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Ocula Report

West Bund Art And Design Fair 2014

Diana d'Arenberg Shanghai 3 October 2014

Hot on the heels of the recent SH Contemporary, which seems to be dying a slow and embarrassing death— with art works held in customs leaving booths bereft of works, and turnout and organisation even more lamentable—West Bund Art and Design Fair is definitely a surprising polished gem.

Co-organised by renowned artist Zhou Tiehai, who oversaw the first SH Contemporary back in 2007, and more recently, directed the Minsheng Art Museum, West Bund promised to be China’s first Art and Design fair. It delivered one more than the other, but it did so beautifully. 

Situated on the West Bund Cultural corridor, Xuhui, which includes the newly opened Long Museum West Bund and Indonesian collector Budi Tek’s Yuz Museum, the area itself is a sprawl of construction sites and concrete dust, with nary a café or taxi in sight—which proved a little trying as the fair hours wore on. Gallerists and visitors were greeted by two Ugo Rondinone rainbow coloured Bentleys outside the entrance of the venue. A spillover from his solo exhibition at the Rockbund Art Museum, also on that week, one could mistake the scene for Hong Kong hotel valet parking were it not for the prone John Wayne Gacy clowns holding court in various poses of rest and boredom.

The venue was an attraction in itself—an 8,000 square metre renovated airplane hangar of the old Longhua Airport—that from within felt like you’re standing in the belly of a light filled Leviathan, and was equally suffocating given the lack of air-conditioning, except for one VIP lounge with the temperature of a city morgue. The relaxed atmosphere of the preview day was a sharp contrast to most international art fairs. Instead of the high-stress chaos of the usual fair, gallerists conversed with colleagues and collectors enjoying this change of pace in an art fair, helped in part by the Absolut vodka bar placed conveniently at the entrance.

The fair showed only 25 galleries from around the world, largely from the top tier including White Cube, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Hauser and Wirth, Galleria Continua, Boers-Li Gallery, ShanghArt, and Sean Kelly Gallery as well as a handful of local galleries, including Beijing Arts Now, Magician Space, Leo Xu, and Aike-Dellarco, showcasing Chinese artists. The behemoth of a space reverberated with the deep rhythmic throb from Zhang Ding's sound installation, Om, (2014), at ShanghArt where gallery director Lorenz Helbling and Chinese artist Zhang Enli, whose works were exhibited in the booth, were holding court with media photographers. Surprisingly, the selection of art was not at all the predictable selection we’ve come to expect at many art fairs. There was nary a dot painting in sight (except for a display of Yayoi Kusama at OTA Fine Art’s booth) or ‘dead halibut on a slab’.

A bigger space and fewer galleries meant much bigger booths, larger than your average Hong Kong apartment in fact. Some galleries succeeded in putting together a selection of beautifully displayed works taking advantage of the larger booth space to let works breathe without the anxiety of cramming in the maximum number of work per square foot. White Cube lived up to its name with a minimal display of tiny works; including a sculpture made of a molar by 28-year-old Chinese artist, He Xiangyi, in a large white cube of a space. The artist, a newly minted father, created a special installation, a pink plush adjoining room that felt like a walk-in vagina, but was apparently intended as a mouth.

Pearl Lam Galleries showed a selection of works by Yinka Shonibare, Jim Shaw, and seductively textured paintings by Zhu Jinshi, screaming with colour much like the gallerist herself. Hauser and Wirth was showing a handful of paintings by Wilhelm Sasnal in one room, while the rest of the booth heaved with works, “carefully chosen for the market”, said one of the gallery’s consultants, including formalist works by Rashid Johnson, Thomas Houseago, detailed figurative paintings by young Polish artist Jakub Julian Ziolkowski, and a row of small exquisite Christopher Orr paintings. Meanwhile Gallery Continua showed works by Antony Gormley, Hans Op de Beeck, Mona Hatoum, and some stand out pieces by Kader Attia.

Several galleries presented one artist’s work. Lehmann Maupin showed just one digital animation by American digital media artist Jennifer Steinkamp, while James Cohan Gallery had a beautiful video installation by Bill Viola; OTA Fine Arts presented a selection of eight paintings and a large pumpkin sculpture by Yayoi Kusama; and the Swiss Kesselhaus Josephson/Galerie Felix Lehner presented a beautiful display of Hans Josephson sculptures.

Hong Kong artists were also represented in the fair with works by Lee Kit at Aike-Dellarco, Shanghai, which was also showing the artist’s work in a solo exhibition during art fair week; and conceptual design works—a wooden brick multi purpose iPhone—by emerging artists Thomas Yuen and Solomon Yu, at Objet a:solitude.

Christies, which recently opened its new Shanghai offices and gallery space on The Bund, took up more prime real estate near the entrance of the fair with a selection of contemporary works available for private sale and for auction in its upcoming Fall Auctions in late October, including a Basquiat, which attracted a lot of attention, a large spray painting by American artist Sterling Ruby, and an El Anatsui mixed media flag.

Design collecting seems to be a new trend for Chinese collectors, with Sotheby’s Hong Kong recently stepping up its offerings to include contemporary and modern design in their auctions; the rumored entry of Design Miami into the Hong Kong market; the V&A and China Merchants Group design museum collaboration in Shenzhen; as well as the recently launched Design Trust under Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design.

But although West Bund was billed as a crossover of art and design, the latter component was more than a little uninspiring and baffling. Located upstairs in a smaller area overlooking the main art fair visitors were greeted with an inchoate assembly of a few pieces of design furniture, mainly from Pearl Lam gallery whose selection included some Maarten Baas wooden melting furniture pieces. The vast majority of galleries on the other hand opted for a display of artist-designed rugs.  There were rugs designed by Zhou Chunya, Fang Lijun, Yang Shaobin, and Liu Ye at L'officiel, Beijing, and an assortment of artist designed tchotchkes (bracelets, scarves at Beijing based Objet a : Solitude—that unfortunately gave the section more of a Moroccan shouk feel than a design fair.

Nonetheless it is an encouraging beginning for the crossover art and design fair. Structured around a format that allows for five days of fair followed by a three week long exhibition period, West Bund aims to connect art and design with a broader demographic, attracting collectors and interested public alike. —[O]

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