Art / Design

Fair by Design: Westbund Art and Design Fair

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Published in Chinese in The Art Newspaper China, September 2014

We’ve seen the allure of status-boosting brand-name artists like Emin, Hirst, and Gormley in China, but does a Prouvé, Ponti, and Perriand have the same cachet and gloss? Founded by artist Zhou Tiehai, a founder ShContemporary in 2007 and a former director of the Minsheng Art Museum, the Westbund Art and Design Fair hopes to differentiate itself from other Asian fairs by providing galleries with much larger booths and, more radically, showing design side by side with contemporary art.

Hong Kong-based collector and chairman of Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design, Alan Lo, argues that although interest in “collecting limited edition design and design sold as art in China and Asia is still in an infant stage, that’s not to say that there won’t be growth in interest in the medium to long term. The question is whether, at this point, there’s enough volume to sustain these participating design galleries for the next five years at the very least,” as demand catches up with supply.

The Westbund Art and Design fair will open this week on the Xuhui waterfront in Shanghai. It will be part of the West Bund Cultural Corridor, which includes the newly opened Long Museum West Bund and Indonesian collector Budi Tek’s Yuz Museum. Unlike other regional fairs such as Art Stage Singapore and Art Basel Hong Kong, which stress a commitment to regional representation of artists and galleries, Zhou Tiehai has no such concern. The fair is showing only 20 galleries from around the world, and has made sure to invite heavy-hitters including White Cube, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Hauser and Wirth, Galleria Continua, Boers-Li Gallery, ShanghArt, and Sean Kelly Gallery to fill the 8,000 square meter space at the fair. No details of participating designers and design galleries had been released at the time of publication—whether by design, to ensure an element of surprise, or because the list is still in the process of being finalized—but the fair promises ten of the world’s top design institutions.

The crossover between contemporary art and design has been tried and tested with fairs such as the Pavilion of Art and Design in London and Paris, and, to some extent ArtDesign at Art Paris, but Westbund’s focus will still be primarily on contemporary art. Incorporating design into a contemporary art fair in a market that is still relatively new to collecting contemporary and modern design is expected to bridge the gap between art and design collectors. “Art collectors are also interested in finding the top design elements either to decorate their house or for their own appreciation. So why not provide them both at an art fair?” Zhou told the Shanghai Daily in May.

Given how quickly the contemporary art market has moved in recent years, perhaps it won’t take long for the design market to catch up. Earlier this June, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum announced that it will be partnering with the state-owned developer China Merchants Group to open the country’s first major design museum to showcase both Chinese and international design in Shenzhen. In 2011, the China Academy of Art bought 7,010 Bauhaus pieces at EUR55 million from German collector Torsten Broehan. Auction houses also sense the coming of a new zeitgeist. In January this year, Sotheby’s Hong Kong introduced contemporary design pieces into its Boundless auction, including furniture by Philippe Hiquily, Francois-Xavier Lalanne, and the Campana brothers, all of which sold.

Isaure de Viel Castel, Head of Mid-Season Sales, Contemporary & Modern at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, argues that there is growing interest in design in Asia and that Westbund’s strategy of presenting art with design could be the catalyst to foster more interest in the region. “Mixing contemporary art and design is a good idea, especially when you are targeting a new market. Hopefully it will attract more new collectors in that category,” she says.

Where a design fair is intended to develop international businesses, “it is more a business meeting between designers, companies, and industrial producers,” explains the Milan- and Hong Kong-based art and design collector Cristina Cappa Legora. Introducing design in the context of an art fair may encourage new audiences to look at tables and chairs as more than just furniture—as something that can be historically important and collectible too.

I’ll keep you posted on Westbund from Shanghai this week. In the meantime, here’s some design porn to tide you over from Design Miami/Basel earlier this year.

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