Home Game Advantage ( de )

Informationsdienst KUNST, Nr. 383, 2007-08-09

ShContemporary art fair opens from September 6–9 at Shanghai Exhibition Center

“ShContemporary is neither a Chinese nor an Asian fair but rather an international one with a special focus on Asia”, says the press release. The two organizers of this first-time event, Lorenzo Rudolf (previously the director of Art Basel, the Frankfurt Book Fair and co-motor of Art Basel Miami Beach) and his partner Pierre Huber (Geneva gallery owner and art collector), are supported on the one hand by BolognaFiere spa, a company that has world-wide experience in organizing fairs, and on the other by the hosting city itself, in the person of Chinese artist Zhou Tiehai.

Pierre Huber has been exploring China regularly for more than ten years now. “My aim is to bring collectors from the West to Shanghai so they can discover contemporary Asian art, and also to make collectors over there familiar with Western art.” The project is the logical reaction to market demand, Lorenzo Rudolf explains. About 120 galleries will show their exhibits, roughly one half coming from the Asian-Pacific area and the other from Europe and North America. While the section “Best of Discoveries” presents several generations of artists from India, Pakistan, Korea and China, “Best of Artists” puts a number of prominent Asian positions into context with those from the West. As Pierre Huber points out, an important selection criterion was not only the monetary aspect but also the visionary element, with regard to the historical, ethical and also esthetical expressiveness of the individual works.

When asking around among several galleries from the German-speaking countries that intend to set off for Shanghai, there is generally an attitude of positive expectation. What’s equally general, however, is the consensus in criticizing the extraordinary degree of bureaucratic hassle involved in registering the fair’s participants. All specs and photos regarding the artwork to be put on show had to be submitted by end of July. Shanghai is known for having much tighter censorship than the capital Beijing. The problem is that many pieces were not even finished by that time, says gallery owner Evelyne Avanthay of Avanthay Contemporary in Zurich. Her house specializes in contemporary art, in particular from the Far and Middle East. ShContemporary is therefore the ideal interface for her to make new contacts. “What I am most curious to know about is the new collectors from Asia. For if there is one fair they’d be expected to come to, it would the ShContemporary, right? It’s something like a home game for them”, says Frankfurt gallery owner Lothar Albrecht who has been focusing on Chinese artists every since 2000. While Albrecht presents newcomer Liu Ding (born 1976) at the center of his fair exhibits, Galerie Arndt & Partner (Berlin/Zurich) decided to feature Mathilde ter Heijne and her recent project Mosuo Fireplace Goddess, which was made in China. In it, ter Heijne highlights one of the last systems of matriarchy which is still halfway intact: located in the mountainous regions of China’s Yunnan province, this form of living nonetheless is being inexorably obliterated by order of the Chinese administration. In Mosuo Fireplace Goddess, feminist solidarity is put into art practice as an East/West dialogue.

With Shanghai-born Zhou Tiehai (*1966), the Huber/Rudolf organization team from the West took an artist on board whose work is directly concerned with the mechanisms of the art market. This showed, for instance, in the Zhou Tiehai retrospective that was presented at the Shanghai Art Museum in 2006. The obvious break that shows in his artwork was clearly to be seen in the exhibition: while the collage pieces he made up to 1996 are characterized by palimpsest-like overlapping layers of newspaper clippings, drawings, painted representational sequences and mixed scripts, it was in that year that the “desert ship” of the US cigarette brand CAMEL, which was soon to establish itself as the artist’s signature, made its first appearance. One painting made in 1999 bears the most characteristic title Hurry Up, Art History Is Not Waiting for You. Filling the canvas from top to bottom, the camel—with human figure, wearing a black suit, white shirt, and dark sunglasses—puts forth its hand towards the viewer invitingly. The point is well taken: while before the Chinese artists from Zhou Tiehai’s generation had been concerned with art for art’s sake, it was the art market that took the lead by the mid-1990’s.

After a creative pause, Zhou Tiehai has never again wielded a paintbrush or pencil. His more recent works all evolved in the computer to be then produced in airbrush by assistants (identified as such by the artist). In the West, Zhou Tiehai is almost exclusively known for his Camel series, which is a drastic misconception of the intellectual acuity of his entire oeuvre. Apart from his complex earlier works, there are the newer ones made since 2004 which pick up subjects from traditional Chinese painting but also from commonplace or motion-picture esthetics. The final artwork portrayed in the 2006 retrospective’s catalogue, for instance, is a 160 x 200 cm pink lily, followed by a photo showing Zhou Tiehai stepping into broad daylight out of the darkness of a hallway. In Chinese, the two ideograms bai (“one hundred”) and he (“together”) make up a “lily”, which also symbolizes the wish for a happy future.

That Zhou Tiehai now surfaces as co-organizer of an art fair could be—even from his own perspective—a sign of normalization on the Asian/Western art scene. It is no longer the Western market that determines contemporary Asian art, but contemporary Asian art becomes a co-determining factor in the art market. Which brings us full circle to the curators’ concept for ShContemporary. This promises to be exciting!

Translation: Werner Richter

First published: Informationsdienst KUNST