SH Contemporary Is Dead on Arrival

The Shanghai fair greeted VIPs while most artworks were still stuck in customs.

Jiang Zhi, 0.7% Salt (2009) (video).
Photo: Courtesy of Caissa Besseiche.
Shanghai Exhibition Center

Shanghai Exhibition Center.

Earlier this week it was unclear whether the 2014 BolognaFiere SH Contemporary art fair would take place. After last night’s funereal VIP opening, it seems it really shouldn’t have.

Opening at 4 p.m. on the inauspicious date of September 11 (the fair runs through the 14th), ladders, buckets, and vacuum cleaners in the main lobby gave only a hint of how poorly the fair was prepared. Large sections of the exhibition space—the grand Shanghai Exhibition Center, where Photo Shanghai was held so successfully a week earlier (see “Chic and Elegant Photo Shanghai“)—were devoid of work.

At previous SH Contemporary editions, individual works had been removed or covered up at the command of Communist Party censors, but this was something else entirely.

Whitestone Gallery, from Tokyo, was one of many international galleries with empty walls. While it had managed to bring in a small Yoshimoto Nara piece, which was propped sadly on a chair, and a Yayoi Kusama, slumming it on a table, larger works by those artists and Takashi Murakami were still stuck at the airport. The fair had not received permissions for international galleries to bring works into the city in time for the opening.

Whitestone representative Ms. Saito said, “We are very sad about this.”

Gallery SoSo, from Heyri, Korea, had placed photographs of works by Hung Gwan Kim, Yun Soo Kim, and Eull Kim on the walls of their booth while they waited for the actual art to arrive. The flattening of Eull’s wonderful 3-D dioramas was an especially sad sight. SoSo’s director Keum Hye Won said, “The organizers didn’t tell us the problem. We heard it from the transportation company.”

“We’re not upset but we don’t know what’s going on,” Keum said.

Galleries had heard the works would arrive by 6 p.m., but it was not until 9 p.m., when the last VIP guests were leaving, that crates began to arrive.

“There was some issue with customs, which happens very, very often in China,” fair director Guido Mologni said. “Of course, [the galleries] are not happy. I talked with all of them—as art director you need to talk with them and explain the situation. They understood that we were trying our best, everybody was pushing for the customs clearance.”

Without a Commercial License

Adding to their misery, galleries are not permitted to sell their works at the fair. A spokesperson for BolognaFiere told artnet News they could not acquire the commercial license they had received in previous years and instead, with muscle from the Italian Embassy, they pursued a license to show the works “directly from the Ministry of Culture.” That license doesn’t allow for sales, but BolognaFiere says it was their best option for having a fair.

Vivi Xia, the director of Matthew Liu Fine Arts, said, “Basically the organization here is shitty. They haven’t told us anything, and there’s been no promotion.”

Media and visitors were in the dark in the lead-up to the fair, with collectors calling galleries on opening night to find out if the fair was even on.

Of the work that was presented at the show, the quality was hit-and-miss. Nevertheless, many local galleries presented impressive work, including Wang Xieda’s paper and steel sculptures at James Cohan Gallery, paintings by Wu Yiming at ShanghART Gallery, ink on concrete paintings by Wang Dawei at FQ Projects, a Geng Yini solo show at BANK, and Wang Ningde’s photo filter abstracts at M97.

As well as having a hollowed out galleries section, SH Contemporary’s special projects program was radically reworked after curator Biljana Ciric quit the fair. Asked why Ciric left, fair director Mologni said, “That’s confidential.”

Regarding Ciric’s involvement, BANK director Mathieu Borysevicz said, “I joined the fair because of her. She’s a reliable curator and I thought she’d choose the right galleries, the right artists.”

SH Contemporary’s Future

Many galleries participating in this year’s SH Contemporary are pessimistic about its future, including Borysevicz. “I think this is the last edition,” he said. “Certainly we’re not going to join again. There are too many fairs here now.”

Steven Harris, director of M97, said, “At least this puts a bullet in the fair.”

Mologni said it was too soon to say whether the fair would continue next year. “It’s just the first day,” he said. Regarding his own involvement in future editions, he said, “I think we will talk about this later. First we’ll finish the art fair, then we’ll see.”

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