Will China’s Zero Covid policy disrupt its art market? The abrupt closure of two major fairs in the country divides opinion
What was supposed to be a celebration of Shanghai’s pole position in the international art market ended in dramatic fashion when art fairs ART021 and West Bund were forced to close early due to the zero- Covid ongoing in the country.
Organizers and vendors attending the fairs said they had done their best to revive Shanghai’s art scene after the city’s harsh lockdowns earlier this year. But the unpredictability of China’s current Covid restrictions has damaged the confidence of the international art community doing business in the country, some art industry players have told Artnet News. At the same time, the Chinese market is too big to ignore, and many can’t afford to leave either.
ART021 opened its 10th edition to VIPs last Thursday at the Shanghai Exhibition Center with 134 galleries from 19 countries and 36 cities. West Bund Art and Design, which held its ninth edition this year, opened its doors to VIPs the same day at the West Bund Art Center, showcasing more than 100 galleries from 19 countries and 45 cities.
The fairs were joined by key institutional events such as the opening of the Long Museum’s 10th anniversary exhibition and two exhibitions highlighting women artists at the West Bund Museum, as part of the museum’s five-year partnership with Shanghai with the Center Pompidou in Paris.
The excitement ended prematurely when ART021 had to close its doors just a day after opening because a security guard tested positive for Covid-19, the arts journal reported. The West Bund also closed on Saturday, a day earlier than expected and shortly after China announced a relaxation quarantine restrictions.
ART021’s abrupt closure on Friday quickly sparked rumors on social media. Photos of workers in white hazmat suits, dubbed Dabai (Big White) in Mandarin Chinese – disinfection of the fairground has gone viral, sparking concerns over whether artworks were damaged in the process. Unverified messages circulated claiming that those who had been in close contact with the positive case were placed in mandatory quarantine.
“That’s not what happened,” David Zwirner senior manager Leo Xu told Artnet News. Some of the photos and videos were taken out of context, or even reused from last year, he said. “The rumors have caused unnecessary panic. Workers only sprayed the hallway under the supervision of art fair staff. They didn’t go into the booths to spray the artwork. I was there and saw that the workers were very careful.
ART021 and West Bund have adopted strict Covid precautions in advance. All visitors were required to take a PCR test 24 hours before entering the lounge. In the case of ART021, people coming from outside Shanghai had to produce a negative PCR test for three consecutive days. The measures made it difficult for those traveling to Shanghai for the fair, noted Kylie Ying, co-founder of ART021. During ART021’s opening day and a half, it welcomed around 4,000 visitors, about a quarter of its pre-pandemic attendance.
These strict rules were still not enough to stop a positive Covid case. “There have already been too many such incidents happening across China this year that are beyond our control,” Ying told Artnet News. “We have already done our best to try to protect the interests of galleries and artists, as well as the safety of artworks and colleagues. Our partner galleries and artists have been very understanding and supportive. »
Despite the sudden closure of ART021, some galleries still recorded sales. White Cube sold 20 works by artists including Al Held, Magnus Plessen, Isamu Noguchi, Darren Almond and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, but declined to disclose prices. Almine Rech also sold 60% of its stand, which featured 30 works by 21 artists. The gallery then continued online sales through the Xiao Hung Shu (Little Red Book) social media platform. The Blank Gallery in Shanghai sold 10 works before the closing of the fair.
David Zwirner’s Xu said more than half of the gallery’s stand had sold, including recent works by Swedish painter Mamma Andersson for around $400,000, as well as works by Luc Tuymans for $1.5 million dollars and Oscar Murillo for $400,000. “Purchasing power is still very strong and collectors’ taste is becoming more sophisticated,” he says. “Instead of chasing after colorful artwork, they’re looking at art that matters to the story.”
Meanwhile, some West Bund galleries, which enjoyed an extra day of activity before closing, also reported activity. Hauser & Wirth, which featured a solo stand by Günther Förg, sold eight works on the first day for a range of €58,000 to €350,000 ($60,019 to $362,187) to private collections based in mainland China, in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. “We are very happy to have seen many familiar faces during this uncertain time,” said Lihsin Tsai, Senior Director of Hauser & Wirth.
Nevertheless, the sudden closures have brought a lot of stress to some galleries. And as China adheres to its zero Covid policy, may President Xi Jinping recently described as a “people’s war to stop the spread of the virus”, many fear it won’t get easier to do business in the country anytime soon.
“The outcome of the Shanghai art fairs would be the final wake-up call for all international market players when they engage in activities in China,” art adviser Gladys Lin told Artnet News, adding that the Last week’s incident was a reflection of the broader challenges facing businesses. in China like some foreign companies choose to move.
“These closures and unpredictable conditions could cast doubt on the progress of the Chinese art market rebound,” noted Thomas Stauffer, artistic advisor and co-founder of Gerber & Stauffer Fine Arts, Zurich. “Galleries wishing to exhibit at China’s two major art fairs are likely to require more insurance from organizers to protect them against similar risks.”
ART021’s Ying, meanwhile, thinks it’s more of a setback than a paradigm shift. “It shouldn’t have a lasting impact if [China] reopens gradually and the pandemic dies out next year,” she said. “At the end of the day, China is one of the biggest markets with the greatest potential that cannot be replaced by any other market in Asia.”
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