Fair of the fledgling

By Jack Aldane Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-6 19:50:06


A vendor displays a painting for sale at the Art China fair on Sunday at the Agricultural Exhibition Center. Photo: Jack Aldane/GT
A vendor displays a painting for sale at the Art China fair on Sunday at the Agricultural Exhibition Center. Photo: Jack Aldane/GT

With Beijing's summer art festivals now well and truly packed away for the bitter winter afoot, most people could have been forgiven for not attending Art China, which wrapped up November 4 at the Agricultural Exhibition Center, Chaoyang district.

Though this wasn't an art fair in step with Beijing's Bohemian art districts located at 798 or Songzhuang, Art China nevertheless succeeded in attracting Chinese investors with its display of traditional and contemporary artworks by Chinese and foreign artists. 

Yet the event was also criticized, especially by its organizers, both for its awkward timing months after Beijing's peak art season, as well as for being poorly promoted.

Brendan Linane, a British artist based in the 798 Art Zone, told Metro Beijing he was eager to get inside the heads of Chinese art collectors.

"It seems most of the big art fairs have already left Beijing. I'm just interested to know what motivates Chinese buyers," the Londoner said.   

Set inside the center's 10,000-square-meter New Hall, the fair allocated a generous space to browsing art lovers.

Most visitors attended on Saturday, while Sunday saw the lowest turnout of the four-day fair. 

Phillipe Bouvet, director of the La Plantation Art Council gallery and chief organizer of Art China, insisted that the event was successful and had achieved its goal of consolidating ties between galleries and new artists.

The Frenchman told Metro Beijing Art China had ultimately shown "a long-term commitment to contemporary art" in the country. A Beijing resident of five years, Bouvet explained what motivated him to get behind the event was the benefits it offered emerging artists.

"I think this fair aims to do what all art fairs essentially do - nurture new artists to ensure their longevity in the art world," he said.

Bouvet also criticized many of Beijing's makeshift art galleries, declaring that today galleries are "generally considered fashionable." He added that, though liberating, the city allows "too many people to open a gallery without any knowledge of China's [art] market."

By contrast, Art China offers "a professional space" for art to "grow with artists," he said.

The fair's galleries numbered 16 in total. The galleries exhibited paintings, sculptures and ceramic art works from China and overseas including France, Germany, Poland, Turkey and Australia.

Styles ranged from Chinese calligraphy and watercolors to European impressionist, surrealist and classical paintings.

Among all the galleries, one displaying oil paintings imported from North Korea attracted the majority of Chinese buyers.

Idyllic countryside landscapes common in the paintings were observed by their exhibitor, Dong Yunli, to have been bought "more for their history and beauty than as an investment."

Some fair visitors aired a vocal dislike of the lack of "quality art" on display, particularly in regards to contemporary Chinese art.

Tine Deturck, a Belgian artist living in Beijing's avant-guard Songzhuang commune, said she thought the exhibition "lacked artistic energy." 

Pointing to one art space boasting a series of Magritte-style, surrealist paintings by Chinese artist Zhang Bei, she said the artworks struck her as "imitative," giving foreign visitors a "very bad impression of Chinese art."

"Everyone thinks Chinese [artists] simply copy other styles, which isn't true. But if this was my first time to a Beijing exhibition, that's the impression I'd be left with," she said.

The responsibility galleries have to promote new artists isn't the main reason to appreciate contemporary art, Bouvet claims.

"Chinese artists associated with galleries need encouragement. Some of the work here shows there is too much emphasis on guanxi (personal connections) in art in China. With more cross-cultural support and respect for artistic vision, China will be a strong contender in the contemporary art world," he said. 

Posted in: ARTS, Metro Beijing

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