah Lai's works, which consisted of dreamy sherbet-coloured pop, Japanime, and 1980s advertising-inspired paintings against wallpapered booth walls.
The city offered up plenty of other art distractions beyond the two fairs, and in some pretty fantastic venues, though getting to them proved challenging for many. I ended up three kilometres away from the explosive and vandalistic large-scale Katharine Grosse colour installation, Mumbling Mud, at the chi K11 art museum. I walked the length of the West Bund Cultural Corridor—a government initiative that already includes the Long Museum and the Yuz Museum, and will soon also include a David Chipperfield-designed Shanghai branch of the Centre Pompidou—making my way down the cultural theme park stretch of galleries and museums.
Across the road from the West Bund art fair, situated on the shores of the Huangpu River, sits Tank Shanghai; a complex of five repurposed fuel tanks. The complex featured experimental works by Japanese electronic composer and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda, who uses mathematics to explore the characteristics of sound and light. His data.tron exhibition (10 November 2018–6 January 2019), part of the datamatics project, was a series of experiments that explore such questions both physically and mathematically.
The Tank complex was developed by nightclub owner and collector, Qiao Zhibing, whose four-storey KTV club dazzles as much for its young hostesses which patrons select from the ID numbers pinned to them, as for the art which includes works by Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, and Damien Hirst. In little over ten years, like much of the country, Qiao has reinvented himself, becoming one of China's top collectors. He is also the founder of Qiao Space, where American artist Matthew Day Jackson is showing for the first time in China (New Landscape, 7 November 2018–21 January 2019). Day Jackson's series of landscape works flit between the past and the present, the mythical and historical, resulting in clever visual collages that are both hopeful and metaphorical cautionary tales.
The neo-brutalist concrete Long Museum—once used as a wharf for coal transportation—hosted Louise Bourgeois' mother of all spiders, Maman (1999), filling up the vaulted, cavernous space as part of the first large-scale exhibition of the artist's work in China (The Eternal Thread, 3 November 2018–24 February 2019).
Another private museum nearby is Yuz Museum—founded by Indonesian-Chinese collector Budi Tek—a peculiar space that reminds me somewhat of a Soviet gymnasium, but was once the hangar of Longhua Airport. The space was exhibiting the popular Gucci-presented, Maurizio Cattelan-curated exhibition The Artist is Present (11 October–16 December 2018), premised on the concept that 'originality is overrated'. The show presents over 30 local and international artists who explore appropriation, representation, and copying; featuring works by Wim Delvoye, Gillian Wearing, and Philippe Parreno. A little further afield, Cindy Sherman was showing her first solo exhibition in China in the kinetic Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio-designed Fosun Foundation, a retrospective that is comprised of 128 series of photographs, 2 wallpaper prints and props dating back to the 1970s, along with 9 brand new works.
At Ota Fine Arts, Yayoi Kusama's solo exhibition filled the gallery walls with panels of joyful and bright, graphic dot paintings that resembled Indigenous Australian art (The Longing for My Love All Began from My Heart, 7 November 2018–20 January 2019). There was also a room dedicated to one of the artist's seductive mirrored chambers of narcissism—even the most art-weary amongst us flocked to the reflective kaleidoscopic glass to take pictures, mesmerised by our multiplying reflections.
ShanghART presented a solo exhibition of work by Chinese contemporary art star Ding Yi, with large textured abstract canvases filled with his multi-coloured trademark grids and crosses. Hong Kong artist Samson Young, who represented the city at the 57th Venice Biennale, held a solo exhibition at Edouard Malingue Gallery, for which he invited visitors to scoot around the gallery space in a large, sneaker-shaped bumper car.
Xu Zhen's MadeIn Gallery put the spotlight on Miao Ying, a young Shanghainese artist who was on hand to take me through her solo exhibition Stones From Other Hills (6 November–30 December 2018): a project comprised of oil paintings, sculptures, videos, and VR, and including Hardcore Digital Detox, a strategic brand and concept website commissioned by Hong Kong's M+ Museum. Miao inhabits both digital worlds—the World Wide Web and the 'Chinternet', the restricted Chinese internet behind the great firewall. Her Hardcore Digital Detox pits mainstream internet users against Chinese censors by 'playfully instructing users to set their virtual private network (VPN) to mainland China', where popular websites and apps like Google, Instagram, and Facebook, are blocked.
Miao sees the images and content blocked by the great firewall as 'liu bai' (negative space) similar to that found in Chinese traditional ink painting, spaces within which imagination can still be stimulated, a space which in the digital world demands the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Chinese internet users.
Potential economic downturn or not, China is currently the second largest art market in the world, trailing the United States, with a reported USD13.2 billion in sales last year, according to the Art Market 2018 report prepared by economist Dr Clare McAndrews. With the number of dollar billionaires in the country hitting around 580 according to an estimate by Swiss bank Credit Suisse—more than doubling from 221 in 2016—the appetite for art seems unlikely to wane anytime soon. Shanghai's art fairs are an opportunity for many international galleries to test the waters in the China market, and if the last five years are anything to go by, they have already become a major attraction. —[O]