All Quiet at ShContemporary


As the new season awaited its beginning on the Far Eastern side, the third edition of ShContemporary, which ran September 10–13, had certain expectations to live up to. This Spring, Art HK 09 (Hong Kong International Art Fair), benefitting from the city’s strategic location and tax-free status (as opposed to 35% on the mainland) the fair played munificent host to local and international galleries (Lisson, White Cube, Gagosian), prominent collectors, and critics (Vasif Kortun, Tobias Berger, Johnson Chang)—not to mention the obligatory satellite events, which spotlighted everything from Vietnamese contemporary art to Louis Vuitton, which at the Hong Kong Museum of Art imported works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andreas Gursky, and Pierre Huyghe.  

MadeIn, “It has to be blind, unscrupulous…then forgotten.” Courtesy the artist

On the mainland, newly appointed director Colin Chinnery (former Beijing UCCA chief curator) faced the challenge of rescuing ShContemporary’s reptuation from the disheartening performance of the previous year; reigniting confidence in unsympathetic galleries from China, and abroad (not to mention reassuring the spirit of the Shanghainese). The fair initiated an year-long Collector’s Development Program in partnership with Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and (an online art market resource) to encourage new and local collectors, which according to the latest official dispatches registered in more than 500, many of whom coming from Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia as reported by interviewed dealers.Could yet another fair bring a much needed air of internationalism—if not some capital?

The jury is still out, and neither side really made a lasting impression. This year fifty-something galleries participated—approximately a third of the number that did so in previous editions. And only a few of the usual suspects were among the tired ranks, like Beijing Long March Space and Galleria Continua and locals ShanghArt and James Cohan. The fair was mounted in the grand nave of the 1955 Sino-Soviet Friendship Hall, the main body of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. Under its darkened arched ceilings stood orderly booths, lined up mostly to include photography and video by non-Asian artists (Rosler, Sala, Kosuth, Abramovic). Larger-scale installation by Shinji Ohmaki, Teppei Kaneuji, and local favorites Zhang Hui, Shi Qing and MadeIn—the overtly ubiquitous alter ego of artist Xu Zhen, towered at the center.

So much of the fair’s impact was left to the critical and cultural apparatus that would otherwise supplement the financial goings-on. Mami Kataoka, Anton Vidokle and Wang Jianwei were recruited to curate Discoveries, the section of the fair that originally featured new and larger-than-booth works by Asian artists and their representative galleries. The team restructured the program to figure as a two-part platform, consisting of a forum assembled by Vidokle and an exhibition of 24 international artists picked by Kataoka and Wang. This helped enlisting major international galleries like Christian Nagel (Martha Rosler), Marian Goodman (Anri Sala), Sean Kelly (Joseph Kosuth/Marina Abramovic) and PKM (Sanggil Kim/Young-Whan Bae), otherwise non included in the standard gallery-showcase—and some of whose representatives were nowhere to be found.

Vidokle’s thematic framework, “What is Contemporary Art?” asked that the curators consider the “new” and “now, and art that refuses to be historicized (an apt question when the structure is there but the art is not). The forum saw e-flux creator Anton Vidokle, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jorg Heiser, Jan Verwoert, Boris Groys and Martha Rosler convene in intypical, elusive form. Not much of the promised dialogue occurred in the conference room, as speakers were reading their texts to facilitate translation. Hence they colelctively decided that the classification “contemporary” was a “useless waste of time” or “prolonged time of delay”—appropriate, given the amount of time it took to communicate the translations, without narration.