Shanghai takes another crack at raising its international art world profile this weekend with Shanghai Exhibition Center for a long weekend of talks, events, parties and, as all involved hope and pray, sales.
Even if you're simply a fan of contemporary art or just somewhat art-curious, ShContemporary is a fabulous chance to see what dealers and curators consider to be the best of the moment, not to mention the chance to admire the early Soviet Russia-era architectural flourishes that make the former "Sino-Soviet Friendship Building" one of Shanghai's finest post-war structures.
Billing itself as "THE Asia Pacific Art Fair" (Hong Kong and Beijing would beg to differ), ShContemporary is open to the general public Saturday, September 11th from 11am-6pm and Sunday the 12th from 11am-5pm. Tickets are 50 RMB. You can easily wander the fair for several hours of happy browsing.
This year's offerings are intended to be less single-mindedly commercial than those of previous years, with a curated "DISCOVERIES: Re-Value" exhibition dominating the main exhibition space. Intended to provoke considerations of "value" that go beyond art-as-commodity, DISCOVERIES includes the playful (Choi Jeong Hwa's towering balloon sculpture seemingly destined to deflate and perhaps pop over the course of the fair) to the awfully earnest (children's renditions of pandas for charity) to the sophomoric art-school "disturbing" (Japanese collective Chim ↑ Pom's video documenting the torment of a "super rat" whose apparently stuffed body appears alongside the video installation done up as Pikachu) to the lyrical and thought-provoking (a video installation by Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani exploring the abandoned Japanese ghost island of Hashima, formerly a densely populated coal mining site).
The primary focus is on Chinese and southeast Asian art, but international galleries and artists are well represented (though US galleries don't make much of a showing this year). A Giorgio Morandi special exhibition focuses on the Italian modern master of the somber still life, albeit in underwhelming fashion; three small paintings are affixed to a clumsily constructed wooden exhibition wall.
And there is a focus on Berlin galleries, injecting into the fair a bit of the sometimes playful/always angsty dynamic associated with the German capital's embrace of experimental art and critical engagement—an interesting contrast to the Chinese work on display, much of which continues to work out vexed relationships with the past, especially the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, in a way that many Berliners, with their own memories of a troubled East-West history, would have little trouble relating to.
The real heart of the fair, however, lies beyond the special exhibitions in the Best of Galleries sections where nearly 100 commercial galleries display select works. The range is impressive, with everything well-known names in Chinese art (Luo Brothers, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Dali) to less established artists (often far more interesting than the big Chinese art stars from the past decade) from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and beyond.
It's a tough time for the international art market, but, as many have argued, a good time for art. ShContemporary, under the guidance of director Colin Chinnery, certainly helps to make the case for balancing curated works of quality against the market-driven quantitative approach of art fairs past. Here's to hoping it sells, and to the health of ShContemporary in future years.