contemporary art news

Shanghai Art Fairs: Display of Power and Diversity

by Tamara Dinka (Shanghai Correspondant)

The city of Shanghai, China is quite busy in November. It all starts with the ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair and continues with West Bund Art & Design Week and the Shanghai Biennale. Squeezed into less than a week, all art pursuers have a chance to smell the current flows coming from the rest of the world and of course, the rest of Asia. Shanghainese art fairs strongly promote artists coming from this part of the world. There was a substantial presence of galleries from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Macau, and Hong Kong. This is a huge contribution to the global art scene, as we are living in times of rising global consciousness where every single step towards diversity and acceptance of other cultures counts.

ART 021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair (Nov 2023)

At the fairs, I talked to many galleries and their personnel, and they were quite supportive when I asked about certain art pieces. I would like to recommend Venus Over Manhattan, from  New York which had a great work from Ana Benaroya “In the Beginning” which symbolizes feminine power and strength. The painting shows a voluminous lady painted strongly in a comic book manner and was placed on the back wall, as the gallery worried about censorship and “not to hurt anybody’s feelings”. Though the painting didn’t present anything vulgar, it is also wise to mention that the culture of censorship is quite implemented here in China, which probably influenced the decisions of many galleries and resulted in fewer video artworks and sculptures. However, the overall feeling is that we the visitors were not excluded from seeing some other strong artworks. For example, London’s Cabinet Gallery had a sculptural work of an African American artist Diamond Stingily titled “Elephant Memory” composed of chains and synthetic hair or simply hair braids, both quite obvious symbols of the long African American culture. Her work series “Elephant Memory” was recently featured at Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

Ana Benaroya at Venus over Manhattan (West Bund Fair)
In the Beginning, 2023
Oil on canvas 24 x 20 in (61 x 50.8 cm)

Many artworks combined traditional Chinese painting techniques used for calligraphy and brush and made on a rice paper called xuan with modern printing and other materials. Gallery All from Los Angeles represented the artist James Jean whose paintings are various combinations of traditional Chinese scroll painting, Japanese woodblock prints, African ceremonial masks, comics, and psychedelic art. The gallery showed Iranian artist Amir H. Fallah, who made a series of paintings and a sculpture where he explored systems of presentation implanted in the history of Western art by deconstructing identities and removing the central figures and of course letting the audience define the topic themselves. Gallery Suomei from Shanghai presented works of Wenqing Ding made in ink and inspired by scroll painting, also already established on the international art scene. And the others were there, White Cube, Gagosian, Perrotin, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Hua International, and Almine Rech… and the overall feeling is that all these participants refilled the never-ending hunger for art.

Art feeds the soul and for many of us, it is for free. I would also like to mention that the organization was at a high level and everything was correct, digital, and easily approachable. There was a mini-bus leaving every 15 minutes from the West Bund and people didn’t have to freeze outside. Following manifestations such as collector/curator talks, VIP collections views, and parties were on a satisfying level too. The atmosphere in the city during these 6 days was electric and quite refreshing. 

Shanghai-based Writer (Tamara Dinka)