Affluent Collectors in Asia Get an Art Mall of Their Own

P.T. Black From Shanghai

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A few weeks ago Shanghai marked the one-year countdown to Beijing's Olympic Games with a party of its own: the first annual Shanghai contemporary art fair (ShContemporary). Held downtown in the grand Exhibition Center, the massive event showed more than 600 artists and 100 of the world's best galleries. The fair's chaotic blend of art and commerce was a perfect distillation of Shanghai's moment.

It is apparent that Shanghai is making a dedicated push to be the commercial culture capital of Asia. This art fair is the most ambitious and already the most successful fair in the region.
P.T. Black
P.T. Black is a partner in Jigsaw International, a Shanghai boutique lifestle-research agency that looks at the direction of change in China.
The blue-chip galleries from Art Basel were well -represented. Shanghai compensated for its perennial deficiencies (intrusive content-vetting requirements, inexperienced event teams) with significant upsides such as convenient transportation, a stunning venue and dedicated municipal support. It was a real regional fair -- rumor is that Koreans were the most vigorous buyers. Beijing may have a more exciting arts community, and Hong Kong has better malls but Shanghai blends the two.

The second exciting aspect was the enthusiasm of young people. They swarmed the opening with cameras blazing. Many were directly involved, mostly assisting overseas galleries. For many it was the first time to see their heroes' works in person -- for China it is unprecedented to see Picassos, Warhols and Damien Hirsts in one hallway.

The great part about the fair format is not only the chance to see the works but also to size them up as potential purchases. China's luxury market is booming, and the fair's biggest draw for many galleries is a chance to meet the Serious Chinese Art Collector. This is a sort of unicorn in the global art community: rare, sought-after and possibly fictional. Visitors looking for diamond-dripping tycoons were disappointed to find reasonable, successful Chinese (and Koreans and Japanese) interested in buying a few moderate pieces.

Like with all things in China, there were wrinkles. Shipping crates were misplaced, catering was insufficient, and an elegant Italian curator screamed desperately to find the Chinese word for "drill." But in my mental timeline of modern China, this fair goes down in big red letters: the day Chinese shoppers got an art mall of their own. Expect it to become a staple of the international calendar.
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