At Taipei Dangdai, Instagram Bait Mingled With 20th Century Masterpieces, Catering to the Eclectic Tastes of Two Generations of Wealth

Considered Taiwanese buying habits and ongoing tensions with China hampering attendance meant sales were slower off the mark than at competing Asian fairs.

Installation view of Olaf Nicolai's interactive work at Taipei Dangdai 2023. Courtesy Taipei Dangdai.

Call it a tale of two markets. One batch of visitors at the VIP preview of Taipei Dangdai on May 11 looked like they might have arrived on skateboards, sporting shorts and t-shirts to better show off their tats. The older group of fairgoers including billionaire collector Maggie Tsai, CEO of the Fubon Art Foundation, and Powerchip Semiconductor chairman Frank Huang, more likely got dropped off by their chauffeurs.  

Both groups have something in common: deep pockets. Though Taiwanese collectors don’t like to flaunt their wealth like their counterparts in Hong Kong, Singapore or China, there is plenty of buying power. Taipei alone has more than 1,000 families with at least $30 million, according to UBS which sponsored the fair. And the wealth at the top is more widely spread, UBS Taiwan head Dennis Chen told Artnet News. “In Korea [the] ten top families control 70 percent of the wealth. In Taiwan, hundreds of families account for 50 to 60 percent.” The result is a deeper pool of potential collectors.

Taiwanese collectors have long “punched  above their weight” on the international art and auction circuit, said fair co-founder Magnus Renfrew. The country has a tradition of art appreciation and collectors like to engage more deeply with their purchases, rather than viewing them purely as investments like many buyers in Hong Kong, Singapore and China, said Leo Xu, senior director of David Zwirner in Hong Kong. While they still appreciate their parents’ collections of Chinese ink and 20th century modern Chinese masters, the new generation grew up on Japanese manga and video games, and are more attuned to street art and instagrammable works, he said. 

Zwirner’s offerings ranged from a $2 million Giorgio Morandi oil on canvas to a Yayoi Kusama Infinity net, priced at more than $4 million. Xu declined to provide details beyond saying that the gallery sold 14 works to Asian clients, both local and from abroad.

Taipei Dangdai 2023. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

Taipei Dangdai 2023. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

After a scaled down fair with just 60 galleries in 2022 when Covid restrictions kept many international galleries and visitors away, this year Taipei Dangdei hosted 90 galleries, 30 of which are showing for the first time, including Tehran’s Sarai gallery (now operating out of Mahshahir, Iran), Eric Firestone Gallery (New York, East Hampton), and Nino Mier Gallery, (Los Angeles, London, and New York). Fifteen galleries were local. Simmering tensions with China meant few mainland visitors, though a few managed to obtain visas citing a need for “medical treatment” in Taiwan.

Several artists dealt with the theme of detritus. Ben Brown Fine Arts from Hong Kong and London sold a Gavin Turk painted bronze garbage bag with an asking price of £100,000 (around $125,000). Tokyo-based Yamaki Fine Art featured ceramic depictions of discarded beer and coke cans, as well as bundles of newspapers by 91-year-old artist Kimiyo Mishima selling from $4,800 to $23,000.

Taipei-based Chini gallery featured bronze and steel sculptures of discarded Chinese chewing gum wrappers painted in Wrigley’s Doublemint Green by Chinese artist Jiao Xing Tao priced at $68,000 for the largest work that was about two meters in diameter. None sold, but they were a good way to draw visitors to the booth which sold several oil-on-canvas works priced at $40,000 to $150,000  by Nanjing -born geometric abstract artist Ho Kan who has lived in Italy for 60 years, and at 91, is still painting.

Kimiyo Mishima ceramics. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

Kimiyo Mishima ceramics. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

Taiwanese artist Luo Jr-shih offered a different take on solid waste, with two wall-hung pieces of cats made from kitty litter, cast bronze, fiberglass reinforced resin and acrylic. Each of the “Cat Litter Cat” series sold for $6,600 at Taipei’s Michael Ku Gallery.  

Digital works did not fare well. None of the galleries featuring digital works visited by Artnet News reported sales by the last day. The Hole, which has galleries in New York and Los Angeles, brought a cutting-edge custom AI model of a bust that continually morphed into iterations of itself by Matthew Stone that was unsold at $25,000. A unique video NFT by Montreal-based artist Vickie Vainionpaa consisting of a four minute and 12 seconds double loop that looked like a digital slinky, was also unsold. Considering that Beeple sold a digital work for $9 million less than two months ago in Art Basel Hong Kong, the market has gone south fast. “NFTs have cooled,” gallery founder Kathy Grayson stoically observed.  

Taipei Dangdai 2023 Installation. Courtesy Taipei Dangdai.

Taipei Dangdai 2023 Installation. Courtesy Taipei Dangdai.

Co-fair director Robin Peckham said the fair has yet to reach its potential, noting that mainland Chinese have trouble obtaining visas, and international guests stayed home over political tensions with China. “People are overly tuned into CNN. Once you get here you discount what you watched about Taiwan being on the brink of destruction.”

Just ask New York-based installation artist Petah Coyne who has visited the island several times. “Taiwan is my North Star,” she gushed to  an audience at the fair. “You should all be thankful to live here.” Coyne, who has worked with everything from steel from a shredded camper van to human hair, peacocks, and mango grove stumps, brought two new wax works made especially for the fair that serve as her love letters to Taiwan. 

The larger work, titled Spring Snow, is named after the novel by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima evoking a scene in the story of tragic love where two young lovers take a sleigh ride past snow covered flowers. The three-panel work took 14 years to complete. She first dipped silk peonies, late-bloom cherry blossoms and ranunculus in wax then shaped them with wire before being  affixed to a steel frame at which she threw molten wax until achieving the desired effect of snow that is at once beautiful and funerial. Priced at $250,000, it sold to a local collector by Nunu Fine Art, New York and Taipei.  

Petah Coyne with wax work. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

Petah Coyne with wax work. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

On a more playful note, an installation by German conceptual artist Olaf Nicolai proved to be  extremely popular. The interactive installation using UV light and afterglow paint entitled How to Fancy the Light of a Candle After It Is Blown Out, drew a long line of fairgoers waiting for the chance to stand in front of a green screen along one wall of a darkened room that produced ghostly images lasting a few seconds of whatever came within its proximity.  Priced at €140,000 (around $152,000), it sold to a local collector by Galerie Eigen + Art. The gallery, with spaces in Leipzig and Berlin also sold a painting by German artist Neo Rauch priced at €1.2 million (around $1.3 million).

Fubon’s Maggie Tsai snapped up works by three different artists from Sies + Hoke gallery from Dusseldorf, including a vibrantly colored abstract by Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero priced at $65,000. 

Whereas collectors at other fairs tend to pull the trigger on day one Taiwanese collectors take their time, often visiting booths a few times before buying, says Niamh Coghlan, sales director at London’s Richard Saltoun Gallery. By the close of the fair on May 14,  she had sold seven out of 12 works by 20th century Chinese artist Li Yuan-chia priced between $70,000 and $250,000 several of them on the last day.  “We sold to Taiwanese collectors across the board, that’s why we’re here,” she said, adding: “We’ll be back next year.”

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