In shadow of Basel fair, Beijing show sprouts

Updated: 2012-09-14 08:51

By Liu Lu (China Daily)

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Exhibition Becomes a force to reckon with in global art circuit and attracts more chinese galleries

As China's art market continues to flourish, the gallery industry has also developed rapidly, particularly in Beijing, where galleries of many different sizes are popping up all over the place.

According to China Culture Daily, there were 1,512 galleries in major Chinese cities at the end of last year, of which Beijing accounted for 40 percent.

Dong Mengyang, executive director and founder of Art Beijing, one of China's best known art events, is set to ride on this developing trend to expand his gallery's influence in the international art market.

"Many important international art fairs are named after places, such as Art Basel and Art Miami," Dong says. "Beijing is China's cultural center; a symbol of the country's culture, and it is an international city, which is why the fair is called Art Beijing.

"Art Beijing is striving to become the best platform for contemporary Asian art, bringing to Beijing the international community of art collectors, dealers and galleries."

In fact, China is fast becoming the world's largest market for contemporary art, he says. "Along with the development of the Chinese economy, more and more Chinese are turning their attention to art, and the market is prospering."

Dong founded Art Beijing in 2006, which has become an annual event and one of Asia's biggest art fairs in terms of exhibition space, scale, number of visitors and trading volume.

Last year the event generated sales of more than 200 million yuan ($31.5 million, 25 million euros), compared with the 10 million yuan in 2006, and the figure is expected to keep climbing.

Although those figures are dwarfed by those of Art Basel, the world's largest contemporary art expo, held in the Swiss city every June, Dong says he believes he and his team will be able to gradually improve the visibility and influence of Art Beijing.

"It has taken Art Basel more than 40 years to achieve its popularity and influence, and compared with it, Art Beijing is very young. We can learn a lot from other international art exhibitions."

Compared with well developed markets in Western countries, he sees China's gallery industry as mere fledgling. "To be honest ... the standard of galleries and the ideas of our artists, in terms of modernity, are still lagging, even if the works of some Chinese artists fetch very high prices."

To make Art Beijing a world-class expo, Dong says he has adopted Western management practices. Unlike many other art expos in the Chinese mainland, Art Beijing displays works submitted by galleries rather than artists.

"This is common practice for international art expos. A gallery's role is to discover good artists and market them to audiences and collectors. Artists need to concentrate on their creations and rely on galleries to manage their careers and sell their works. That's why when galleries take part in Art Beijing it is by invitation only."

The gallery is a vital link in the industry chain of art, functioning as a bridge between art producers and consumers, and "a cradle for discovering and cultivating outstanding artists", he says.

"So introducing Western management practices will enhance the professionalism of local galleries and give greater diversity to the art presented at Art Beijing."

Art Beijing's success suggests that that approach is paying off, and Dong says his biggest wish now is to promote outstanding Chinese art works in the international market.

"You seldom see Chinese art galleries at Art Basel despite the increasing number of galleries in China in terms of their professionalism and the quality of what they sell.

"As China grows economically, Beijing is receiving greater attention worldwide, and I want Art Beijing to serve as a stage for the best Chinese art galleries to be seen by the world."

In addition to taking a lead from the Western business model, Dong believes localization is crucial.

"In the beginning we tried to be very Western by copying what I had seen in Europe, but now we're taking the opposite tack. I want to be more localized, to take account of public demand to showcase art that caters to Chinese tastes."

At this year's exhibition, Art Beijing is building on its "locally based and Asia-oriented" concept to work more closely with art galleries in China, as well as with galleries throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including the US and Europe.

With Art Beijing's popularity, the number of artistic institutions wishing to be invited grows year by year, and this year the executive committee received about 300, two-thirds of those being successful after a rigorous selection process.

(China Daily 09/14/2012 page12)