Chic and Elegant Photo Shanghai

Fair director says, "We're here for the long haul."

Photo Shanghai 2014 , Shanghai Exhibition Center.
Photo: Sam Gaskin.
Karen Knorr, Bakhti, Path of Sants, Shiva Temple, Hampi (2012)  Courtesy of Tasveer, Bangalore.

Karen Knorr, Bakhti, Path of Sants, Shiva Temple, Hampi (2012).
Courtesy of Tasveer, Bangalore.

Photo Shanghai, a new fair specializing in vintage and contemporary photography, took place in the Shanghai Exhibition Center from September 5–7. Some 50 galleries, just over half of them from within the Asia Pacific region, participated.

Fair director Alexander Montague-Sparey, an independent curator who was previously director of the photographs department at Christie’s London, told artnet News that now is the right time for a photography fair in Shanghai because “there wasn’t yet a great platform for fine art photography on this level. The big auction houses haven’t come here yet. People aren’t turning to the more obvious platforms like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Photo Shanghai was a massive gap in the market. It would’ve been too soon two years ago and it would’ve been too late next year.”

The fair was produced by the World Photography Organization (WPO) in partnership with a Chinese production company called Mega Expo. It was chaired by Sandy Angus, a co-founder of Art HK, the Hong Kong fair that was acquired by Art Basel and relaunched as Art Basel in Hong Kong. Angus’s leadership gave galleries confidence in the fair.

Magda Danysz, who has galleries in Shanghai and Paris, said, “I’m always pretty cautious about attending art fairs, and there are a lot in Shanghai this year. I picked this one because I know the people working on it are professional. There’s a good selection of galleries, and it looks pretty chic.”

Some clear trends in commercial Chinese photography emerged at Photo Shanghai, including: digital compositions—for example, Zhang Bojun and Zhang Bing’s spectacular satellite-view imagining of the forbidden city; romantic portraits of Chinese ethnic minorities shot in black-and-white film in the mountainous southwest by the likes of Luo Dan and Li Lang; and documentary landscape photographs of China by such Westerners as Nadav Kander and Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze.

Western galleries favored big name artists, including heavy hitters like Nobuyoshi Araki and Man Ray, and multiple galleries showed Marilyn Monroe portraits that offered easy recognition and the exoticism (in the eyes of some Chinese fairgoers) of a busty blonde.

Lise Li, director of Vanguard Gallery, Shanghai, noted that among Chinese collectors, “New collectors are not so focused on painting or photography in particular—they just choose what they like.”

One of the more unusual booths was BREESE LITTLE, London, which showed a collection of NASA photographs consigned from a private collector who usually sells at auction.

Ben Clarke, who represents Santa Monica’s Peter Fetterman Gallery, said, “I think we were invited to give the fair more prestige. They asked for a museum-style exhibition, and we’re showing 40 Cartier-Bresson prints. We’ve already sold two works by André Kertész and some Cartier-Bresson works.”

“People associate this venue [the exhibition center] with an art fair,” said Montague-Sparey. “Shanghai needed an art fair but photography makes sense. It’s glamorous plus approachable, but still super elegant and super chic.” He added, “We’re here for the long haul—we’re not a fair that’s going to disappear.”

 Yang Fudong, Yejiang, The Nightman Cometh (2011)Photo: Courtesy of ShanghART, Shanghai.

Yang Fudong, Yejiang, The Nightman Cometh (2011)
Photo: Courtesy of ShanghART, Shanghai.

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