SHANGHAI Art Fair is trying to create its own Shanghai identity, attracting the newly rich in China and nurturing young, white-collar professionals as buyers of art who start small but eventually will spend big.
Overshadowed by SHContemporary for years, Shanghai Art Fair, which runs from yesterday through Sunday at ShanghaiMart, is offering more small and affordable works than in the past. Artists value in producing smaller works in limited editions that can be purchased by young people.
The fair also gives more opportunities to new overseas galleries and leading galleries in China. It used to aim, like SHContemporary, for international, world-class galleries.
This year's fair, the 16th edition, attracts 146 galleries from China, America, Europe and South Korea. It showcases paintings, sculpture, print, video, photo art and porcelain.
The big names include Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010), Wu Dayu (1903-1988), Yan Wenliang (1893-1988), Murakami Takashi, Picasso (1881-1973) and Andy Warhol (1928–1987).
"We are also very keen on cultivating the 'new elite class' who may not have a profound knowledge of art or art history, yet they have a passion or interest in art," said Wang Anwei, spokesman for the government-sponsored Shanghai Art Fair.
"Currently they might not be able to afford a work costing tens of thousands of yuan, but this doesn't mean that they won't purchase it in the future. It will be a process requiring efforts and patience by the fair organizer, artists and galleries here."
For example, local oil painter Li Yirong, known for her brilliant depiction of flowers and cats, decided not to show original works at this fair, but side products and spin-offs, such as pashimi shawls, silk scarves, canvas bags and cushions decorated with cats and flowers.
"When I took my oil paintings to previous Shanghai Art Fairs, many young people told me that they loved my work, but the 100,000 yuan (US$16,030) price daunted them," she said. "I totally understand, especially for a beginner in art."
But she wanted to spread her art to more people. Back in her studio, she used the same patterns and colors from her original works but put them onto other media and various articles.
"I bet you can't tell the difference between my original canvas and a big framed silk scarf when viewed from a distance," she says. "Last year one buyer even joked to me that my silk towel is not inferior to an Hermes scarf."
Likewise, Xiang Jing and Qu Guangci, the famous sculptor couple, expanded into small works that cost several thousand yuan, appealing to those who want special gifts.
This abundance of smaller, affordable, bite-sized art appeals to many people.
"This is the amusing and interesting thing about Shanghai Art Fair," says Jennifer Shen, a local visitor to the fair.
"I like to wander around since I can always bump into some fantastic little art in limited edition," Shen says. "I am not so comfortable at art fairs seeing each work labeled with so many zeroes. For me that kind of art is high above in the sky."
She once bought a limited edition of a Walasse Ting print for 20,000 yuan. "Each visitor to my home is impressed by it, and I am quite proud of my art taste."
Spotting the unique and affordable art piece makes a trip to Shanghai Art Fair an adventure for ordinary visitors.
College student Wang Linling says she went to the fair last year with her parents. "They were more interested in buying a realistic canvas by a middle-aged artist and found a small, cute work by a French sculptor," Wang says.
"One trick is to go on the afternoon of the last day. Sometimes you can get a bargain, especially for porcelain or sculpture, since transport back to the artist's studio is not convenient."
This year the porcelain hall at the fair attracts nearly 30 exhibitors from China, Japan and the Netherlands featuring works that combine the ancient art genre with a modern aesthetic.
When SHContemporary was launched at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in 2007, it instantly outshone Shanghai Art Fair, in the number and prestige of overseas galleries, the exceptional exhibition venue itself and the professionalism of running an international art fair. It billed itself as Asia's No. 1 art fair.
But SHContemporary, which is operated by an Italian fair group, also has problems: the global economic slowdown and cooling of China's once red-hot contemporary art market; and the rise of ARTHK in Asia as Hong Kong makes enormous investment in an art complex, according to industry insiders.