Fair Ground

Gargi Gupta

The ShContemporary is a sign of a mature Chinese art market.

Come September, and eight galleries from various Indian cities will be travelling to the Middle Kingdom.

Their desintation, the ShContemporary 2008, or the Asia Pacific Contemporary Art Fair as it's formally called, held in Shanghai from September 10-13. This is only the second year of the fair, which was instituted as something of a meeting ground for the best of contemporary art from the East and the West.

Quite successfully, since as many as 130 galleries from 23 countries participated last year, along with dealers, curators, museum representatives, artists and visitors numbering around 25,000. The Indian presence was not inconsequential (considering that Indian galleries are relatively recent to the art-fair scene).

Four galleries � Bodhi, Chemould Prescott, Sakshi and Nature Morte; three artists in the "best of discovery" curated section, showcasing young and promising talent � Shilpa Gupta, Sharmila Samant and Ravikumar Kashi; and another three in the "best of artists" section for the more established names � Jittish Kallat, Sudarshan Shetty and Zarina Hashmi.

Sales were good says Geetha Mehra, founder of Sakshi Gallery, adding "There was a lot of energy in the air." Nivedita Magar, director with SKE Gallery in Bangalore, reports much the same.

"Many inquiries are still coming in," she says. The gallery, which specialises in new age, mixed media kind of work, was recommended for participation at the inaugural ShContemporary by Pierre Huber, a Geneva-based dealer who was artistic director of the fair (he has since stepped down after allegations of "conflict of interest").

Despite a few glitches like very high import duties � which meant Magar spent far more on transporting the art works within China than she did shipping them from India � and taxes on Chinese nationals buying foreign art, the Shanghai experience was valuable, Magar feels, "as it set off a network".

This year, the Indian contingent to Shanghai is far larger than 2007's � eight galleries, with such established names as Gallery Espace, Vadehra and Threshold, among them. The "best of discovery" section announced already has six Indians � Deeksha Nath (curator and critic), Tushar Joag, Vibha Galhotra, Ved Gupta, Sumedh Rajendran and Suhasini Kejriwal.

But there's more to the China-India art encounter in recent times than the ShContemporary. The most important here is the 2006 exhibition at the Arario gallery in Beijing, "Hungry God", which had a large selection of contemporary Indian artists like Subodh Gupta, Atul Dodiya, Tallur L N and Sonia Khurana.

Lately, these isolated encounters look set to become two way. "We already collect Chinese art and have been showing them selectively in our group shows at Sakshi," says Mehra.

In art, as in their economies, there is a tendency in the West to see the two countries together as the two Asian giants with the most "happending" art that collectors must watch out for.

To give just one example, last year's Rencontres D'Arles, arguably the most important international photography festival on the calendar, focussed on both India and China. The truth, however, is a little more complicated. While we celebrate the record $2.48 million that Souza's "Birth" recently went for at a Christie's auction, Yue Minjan's 1995 oil "Execution" went for $ 5.9 million last year at Southeby's, while the "Mask Series 1996 No.6" by Zeng Fanzhi fetched the highest price ever by an Asian artists � $9.7 million, at Christie's Hong Kong auction in May.

High prices, of course, don't mean anything. But fairs like the ShContemporary, especially the importance they are given by galleries and curators globally, show how much more mature the Chinese art market is.

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