China Docks in Chelsea

Pang Yongjie, Untitled No.XIV, 2011, oil on canvas, 100x80 cm


Asian Art Piers, a new gallery dedicated to contemporary Asian work—predominantly from China—opens in Chelsea today with a two-person show by Pang Yongjie and Xia Guo (aka Xia Jinguo), Chinese oil painters currently little known in the West.

Pang (b. 1968) offers chubby, bow-mouthed figures stylized to a degree that the artist terms “abstract,” in deliberate contrast to the more representational modes of Cynical Realism and Political Pop that made a global impact nearly two decades ago.

Xia (b. 1972)—who grew up in the troubled, ethnically diverse autonomous region of Xinjiang—presents four large images of politically sensitive incidents (for instance, a lethal theater fire in which schoolchildren and teachers were allegedly ordered to remain seated, awaiting the safe departure of Party officials). The pictures, sourced from the Internet and rendered in thousands of drops of oil on canvas, evoke the “degrading” effects of repeated video transmissions.

To launch a Chinese art gallery in Chelsea might seem a bold move right now. Western buyers grew rather cautious about investment in new Asian work following the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, and some New York venues (China Square, 798 Avant-Garde, Arario) closed their doors. But today the art market is soaring in Asia, and the Hong Kong art fair, recently made part of the international Art Basel consortium, promises to become a major global destination. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, galleries such as Chambers Fine Arts, China 2000, Eli Klein and Ethan Cohen continue their business.

Louise Chen, the Chinese-born director of Asian Art Piers, expresses great confidence. “The market reconfigurations and corrections,” she says, “enabled us to learn from the successes and blunders alike.” The New York venture, undertaken with several American partners, is an extension of her family’s long-established dealership in Chinese antiquities and modern art. The Asian Art Piers roster is divided between lesser-known “gallery artists” (He Sen, Zheng Hongxiang) and big names with “works available” (Wang Guangyi, Zhou Chunya). Chen, who holds an MA in art history from Georgetown University, previously worked for Stux Gallery, Artforum magazine and the Artinfo website.

The opening show is on view at Asian Art Piers, 537 West 25th Street, New York, Feb. 16–Mar. 17.