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Thursday, May 04, 2017, 13:03
Struggling to please
By Lin Qi
Thursday, May 04, 2017, 13:03 By Lin Qi

In the wake of competition from Hong Kong and Shanghai, the 12-year-old Art Beijing fair seeks its own niche with affordable fine art, Lin Qi reports.

The annual Art Beijing, which is running at the National Agriculture Exhibition Center, has developed into a local, affordable fair with more space devoted to little-known, homegrown galleries, an increased presence of design art and more works by young artists. (Photos by Li Shanxian / For China Daily and Provided to China Daily)

Art Beijing, the capital city's long-standing art fair, opened its preview day on Saturday, the hottest April day Beijing has experienced in 66 years. The annual fair that's open at the National Agriculture Exhibition Center until Tuesday attracted fewer VIPs - collectors, dealers and artists eager to have the first glance - for the preview than usual.

The absence of several prominent international galleries' branches in Beijing and a lack of blue-chip works caused a lower attendance of regular visitors.

In its 12th year, Art Beijing has developed into a local, affordable fair. In past years, there were a number of international galleries and pricey works by top-notch artists. This year, there is more space devoted to little-known, homegrown galleries, an increased presence of design art and more works by young artists.

Art Beijing has faced intensified competition since 2013, when the prestigious art-fair brand Art Basel inaugurated its show in Hong Kong, reinforcing the city's status as Asia's art-market capital.

The annual Art Beijing, which is running at the National Agriculture Exhibition Center, has developed into a local, affordable fair with more space devoted to little-known, homegrown galleries, an increased presence of design art and more works by young artists. (Photos by Li Shanxian / For China Daily and Provided to China Daily)

Shanghai was catching up quickly with the launch of Art 021 Contemporary Art Fair in the same year and West Bund Art & Design fair in 2014. Both boast a prominent international presence in terms of galleries and artists. Strong sales were achieved: Transactions exceeding 1 million yuan ($145,100) were not uncommon.

Exhibitors adopt a different strategy at Art Beijing. They offer a lot of moderately priced works to attract middle-class buyers.

Dong Mengyang, director of Art Beijing, says the most popular works are generally between 100,000 yuan and 200,000 yuan.

Xia Jifeng, director of Hive Center for Contemporary Art and a regular participant, agrees. Xia, who also chairs Beijing Gallery Association, says works within the price range normally sell quickly at his booth. He says he doesn't bring works that are priced in millions of yuan because "it would be difficult to find buyers" at the fair.

The Hive Center has operated a space in Beijing's 798 art district since 2008 and just opened a space in Shenzhen in March. At Art Beijing, it's showing some 20 figurative and abstract works, mostly by artists in their 20s and 30s. They are priced at no more than 700,000 yuan.

He says five works, including a painting by 41-year-old Tu Hongtao priced at 600,000 yuan, sold shortly after the preview began at 2 pm, and buyers include both familiar and new faces.

The annual Art Beijing, which is running at the National Agriculture Exhibition Center, has developed into a local, affordable fair with more space devoted to little-known, homegrown galleries, an increased presence of design art and more works by young artists. (Photos by Li Shanxian / For China Daily and Provided to China Daily)

He adds that collectors today pay more attention to artists' painting techniques, and they make quick decisions on buying.

Giving more exposure to young artists, he says, means more works are offered at affordable prices. That also will attract young collectors, who may thereafter establish a long-term relationship with the artists and the gallery and later mature to become serious collectors.

Xia says the fair has cultivated an increasing number of local "art consumers" who purchase artworks for home decoration. He adds that they spend on original works with investment potential, instead of cheap reproductions from wholesale bases like Shenzhen's Dafen Village.

"People want to learn how to appreciate a quality piece of art," he says.

"Meanwhile, the population of 'professional' collectors (who travel extensively at home and abroad to buy art) is growing, too, and is getting younger."

Art Beijing launched a "Design Beijing" section in 2015 to add appeal to ordinary audiences. French luxury brand Lalique has brought works of its Lalique Art division to the fair for the third consecutive year. It doesn't exhibit in an area dedicated to design art but rather at the fair's main hall for contemporary- and classic-art galleries.

The annual Art Beijing, which is running at the National Agriculture Exhibition Center, has developed into a local, affordable fair with more space devoted to little-known, homegrown galleries, an increased presence of design art and more works by young artists. (Photos by Li Shanxian / For China Daily and Provided to China Daily)

It shows vases and ornaments, including an artist collaboration collection designed by the late Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid.

Roger Von Der Weid, Lalique's managing director, says it is seeking collaboration with various Chinese and Japanese artists. "Our goal is to present some Chinese artworks, maybe next year or the year after, to develop our art business around the world, particularly in China."

Art Beijing's evolution has drawn criticism from regular visitors, who believe that a good fair not only sells as many works as possible but also provides some quality works that compete fiercely for the attention of discerning collectors.

Wang Ji, a Beijing collector, has visited Art Beijing for years. He says a lot of works on show are "too decorative" and lack the depth that will grab him for a second look. He says the best works to be seen are by master artists at the booths of Poly and Council auction houses that will be auctioned at upcoming sales.

Huang Xi, who visited Art Basel Hong Kong in March, says it sets a good example of how an high-end art fair has benefited not only rich collectors but also the residents. She says Art Basel has helped to create an atmosphere of appreciating art not only inside the venue but also outside, in the grassroots communities of Hong Kong.

"People buy tickets and bring their children. They want to see good works by good artists of the world, presented by leading international galleries, even though they may not be able to understand the works or afford them.

"The expansion of Art Basel to Hong Kong provides a good chance for mainland art fairs to learn to be more professional. It is not to simply cater to people's tastes. More importantly, it is to show them from the beginning what is the best."

Contact the writer at linqi@chinadaily.com.cn


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