ShContemporary closed on Sunday 13 September 09 and like many in the region we're waiting for reports to emerge on how it fared. While there is talk of the global recession bottoming out and 'green shoots' appearing, it's still a tough time to be in the art fair business.
So how did it look to us?
ShContemporary continues to position itself as the Asia/Pacific fair with its sights set on becoming an event to rival the great fairs of Europe and America. We need great fairs in our part of the world and their commitment to the region is commendable.
The new director, Colin Chinnery, tuned the 09 fair to the region giving it a stronger Asian focus. The ShContemporary website listed 75 participating galleries of which just 20 were from Europe and America. This was a clever piece of recession proofing, as the economic downturn in Asia has not been as severe as in the West. But the recession did figure large in Chinnery's mind. He says: “One of the major objectives for this year's edition was simply adjusting people's expectations, which were overblown by the exploding Chinese market before being squashed by the recession. The expectations are different now than before but they are based on solid reality. The hyper-commercial or expensive work is nowhere to be seen. There is a lot more experimental works, lots of younger work. People are going to realize that art doesn't appreciate 100 times in five years.”
Chinnery also carried out a little re-inventing to give the fair “a more experimental and daring vision”. This year's event included sections aimed at attracting artists, curators, galleries and collectors looking for more than a slice of the art market in play, notably the Discoveries exhibition. Curated by Mami Kataoka, Anton Vidokle and Wang Jianwei, the exhibition explored the question “What is Contemporary Art?” through the work of 24 artists from around the world selected to present their individual responses to the question. The exhibition theme was also addressed in a conference on the same subject and structured as a 4-day series of lectures and discussions (see our earlier posting here), drawing such speakers as critic Hal Foster, artist Martha Rosler and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. The contents of the conference are to be published in e-flux journal.
The fair also included a new initiative – The Collectors Development Programme – aimed at potential and emerging collectors. This will be of interest to artists and galleries around the world monitoring reports about the new-generation Chinese collectors who are said to be more interested in contemporary art than antiquities. “Very positive sales” were reported, but aside from a few examples, no details have been released so far.
And what of the future? ShContemporary has seen some changes during its short lifetime. Pierre Huber and Zhou Tiehai, two founders of the fair, left after the first edition on 2007. Co-founder and art impresario Lorenzo Rudolf took up the reins, but left after the second edition in 2008. Only time will tell whether Colin Chinnery can fully realise the potential of ShContemporary, but he appears to be off to a good start.
Image: Shanghai Exhibition Centre, venue for ShContemporary