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Long report on cige, Beijing 06

Tian Yuan (White Space Beijing) in front of a Wang Yin painting

The China International Gallery Exposition 2006 took place in the usual exhibition hall of the China World Trade Center in Beijing. In the run-up of this years edition the cige started controversial. Rumours were afloat that the manager left and the company running the fair was taken over. We decided to defy the odds of this rumour mill and to go to Beijing.
The first impression of the fair was good. We've seen an additional hall, a project space. It looked that the fair improved a lot. The unpleasant surprise was just that the new managing team of the fair was really strict at the reception so that lot's of people could not enter the fair and the opening party. To get to the bottom of the story we interviewed quite a lot people this time. No matter what you will read from other peoples opinion, we strongly believe that the cige is a fair worth visiting and that Beijing has a great future as another dynamic capital for the contemporary arts. Let us start with the interviews of the makers followed by the gallery statements.

Conversation between Mr Marek Claassen (Director of Artfacts.Net Ltd.) and Ms Wang Yihan (Executive Director of Beijing Art Exposition's Media Co., Ltd)

AfN: How did you come to the art world?

Ms. Wang: I am an artist and I received a master in old painting and art education.

AfN: Do you have a personal motto or live slogan?

Ms Wang: What ever you do, you should have a dream and should full fill the dream to be constructive.

AfN: This is the 3rd edition of cige. Is this the first fair you are organising?

Ms Wang: I was working as a supervisor in the 1st and 2nd edition. I did not do the daily organising. I have been also worked as an investor and provided contacts. This time I am in charge of all the organising work. This year I wanted to make the cige more successful so I interfered to take over the management.

AfN: This year the cige has grown. You have introduced a new hall called "project space". It is said that the sales are very good. Do you have figures of the number of visitors and sales compared to last year?

Ms Wang: This year there are more visitors. Specially for the VIP preview. We had 4 times as much.

AfN: How many galleries attended the cige 2006?

Ms Wang: 98

AfN: Are you going to run a even bigger cige next year?

Ms Wang: No, I am not seeking for the size. I am seeking high quality galleries.

AfN: Roughly one third of the galleries attending the cige are from China. Do you think that this contingent reflects the composition of leading Chinese galleries?

Ms Wang: Speaking for the participants, they are all very good galleries. One or two are maybe missing. But the remaining can reflect the situation of the contemporary Chinese art market.

AfN: Cige is the abbreviation of china international gallery exposition. But there is for example no gallery from the UK. Will you invite more international galleries next year?
Ms Wang: Yes, we will

AfN: The date two weeks before the golden week (1st of Mai) have been chosen very well to conduct the cige. This year cige is very successful concerning deals with Asian and Chinese collectors. But there have been difficulties for Austrian galleries because of the tight date between Vienna fair and cige? How are your plans for next year? Will you match your schedule with other international fairs and national holidays?

Ms Wang: For next year we will match with other events. We will not open in the first week of Mai. Compared to last year I think this time is a better choice.

AfN: As I am aware the cige is an uncurated fair (no selection committee). International art fairs are in competition and therefore tent to specialise in the selection of the galleries. Are you planning to do so as well?

Ms Wang: I admit that our organisation is not very perfect at present. I will have an art committee for competition for the next cige. At present it is most important think to select high qualities and to promote them in China. Gaining a bigger audience and feeding the Chinese collectors. Because it is just the 3rd year. There is no specialiation.

AfN: Do you think that the city of Beijing can handle more than one international art fair?

Ms Wang: In the beginning cige was not a professional fair. We've already established this fair after 3 years of hard work. Cige became the leading art fair in China. Former colleagues will open a new fair in autumn.
According to my opinion this only works out in Beijing if it is possible for the collectors two come to Beijing twice a year. And it is also possible that there is a cige in spring and in autumn in Shanghai. I see difficulties for the success of the new fair. I invited them to cige and would offer cooperation. But there is another problem. There is a collectors art show organised by the Ministry of Culture of China in autumn too.

AfN: Is the Chinese art market not big enough to bear this events?

Ms Wang: At present it is not suitable to have so many fairs. The Chinese collector is not so skilled.
AfN: Is there a way to cooperate in future to establish more harmony to enhance a positive situation for contemporary art in China?

Ms Wong: We have no idea, for the art fairs which will be established by former colleagues.

AfN: In Berlin for example there is also a very week market. The fairs cooperate, establish shuttles and match the dates. Can you give us a timeframe when a cooperative situation can be established in Beijing too?

Ms Wong: In China we have a saying: If you stay together for a long time you separate. But if you are separated for a long time you have chance to work together. If one day our ex-colleague need help we will cooperate.

AfN: Next year cige April at the same location?

Ms Wong: I just want to say to the international galleries that they should introduce the art they sell at home. We hope that they could understand our wish. The Chinese economy is growing very fast and there are many people interested in contemporary art. There is an aspect for a country to connect with another. The Chinese will understand.

Afn: Do you think that this engagement will financially work out for the galleries? They would take a big risk. It is said that you can only sell Chinese Art to Chinese collectors.

Ms Wong: The collectors are generally very open minded. China is a big country. They need a chance. For each I collector I want to choose the best galleries from foreign countries because they can bring the best art works to China.
At present the situation in China has changed a lot before the Goverment of China did very great pressure. At present they do not do this anymore.

AfN: Thank you for the time for this interview Ms Wong

Ms Wong: Thank you, too

(above old photo of Mr. Dong from the opening of cige 2004. The Interview is from April 14th 2006 in the Swiss Hotel Beijing between: Mr. Mengyang Dong (CEO, Beijing Artfair Culture Co., Ltd), Mr. Henry Sui (CEO, Beijing Artfair Culture Co., Ltd) and Marek Claassen (Director, Artfacts.Net Ltd)

AfN: How did you come to the art world?

Mr. Dong: I started to organize art fairs in 1993 and I have a major in arts. I studied art and graduated in history at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

AfN: The first art fair in 1993 this is a long time ago? Here in Beijing?

Mr. Dong: At that time there have been no gallery in China. At that time the art fair was something like an art seller.

AfN: Like a bazaar. Art selling?

Mr. Dong: The participants are artists.

AfN: A platform to promote contemporary art and sell it?

Mr. Dong: Yes

AfN: How many fairs did you do?

Mr. Dong: 10 fairs.

AfN: Do you have a personal motto or live slogan?

Mr. Dong: I can not remember any slogan.[laughing] If you really want me to give you a slogan: I hope my fair is the best place for collecting in the world and to buy the best artworks in Asia.

AfN: You've received international fame by organizing the cige in recent years. Are you planing organizing future art fairs?

Mr. Dong: Yes

AfN: What will be the name of your new fair?

Mr. Dong: Art Beijing

AfN: Do you think that Beijing can handle more than one international art fair?

Mr. Dong: Actually, I think that China just needs one international art fair.

AfN: Leading fairs like Art Basel, Frieze, Armory Show or Art Forum etc. attract other fairs as co-channels at the same time and same location. To create a huge attraction point. Do you see this happen in Beijing too?

Mr. Dong: I think the same thing will happen in Beijing. And I think Beijing is not only the place for art in China, but also for the whole of Asia. For example there will be another art fair held in October. And also Fang Lijun solo exhibition and other events.

(Beijing is good enough not only for China but also for Asia.
Lots of thinks will happen in Beijing. For example art Beijing plus Fang Lijun exhibition. and other events.)

AfN: I have read that the Chinese art market is mainly driven by classic style oil paintings. I mean the market as a whole. When Do you expect a breakthrough for contemporary art?

Mr. Dong: In these two years.

AfN: Is the traditional reception of art of the majority the reason for the uncurated selection of galleries at the cige 2004. At your last fair the cige 2005. Do you accept any gallery because there are not enough?

Mr. Dong: There are still not enough contemporary art galleries in China.

AfN: There are relatively many foreigners opening galleries in Beijing. Just to name a few: Lorenz Helbing, Brian Wallace, Meg Maggio, Alexander Ochs, Lothar Albrecht. As far as I know there's only one Chinese running a gallery in the west that is Chris Mao from Chambers, NYC. Do you think that this imbalance will change?

Mr. Dong: I think this tendency will not change in the near future,
Because I think that
Chinese art resources are much abandoned, but the promoting force like the galleries is not very strong. This market need more foreign art galleries to come to China for promoting contemporary art.

AfN: Last year cige took place during the golden week in Mai. This was a problem concerning the lack of collectors. It is said that this is because many people have been in vacation. This year cige is very successful concerning deals with Asian and specially Chinese collectors. I have heard that you are planning another fair in October. Is that true?

Mr. Dong: Yes [laughing] The news is not very exact.

AfN: Main focus of the question was that cige was in vacation time. That you think that this could have been a problem or not?

Mr. Dong: Today you sound just like a reporter a journalist. I hope that you will release very exact news. To the outside world.

AfN: No problem, I can leave this question out!

Mr. Dong: Actually it is very difficult to judge the location in forward. Actually, we boost our art fair. Then we decide to move the art fair and then we want to compare.

AfN: It can be because the market is just growing?

Mr. Dong: Yes. But it is To early to make a judgment. The market is just growing. You have to test different dates.
In recent times the sotherby's auction has had a big influence.
Chinese art market especially for contemporary arts.

AfN: What will the new fair be like, can you describe? The Art Beijing.

Mr. Dong: Actually in current time in China. Under current circumstances European artworks have difficulties to find a market in China. so our market rely mostly on Chinese and Asian galleries.

To Compare Art Beijing with the current cige. All the important Asian and Chinese galleries still not did not come to this event. Because these art galleries are waiting for our art fair.
Also some participants of current cige will participate at our art fair.

AfN: In October - no back to the date - Fiac, Art Cologne, Frieze and Art Forum are taking place. Will you match your schedule to with other fairs? Or do you just think about Asia and forget about other fairs and events?

Mr. Dong: We consider the schedule of other art fairs. But we can not take all the art fairs into account.

AfN: But Frieze for example?

Mr. Dong: Now we are thinking that our art fair will be moved to September. That will be better.

AfN: Will you install a selection committee choosing the galleries? Or who is choosing the galleries?

Mr. Dong: In general there is no selection committee like in foreign art fairs. In our organization we have many critics and curators they will review the applications and review the quality of the art works.

AfN: Are you planning on special events accompanying the fair? Or are there other special events you want to mention besides the Fang Lijun exhibition.

Mr. Dong: Of course we have a series of events around our art fair.
For example we have an exhibition a group exhibition which name is : new sources, new direction or new trend.

AfN: Where will this exhibition be?

Mr. Dong: Younger artists.

AfN: Its organized by artists?

Mr. Dong: Graduates and teachers from Art Institutions. Some already have a market value, some are still unknown to the market.

AfN: Within the Art Beijing?

Mr. Dong: Just outside. This event is supported by BMW. BMW is also our sponsor.

AfN: How many galleries are at Art Beijing?

Mr. Dong: 100

AfN: Do you have a personal statement you want me to write?

Mr. Dong: Just as I said, we just need one international art fair. That does not mean that theres is only one in the region. There are many. But we believe, there will only be one that can be in the leading position. We are trying to do that. Reaching that.

AfN: A kind of Frieze of Asia. Dedicated to contemporary art?

Mr. Dong: You mean Basel?

AfN: Not Basel maybe Miami Beach?

Mr. Dong: Now in Asia, there is no art fair like Basel. We just hope that the collectors who want to buy the best art in Asia will come here in October. Every year.

AfN: There's one thing, in Summer during the Art Basel there is an Asia fair already installed. Do you know about that thing?

Mr. Dong: In Basel or in China?

AfN: Basel

Mr. Dong: [Laughing] No competition. We have our advantages.

AfN: But when you speak of Art Basel. Art Basel has two parts. The modern classic and the contemporary. Will you also have two parts. Modern and contemporary?

Mr. Dong: Because Art Basel has peaked in this industry. We should learn from Basel. In our art fair we also have a space like unlimited art.

AfN: But this is not the new trend you where talking about? This is another thing

Mr. Dong: This is inside the art fair not outside.

AfN: Good than, thank you

Mr. Dong. For this idea we need much more time. Step by step we approach the target. Art Basel needed 36 years.

AfN: 36, that is long. Art Basel started '67!

Mr. Dong: 67, yes

AfN: So you need the same time?

Mr. Dong: No, we will not walk so long. We will come to the point more quickly than Art Basel.

AfN: Thank you Mr. Mr. Dong.

Mr. Dong: Thank you and good-bye.

Statement from Brian Wallace (Red Gate Gallery, Beijing)

AfN: Mr. Wallace, what do you think about the fair?

Mr. Wallace: I think that this fair is much better than last year. I have a good feeling. I sold more. There where more dealers around. But we are still waiting for the collectors and I think we should do more about it. Of course I will be back next year and I think the old galleries from last year will come back too.

Statement from Bärbel Grässlin, Florian Baron (Galerie Nagel) and Christian Nagel (Galerie Bärbel Grässlin, Frankfurt; Galerie Christian Nagel, Berlin)

AfN: Ms. Grässlin, Mr. Baron and Mr. Nagel, what do you think about the fair?

Grässlin, Baron, Nagel: This is our second year. I think the fair is missing a selection committee and the good galleries like Gagosian from last year. We would wish us more support from local galleries for the foreign galleries something like an Asian collectors program, an artist gathering, etc.

Statement from Deddy Irianto (Langgeng icon gallery, Jakarta)

AfN: Mr. Irianto, what do you think about the fair?

Mr. Irianto: This is my first year here. And so far I think the fair is alright. A lack of professionality, lack of big artists from China, Asia. And this it's a pity that these artists are missing as we are in Asia. Most likely I will be back next year. I have had a good response about my artists. Specially about Agus Suwage from collectors from Japan, Europe and Korea.

Above: Artworks from Manolo Valdés. Statement from Philipe Koutouzis (Marlborough Gallery, New York)

AfN: Mr. Koutouzis, what do you think about the fair?

Mr. Koutouzis: I think the fair is good. A bit disorganized. But considering that this is a new fair managament is organizing a whole fair for the first time. I think they did a good job. Good press. Only a short welcome ceremony. I wish that the booth will be a bit bigger next year. I find that the Asians are also interested in western art. So it was interesting to do a western and an Asian corner this time.

Statement from Laurent Godin (Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris)

AfN: Mr. Godin, what do you think about the fair?

Mr Godin: Good and interesting, but it is a little bit a mess if you look at the aesthetic value of some of the works on the walls. Some professionality is missing. It is a bit sat to know that some of the US and European Galleries who knew what's going on with the organisation have been playing with the confusion instead of sorting it out.

Statement from Dae-Hyung Lee (SUN contemporary, Seoul)

AfN: Mr. Lee, what do you think about the fair?

Mr. Lee: I think the fair is good. I will definitely come back next year. The interest in Asia is generally growing from every corner in the world at the moment. For example I have brought different kind of artists and it is interesting to see who is interested in which artist:

  • MyungSook Kim was preferred by Chinese and Japanese collectors

  • WooLim Lee was preferred by European collectors

  • Whereas SungMyung Chun has been chosen for the next Busan Biennale.

Statement from Heidi Chang (PYO Gallery, Beijing)

AfN: Ms. Chang, what do you think about the fair?

Ms. Chang: I am very happy about the fair. I've been coming for all the three years and will definitely come next year. Our gallery is originating in Seoul and I have recently opened a new space in Beijing. I am very about this decision too.

Photo: Julia Raab. Statement from Ingrid Raab (Raab Galerie, Berlin)

AfN: Ms. Raab, what do you think about the fair?

Ms. Raab: Wonderful: It was very interesting for me. This is my first year at cige and I find it interesting to see, how the market is working here. I would like to come back next year. Among others I represent the artists Qin Feng. I receive a great feedback for this artist.

Statement from Alexander Ochs Galleries Berlin | Beijing

AfN: Mr. Ochs, what do you think about the fair?

We are one of the galleries with international experience at the cige. In contrast with most of the Chinese, Indonesian, Korean colleagues who can not compare.
This is our second cige. Cige has lost international galleries like Gagosian and Krinzinger.. This is because of the irritation during the preparation. Young colleagues like Binz & Krämer, Cologne, or Spielhaus Morrison, Berlin cancelled in the last minute.
Last year we have had shown works from Jörg Immendorff and Franz Gertsch and made no business. This year we are showing Chinese artists and have been sold out at the first day.
This year the core clientele are the Chinese collectors. They live in Beijing, Shanghai, in Guangdong, Hong Kong and in Jakarta or in Taiwan. When preparing the fair the organisation did not take the European and Western collectors into consideration. For the preview we just received two entry cards. So we could not invite our collectors. This year we had a lot more Chinese visitors that I trace only back to the rescheduling of the date. Mr. Dong has been displaced by the Ministry of Culture and not by Ms. Wang. Mr. Dong knew that the artists and their art have to be the centre of an art fair. Ms. Wang did not know this and refused 90% of the artists from Beijing the entry to the opening. Now Mr. Dong is preparing for a new fair. But I would recommend to give cige back to Mr. Dong. The date for the opening reception for the new fair in October in my opinion very disadvantageous. All European galleries and collectors are bound to fairs in Europe. That is also counting for galleries that represent Chinese artists since several years like my colleagues Urs Meile and Lorenz Helbing (Shangart). I would like to suggest to move the date into September 2006. And to negotiate a date between cige and Art Beijing in spring 2007. Beijing with its vivid art scene deserves a leading fair and we have to watch out that our Chinese friends to not choose to isolate as an island again. In the long run there can only be a Chinese art market that is integrated in the international art market.


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