how to kill an art fair in 10 easy steps

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It’s been a busy month for art fairs in Shanghai! First there was Photo Shanghai, then SH Contemporary and Art in the City, and now West Bund Art & Design. Photo Shanghai and Art in the City were both successes. West Bund Art & Design is bound to be a success. SH Contemporary? Well … that was a nightmare I would much rather forget … if only I could.

So, because I’m still incredibly annoyed by how the whole thing went down, here’s a guide how to kill an art fair in 10 easy steps, as learned from SH Contemporary. After the debacle that SH Contemporary was, I’m pretty sure it’s dead. Actually, I’m pretty sure it died before the fair started but the organizers decided to prop it up, slap some make-up on it, and continue on as if nothing was wrong despite the obvious smell of decay so they could avoid refunding everyone. Does that sound morbid? Well, it was a pretty depressing affair.


Here goes (in no particular order):

1. Avoid media like the plague. Communication? Social media? Press mentions? Not necessary. Why on earth would you want to publicize an art fair? If you are approached by media or industry people who want to promote your event and bring in high-level clientele, feel free to ignore them.

2. Give your exhibitors exercise in extreme runaround and futility. After you collect their tens of thousands of RMB, feel free to waste their time. Make them fill out lots of information (VIP lists, exhibited works, catalogue information), harp on them for not filling things out properly, then promptly ignore it all.

3. Stall. See how much mileage you can get out of the phrase “in a few days” or “let me check on that and get back to you.” Over a month without offering any response? Congratulations, you’re winning!

4. Allow rumors to run rampant. A few weeks before opening, have a curator quit. A few days before the opening, have people saying that the fair might be canceled. Instruct staff to stonewall exhibitors with a form message and have organizers pretend like nothing’s wrong. That way the art world can bring out its catty claws and turn into a giant gossiping machine and spread even more rumors about the people in charge. That’s sure to burn all your reputations.

5. Respond to complaints with “If you don’t like it, quit.” Customer service is totes overrated.

6. Sell admission tickets for 120 RMB, over twice the price of tickets for the better organized and publicized fair that happened at the same location the week before – that’ll ensure low attendance!

7. Don’t update your website. Keep up information from two years ago and include no information on the current exhibitors. And during the fair (and even after), keep the giant “Apply Now” button on the main page. That’s sure to confuse everyone!

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8. Turn in the licensing paperwork to the government way beyond the deadline. That way, behind-the-scenes foreign consular intervention will be required, entangling even more people into the headache. Oh, and this way, once the fair is finally confirmed, there won’t be enough time for works imported from abroad to get cleared by customs (3 days required) and you can have lots of empty walls for the VIP opening and have some booths installing during the first day of the fair! Visitors to an art fair love being bombarded with sounds of drilling and hammering, right?

9. Allow an inexperienced Italian with insignificant connections in China to run a fair … in China. Fill support staff positions with well-meaning but woefully inexperienced Chinese who have no idea how an art fair works. And have an English-only catalogue … in China. Basically, ignore the fact that this is supposed to be a substantial art fair in a major city and instead treat it like an afterthought that is beneath you.

10. Don’t allow exhibitors to sell any works at the art fair. At the fair, right before the opening, tell all the gallerists who paid tens of thousands of RMB that even though they signed up to participate in an art fair, they’re actually only participating in an exhibition rather than a commercial event. That’s sure to piss off all those gallerists to the point where they’ll form an extremely active WeChat group to very passionately discuss legal action against you!


Heads got chopped at the conclusion of the fair, but it seems like the people whose heads should’ve been chopped managed to escape the guillotine, while those who actually tried to help got scapegoated. There was some great artwork on display, but only because there were some good galleries attending. The organization of the fair was abysmal so attendance and sales were much lower than expected. The booth fee and transportation costs added up to a sizable chunk of change (and I can’t even imagine how much the international galleries ended up shilling out), but in all honesty, it’s not just about the money. Each gallery put in so much effort, that to have the organizers treat us so disrespectfully and completely drop the ball was extremely gutting. So yeah, I’m still steaming.

suspended: frames that don’t frame

Ay, so much art stuff going on in Shanghai these days! Pearl Lam has a new exhibition up and it’s pretty neat. It’s a solo show by Turkish artist Mehmet Ali Uysal and his Suspended Series of Dali-esque ‘melted’ frames hung on the wall, on hooks, or on hangers is simply amazing.

Ornate gilded frames were once de rigueur for highbrow art, but you will very rarely see such an ostentatious frame on a contemporary piece. Uysal’s polyester works twist and warp these frames’ forms, robbing them of their rigidity. With no structure and no art to border, they hang there forlornly, taking on ‘object’ status and themselves becoming the works they were meant to enhance. Amazing.

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Mehmet Ali Uysal, Suspended Series, 2014

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Mehmet Ali Uysal, Suspended Series/Meat, 2014

Mehmet Ali Uysal: The Past
September 1 – November 15, 2014

Pearl Lam Galleries
pearllam.com
G/F, 181 Middle Jiangxi Road
Huangpu District, Shanghai
Monday to Sunday, 10:30 AM – 7 PM

the hypnotic power of strung-up rice

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Sayaka Ishizuka, Rice Deity, 2014

There’s some cool stuff from the Japanese artist Sayaka Ishizuka over at Pearl Lam Galleries in Shanghai. Unfortunately the exhibition is ending soon (August 15) … so I better post pictures now!

Her works use everyday things like grains of rice and chopsticks to create this supremely tranquil, almost spiritual feeling. The installation piece that is undoubtedly the focus of the exhibition, Rice Deity, is definitely worth noting, with strands of rice hanging from the ceiling. As you walk amidst these rice strings in the darkened space … it’s pretty darned hypnotic.

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Sayaka Ishizuka: Life Threads
May 12 – August 15, 2014

Pearl Lam Galleries
pearllam.com
G/F, 181 Middle Jiangxi Road
Huangpu District, Shanghai
Monday to Sunday, 10:30 AM – 7 PM

osage: over the ocean

A few weeks back I went to the opening of My Father Is over the Ocean (solo show by Hong Kong artist Au Hoi Lam), which also represented the re-opening (in a new location) of Osage Gallery. The exhibition is almost entirely about the relationship between the artist and her father and her grief at his passing, with the title derived from the folk song “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” (which according to my Chinese colleague is not widely known in China). Overall I liked the exhibition and thought it was well done, partly because I’m a sucker for this kind of softer, more nuanced art, but it lacked a kind of power I was hoping for, so I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see.

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Sixty Questions for My Father (or for Myself), 2012-2013

I had never been to the original Osage Gallery, which closed before I arrived in Shanghai, but I gotta say … the current location is awkward, at the edge of an apartment complex in a fairly isolated area, and the interior layout is troublesome. The gallery is split between the building’s ground floor and basement, and it’s pretty obvious the basement was converted from mechanical services because the small adjoining rooms and narrow entrances are super aggravating. The original folk song is about someone who has gone – Bonnie in the song and the artist’s father in the show – and the repeated lyrics create this feeling of nostalgia and interiority with a twinge of melancholy. The piece Sixty Questions for My Father played nicely into this. Au Hoi Lam had disassembled the bunk bed her father used to sleep on and wrote questions on each piece. The repetition of these various wooden boards against the half-painted blue walls reflected that nautical, drifting theme quite nicely.

There is definitely an interesting thought process to Au Hoi Lam’s work, but her over-reliance on personal stories felt a bit limiting at times. And I found her paintings to be quite subpar. Without the blue walls, all the pieces would’ve been blah. I’m not sure if the blue paint was the artist’s decision or the curator’s, but the bright hue was definitely necessary to tie the works together, keep the mood buoyant, and provide some color in the space. The exhibition found a greater measure of success in the larger multi-piece installation works, but will I visit the exhibition again? No, it’s not powerful enough to warrant a second trip. Will I visit the gallery again? Only if there’s something I’m absolutely dying to see, which is unlikely. Because the location really sucks.

Au Hoi Lam: My Father Is over the Ocean. Shanghai Postscript.
March 14 – April 14 May 30, 2014

Osage Shanghai
osagegallery.com
Room 101, Block 5, Wangzu City
251 Caoxi Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai
Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 AM – 6:30 PM
Sunday, 2:30 PM – 6:30 PM

bank … the gallery

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Geng Yini, Dreaming Luminous Pillow, 2013

A skip away from the Rockbund Art Museum is BANK, a gallery that was opened not too long ago by MABSOCIETY. The current show is Dystopia and Its Content(ment)s – 3 Solo Projects, and the space is divided between Marc Lafia’s Tumblrroom, Geng Yini’s Bad Form, and Ma Daha’s Everything which exists is a thought within the Mind of MA DAHA. Hm. I didn’t like any of it. It’s tricky making statements like that because although I found some of the work compelling and thought-provoking and I could appreciate it, I didn’t like it. I found most of it jarring, opaque, and awkward. I like things that I can read into, that I can look at for a long time and constantly discover new things – not necessarily visually, but conceptually and emotionally as well. Most of this stuff just seemed a bit thrown together.

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Geng Yini, Every Pain is Precious, 2013

I thought Geng Yini’s work was the most interesting and most well-developed, though I’m not a tremendous fan of her rough aesthetic. I found Marc Lafia’s work absolutely forgettable. And as for Ma Daha’s installation? Oh, now that was a doozy. A crazy I-have-no-words doozy.

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Ma Daha, Everything which exists is a thought within the Mind of MA DAHA, 2013

So yep. That’s BANK. But no, no, I can’t leave it at that. To me, Dystopia and Its Content(ment)s was a miss, but by no means am I suggesting you should skip it or write it off. Perhaps you’ll read something into it that I wasn’t able to grasp. After all, that is the allure of art – its openness. At a recent gallery opening one of the attendees was saying how he doesn’t ‘understand’ art. But I think that’s a common misconception. You’re not meant to ‘understand’ art, you’re supposed to enjoy it. I think it comes across as otherwise because the people who write about and work with art can get pretty crazy. My conclusion: Curators have incredible imaginations. We read things that aren’t there. We draw connections, we psychoanalyze our artists, and we shape exhibitions based on our interpretations, prejudices, and fancies. Just because we like art doesn’t mean we like all art – or ‘understand’ it.

Oh! And I almost forgot to mention the best thing about BANK – the space. The gallery space is nice, but the building it’s in is AMAZING. It’s a beautiful neoclassical heritage building, in a decided state of disrepair. The gallery is located on the second floor of the building (what they call the first floor due to using European conventions), but on the ground floor you can really see some of the neglect. It’s quite sad, but also kind of refreshing in comparison to the freshly-painted glitz and shoddy preservation jobs common to China. The building’s a bit forlorn, but in a way that makes it all the more breathtaking.

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BANK
1/F, 59 Xianggang Lu, Huangpu District, Shanghai
Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 AM – 6:30 PM

artist: anita dube

When I was in Mumbai I took in the “eye, etc.,” exhibit (which will run until March 09, 2013) by Anita Dube. She’s an Indian artist who was initially an art historian/critic before crossing that line. The exhibit is at the Lakeeren Gallery in Mumbai’s Colaba district, which is trying to become an artsy district like Chelsea. The exhibit was composed of a few installation pieces that were clusterings of eyes glued to the walls in weird shapes. Kind of creepy, kind of cool.

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It was surprising to turn around and find a cluster of eyes growing from a corner of the space. The Lakeeren Gallery is fairly small and tight, which put the exhibit at a disadvantage. The gallery is a long rectangular shape, but not perfectly so. You enter at the end of one long wall; on the adjacent short wall was the exhibition description and on the short far wall was my favorite piece. Called “River Disease (Version 2),” this piece basically looked like a claw made out of eyes.

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The worst part of the exhibit was the way it was fitted to the space. The eyes were cool, but the irregular space was … irregular. It’s an old building, so they did what they could, but it would have been nice to see some of the pieces that were on the long walls from afar instead of from oblique angles or up close. The lighting was quite annoying as well. It wasn’t very even, which could have been intentional, but it was distracting. And since the individual eyes were fairly low-relief little beads, it was all a bit two-dimensional. This flatness was only somewhat broken by the installations in corners … but a fold according to an existing fold is still surface, so it wasn’t as dynamic as a CLUSTER OF EYES could’ve been.

new york kind of adventure

Galleries in New York are basically free art museums. Sometimes they have super cool exhibitions. Sometimes these super cool exhibitions are really, really popular. I went down to the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea last weekend because I wanted to see the exhibition by Doug Wheeler, the one they dub the “Infinity Room”. It looked pretty nifty and last Saturday was its last day, so I left my apartment at 10 AM …

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And I had a New York kind of adventure. Well, a lot of waiting actually. I spent a total of three and a half hours waiting in the line outside. About halfway in that line, I popped into the David Zwirner Gallery (a different part of it) which had an exhibition by Adel Abdessemed called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” and uh … it was kind of weird. The above piece is called “Décour” and is from that exhibition. It was a series of four representations of Jesus on the cross made out of razor wire. Weird.

There was a nice camaraderie in the line outside and I passed some time chatting with a guy near me who was from Milwaukee. A different guy made a coffee run for those of us who requested stuff and a third guy offered people granola bars. It was actually kind of fun.

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Anyway, after those three and a half hours on the line outside, I had to wait another hour in an interior space before entering Doug Wheeler’s exhibition. It was spiffy. Wow. So cool. It’s one of those things that you really had to experience because it was all about perspective. The walls were a continuous curve and the way it was lit, there were few shadows and it was really hard to tell depth, so it felt like you were in this white void. And … the lights cycled every 32 minutes from bright ‘day’ to a darkish ‘night’. I think I lucked out because I was in there as it transitioned from the bright to dark and it was freaky cool. It really played with your sense of perception. SO COOL.

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Then, after all of that I stopped by the Chelsea Market for a really late lunch (it was almost 4 PM by that point) and then took the subway from 14th Street. And that’s where I got to see some of the statues from Tom Otterness’s “Life Underground,” which is a whole bunch of little bronze figures playing all over the station. They make me smile every time! It was an incredibly long, but incredibly awesome day. I definitely need to make it a priority to do more things like this! Oh, and happy March!