‘Dealers are smiling under their masks’: Shanghai art week pulls in art-starved collectors

“This is our fifth year participating in Shanghai art fairs and it’s the best year so far,” says Leo Xu, David Zwirner’s senior director in Hong Kong
Courtesy of West Bund

An air of exuberance hangs over Shanghai’s Art Week, with its two signature fairs Art021 and West Bund Art & Design Fair running this week. After an enthusiastic start from exhibition openings last weekend, and buoyed by the electoral news in the US, the Shanghai art world tensed for a moment as the city recorded its first local Covid-19 transmission in five months, when an airport freight worker tested positive. However, the case was quickly contained without further infections or broader lockdowns. The shows have gone on, with nearly a hundred art exhibitions and events around the city. “So far there is no other positive case in Shanghai, but the fair still has intensified our epidemic prevention measures,” says a spokeswoman for the West Bund art district. “We ask viewers to provide health codes and wear masks while visiting.” Both fairs require guests to pre-register, generating a digital identification pass with a QR code; regular IDs and a green health QR are also checked upon entry, and non-VIP visitors must pre-book time slots.

Shanghai Art Week has managed to pull in large local crowds
Courtesy of West Bund

Both fairs have seen their ranks slimmed because of coronavirus-related travel difficulties, from unavailable flights and limited visas to a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine. However, Art021 and West Bund Art & Design Fair have filled up their spaces up with a combination of corporate-sponsored art, booths for nonprofits like Shanghai’s Terrace Project and animal rescue group Think Adoption, and exhibitions by foundations and museums. Highlights of those include Cao Fei’s UBS-sponsored Isle of Instability musing on her lockdown experience in Singapore and Judy Chicago’s first exhibition in China Call and Response, paired with Stanley Whitney, organised by the new Longlati foundation.

“This experience is completely different from our previous festive art fair experience of frequent travel and art world parties.”
Leo Xu, David Zwirner’s senior director in Hong Kong

“Four of our staff travelled to Shanghai from Hong Kong for the fair and a 14-day quarantine is required each way,” explains Leo Xu, David Zwirner’s senior director in Hong Kong, who also underwent the journey to participate in Art021. “Therefore, we had planned our gallery programs and staffing schedules of October and November beforehand, in order to make sure that we could attend the fair in Shanghai.” Xu adds: “Quarantine is not a staycation, but a challenge to our physical and mental energy and health. We were required to take a nucleic acid test upon arrival. The quarantine hotels were allocated to us. Then we stayed in the hotel room alone for 14 days. This experience is completely different from our previous festive art fair experience of frequent travel and art world parties.”

An installation view of David Zwirner’s booth at Art021 in Shanghai
Courtesy of David Zwirner

It is the fifth year that David Zwirner has participated in Shanghai art fairs and Xu says this has been the best year so far. “On the first day we met a lot of new collectors, many of which were low-key and high net worth. The response was impressively warm. By the morning of the second day we had sold more than $5m in total and a selection of the works have found homes in some of the most well-established museums and public institutions in China.” The gallery sold works by artists including Harold Ancart, Luc Tuymans, Michaël Borremans, Carol Bove, Thomas Ruff and Josh Smith.Exhibitions around the city include major shows like Liu Wei at Long Museum (until 17 January 2021) and Alex Da Corte’s Rubber Pencil Devil (until 17 January 2021) at Prada Rongzhai. The Yuz Museum offers a more meditative escape with Hu Chongxian’s photographs of ink master Zhang Daqian’s garden (until 11 April 2021). The Sifang Museum, located in Nanjing, continues its Shanghai pop-up tradition in the owner’s apartment with an installation by Shanghai-based artist Yu Ji (until 5 December).Among the festivities, Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art offered a sneak peak of their new Shanghai location with the Edge Ball: a party aimed at recruiting new supporters held on the rooftop of the partly-finished building. Situated north of the Suzhou Creek near the OCAT Shanghai museum, UCCA Edge is currently slated to open after Chinese New Year (12 February 2021).

Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art hosted a party at their soon-to-be completed Shanghai location in the hope of finding new backers
Courtesy of UCCA

The week is replete with happy reunions replete with confusion while trying to recognise masked faces. But dealers are smiling under their masks, waving happily towards their red sales dots before dashing off with another collector. “2020 undoubtedly is an extraordinary year,” says West Bund’s spokeswoman. “Across the world, every aspect of people’s lives has been affected and the work and personal spheres of virtually everyone has been reshaped. Gallerists, collectors and artists have all treasured the chance to participate in a physical art fair. The sales results also exceeded expectations.” In other words, Shanghai is officially open for (art) business.


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