2016.05.06 Fri, by Translated by: Daniel Szehin Ho
Art Beijing 2016: Business as Usual, No Surprises Here

Agricultural Exhibition Center, Beijing. May 1–3, 2016

Art Beijing has undergone obvious changes in form ever since the arrival of Sam Lee (Li Mengxia) as Managing Director—who previously worked in the upper echelons of Modern Media. From the tenth iteration in 2015 onwards, the fair has introduced “Design Beijing” alongside the original three sectors: the Contemporary Pavilion, Classic Pavilion, and Public Art. This year, two new sectors—“Find” and “Asia Plus”—were added to the Contemporary Pavilion.

However, unlike “Discoveries” in Art Basel Hong Kong (where participating galleries can display works by one or two emerging artists) or “Focus” in Frieze New York (focusing on younger galleries and displaying works never before shown at Frieze), the focus of “Find”—purportedly bringing together the “best of Asian” galleries—was not clear. The sector was neither defined by the galleries’ age nor by booth format or the artists’ works; instead, the section’s only distinct characteristic was the color of the signs and the title “Find”. Included was Beijing Art Now (a gallery in existence for over ten years) as well as Space Local (less than two years). Another sector, “Asia Plus”, was made up of Eslite (Taiwan), Arario (Korea and Shanghai), Fine Art Photography Assocation (Japan), Tang Contemporary (Beijing and Hong Kong), and Mebo Space—right in the central zone of the Contemporary Pavilion. Among the bigger booths, “Asia Plus” had a more generous and comfortable visual effect than the others.


A view of the fair


A view of the fair

Overall, aside from classic works shown by Poly and Guardian Auction, Art Beijing did not contain any particularly eye-catching pieces, though some booth designs did have something to say. Star Gallery (Beijing)—which focuses on younger emerging artists—as usual had smaller paintings hung on the walls in a variety of ways, matched with plants, tables and chairs, and small displays, making the booth stand out from the commercial air of the fair not unlike a corner saved for private guests. Another relatively attention-grabbing booth was the pink “windows” at Parkview Green Art (Beijing). Along with the latest cutesy work by the Korean artist Seungkoo Lee—a pitbull sculpted as Superman—this booth was a favorite for photos. In the rest of the exhibition hall, which for the most part was filled with paintings, the Fine Art Photography Association (Japan)’s minimal black and white display and the photographs inside allowed viewers some temporary respite from a garish visual assault.

With around 160 participating galleries from different countries around the world, Art Beijing has a numerical advantage, but the quality is uneven at best. Exhibitors included Nine Gallery and Gallery Miroonamu from Korea, where the utter conservatism of the decorative genre paintings gave one the impression of being in some odd boutique. On the other hand, there were strong galleries like ShanghART, Eslite, and Continua, with their years and years of experience. The absence of quality galleries like White Space Beijing, Magician Space, Ink Studio, and Don Gallery, among others—present in Shanghai’s Art021 and West Bund Art and Design Fair and at Art Beijing in previous years—shows how Art Beijing has quite some way to go to meet its vision of being “locally based and Asia-oriented”.

Nevertheless, this seems not to have affected people’s earnestness in visiting Art Beijing. The VIP Preview on April 30 was packed. But in terms of sales, gallerists would say things like, “Well, there are still three days to go. You never can tell.” Alioth Art’s booth, for instance, was markedly quieter compared to the busy pace in 2014 when they first attended the fair, while stalwarts like ShanghART only sold one work on the preview day—and that to a known collector. Aside from the overall economic conditions, relatively poor sales cannot be helped by the rise of the art fairs in Shanghai and Hong Kong, or by collectors’ limited funds.

To relieve the pressure on sales, the vast majority of galleries brought relatively economical works to Art Beijing. Chambers Fine Art, which participated in the fairs in Shanghai and Hong Kong, for instance, did not present artists more popular on the international art market like Ai Weiwei or Zhao Zhao, but instead showed Taca Sui, Fu Xiaotong, Wang Fengge, Wu Jian’an and Shi Jing—more affordable and smaller works. Soka Art Center, after exhibiting Mao Xuhui at Art Basel Hong Kong earlier this year, stuck to a tried-and-tested formula. Aside from the more affordable pricing strategy, some galleries selected works based on local collectors’ tastes. HaKaren Art Gallery (Singapore) brought paintings by the Chinese artists Li Zi and Shen Shubin, while Mizuma Gallery (Japan/Singapore) presented a solo exhibition project by Liu Enzhao. Compared with Art Basel Hong Kong in March, art from Japan and Southeast Asia was relatively absent. Galleries that refuse to compromise such as Galleria Continua, with their long-time focus on foreign artists, had works priced in euros that made some flinch; results on the preview day were less than ideal. Still, no matter what, older galleries that have supported Art Beijing for years seem not to care about the actual sales, even though that meant losing on booth and transport fees. Perhaps, for local galleries, not continuing to participate would result in hurt feelings—as well as nosy questions from journalists.

It is clear that Art Beijing is no longer attempting an elite standard, but rather is leaning towards a more populist style—whether that means limited editions costing under 10 000 RMB or finer works over a million, and be it in the Contemporary Pavilion or the Classic Pavilion, or else with the “Art Park” or “Design Beijing”. While perhaps satisfying the demands of experienced collectors for a few quality works, it also offers a chance for entry-level collectors and ordinary viewers. With public sculptures in the shape of Transformers, rhinoceroses, and such like, it is like any other tourist attraction—a place of entertainment for the public over the May Day break.


Platform China


Star Gallery




Space Local

Argueyrolles Gallery

Argueyrolles Gallery

Nine Gallery

Nine Gallery



iSGO Gallery

iSGO Gallery