Art fairs

CIGE Beijing is still local and still finding its way

Loyal collectors and galleries keep contemporary show on the map


The organisers of this year’s China International Gallery Exposition (CIGE), held in Beijing 21 to 24 April, said that their event attracted over 40,000 people in the five days of the art fair. Some 60 galleries from both mainland China and overseas participated, although CIGE is primarily a domestic affair for a still-developing contemporary art market.

“There are a lot of new Chinese art buyers. Anyone who wants to understand the mainland art market should be coming to a fair like CIGE. For us it was a very positive experience,” said longtime Beijing resident Meg Maggio, who founded Pekin Fine Arts gallery in 2005. By the end of the fair, she had sold $76,840-worth of Asian works, all to new Chinese clients.

The most prominent booths belonged to established dealers with local spaces. These ranged from international players like The Pace Gallery, to Taiwan’s Tina Keng Gallery and South Korea’s Arario Gallery. In recent years they have all opened branches in Beijing.

Visitors were mostly mainland Chinese and other long-term residents. The vernissage drew an assortment of people, including the art-loving media mogul Yang Lan, who is one of China’s wealthiest women; Hong Kong collector Linus Cheung; and a throng of camera-toting art students and young Beijing professionals. Held at the serviceable but tired-looking exhibition hall of China World, an otherwise glitzy shopping-office-hotel complex at the heart of Beijing’s business district, many considered the fair’s venue to be a prime selling point. Right above a main subway stop, it is connected to a retail mall filled with luxury brands like Hermes and Louis Vuitton.

While big European and American galleries focus their resources on Asian art expos packaged for a regional audience, such as ArtHK and Art Stage Singapore, the mainland’s top dealers continue to dutifully show at the Beijing and Shanghai events. “As a leading gallery from China, it is important for us to support the institutions and fairs here,” said David Tung, a director of Beijing’s Long March Space, which every year attends the Hong Kong art fair, as well as Art Basel and Frieze.

“After two difficult years, this year’s edition showed both the recovery in the contemporary art market, as well as a strong interest from new collectors from mainland China,” said Tung.

Long March made one of the fair’s big sales: a dramatic, textured 2m by 3m oil-on-canvas painting, made in 2010, from the “Yes, That’s All” series, by Liu Wei, a mid-career Chinese artist whose international star seems to be rising fast. The piece was priced at Rmb500,000 ($76,840) and was purchased by a mainland collector. A large painting, priced at $200,000, by Yu Hong, one of China’s leading female painters, had many inquiries but did not sell.

One of the booths that sold out at the preview evening was Gallery Yang. Its space, which had a balloon-filled bathtub in the middle, featured the seemingly fantasy-inspired works of Chen Wei. The paintings were priced at about $2,000 and above.

Beijing has two contemporary art fairs and they open and close just days apart. This year, CIGE had the upper hand on its rival the Art Beijing fair, which ran from 29 April to 2 May, including May Day, a big Chinese public holiday when many of Beijing’s wealthy leave town.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Still local, and still finding its way'