Behind The Scenes of An Art Fair

Art Central Fair Director Maree Di Pasquale is the person behind the scenes for this must-see event, opening in Hong Kong on March 23. Here, Maree gives us invaluable insights in to how to get the most from the fair (and where to eat), how she makes it work no matter what gets thrown their way, the ongoing boom of Asia as an important art hub and a few exhibits you simply can’t miss.

Art Central 2015 1 - Behind The Scenes of An Art Fair - News .M Contemporary

  • How would you advise a newcomer to an art fair to navigate the schedule of exhibitions and talks?

Prior to arriving, I would encourage you to take some time to plan your visit. Jump online and browse the galleries and program and identify the exhibitions and events that you think you might be interested in. However, we would also encourage both art enthusiasts and the more experienced collector to be somewhat fluid in their scheduling to leave themselves open to discovering new artists.

  • What would you say would be the four things not to do/say at an art fair?

I don’t think there are any strict rules about how one should act at an art fair. Art fairs are all about breaking down the barriers of the art world and encouraging a dialogue across a broad cross-section of society. Having said that, I would advise you not to talk about anyone in the industry in the VIP Lounge. You never know who is listening!

  • For our time poor visitors with only a day to enjoy it, how would you advise them to spend their time?

Dedicate enough time to experience the gallery exhibitions, at least once. This is important. With just over 100 exhibitors and all on one level, Art Central has a manageable size and conveys an intimacy that sometimes the larger fairs find hard to achieve so do take advantage.

Whilst its difficult to pick just a few gallery highlights to look out for, I would recommend sighting Locust Jones’ site-specific installation, Back to the Dark Ages, as part of the fair’s PROJECTS sector. Represented by DOMNIK MERSCH GALLERY (Sydney), Jones returns to Hong Kong after a solo show at ART HK in 2011, and this time to create an ambitious suspended installation; a large-scale scroll, with text-based imagery and expressive scrawled drawings in his usual free style. GALLERY HYUNDAI from Seoul is also one to see, with an impressive selection of Dansaekhwa Korean monochromatic paintings that include works by masters such as Chung Sang-Hwa, Park Seo Bo and Lee Ufan. While at home in Hong Kong Whitestone Gallery (Tokyo / Hong Kong) presents some of the best examples of the Japanese Gutai movement, including museum quality pieces by artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Kazuo Shiraga, and Atsuko Tanaka.

After a trip around the galleries, I would encourage fairgoers to enjoy a meal at the fair’s pop-up restaurant and bar Belon, helmed by well-known Australian chef James Henry, or take some time out harbor-side with a burger and beer in the outdoor Street Food area. I can confidently say that Art Central has the best Art Week eats in town!

  • How do you feel the Asian art fairs are developing compared to the European and American art fairs?

It is difficult to look at Asia as one entity as it is made up of many different cultures, markets and political and social structures. Yet Hong Kong is undoubtedly the international art hub of Asia.  The fact it has zero tax on the import and export of art, little censorship and such great infrastructure and no other city is able to rival this to the same standard. In the past 10 years, Hong Kong’s art scene has experienced incredible growth that is unmatched by the West. From the influx of galleries setting up shop here and the establishment of Hong Kong as the third largest auction market in the world, to the organic development of the not-for-profit scene with the addition of organisations such as the Asia Society Hong Kong Center and the plans for the new West Kowloon Cultural District, the Hong Kong art world is booming and moving fast… a lot faster than Europe or the US. This means that fairs in the region need to keep up with changing trends and maintain market relevancy. We are proud that Art Central now plays such a key role in this, bringing yet more world-class content to Hong Kong and further elevating its status to global arts destination.

  • In Asia, does the culture of asking for a discount influence the pricing of the galleries? Or do certain galleries refuse to give a discount?

It is common practice in Asia to ask for large discounts (up to 50 per cent or more), and this also applies to the art world. I encourage galleries to not be offended if they experience this. It is best to simply explain that the gallery business does not have high margins and that the money paid by the buyer is split between the gallery and the artist. The artist is why we do this after all! We have seen potential deals cut off from the start by a gallery and collector who find themselves at cultural odds on this point. However, we encourage our galleries to simply explain their position and get through this difficult conversation.

  • How important do you think it is to have the artist present at the fair? Is it common at all?

This entirely depends on the artist and their willingness to be present while dealers promote and sell their work. In my experience, this can be quite a difficult negotiation for an artist to observe or take an active role in, and they many choose not to be present. However we do see some galleries invite their artist onto the booth and, if the artist is comfortable with the commercial nature of the art business, play a major role in sales by helping the collectors to form a more personal connection with the work.

  • Is there a place for performance art at the art fair?

We are pleased to say that galleries within the main show sectors have taken more risks in providing experimental content this year and as a result have seen an increased number of performance and installation-based work.

In addition to these galleries, I would encourage you to look out for a new initiative for this year titled ROUNDTABLE X 4A, a collaboration with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and the organisation’s Director Mikala Tai. The program explores artistic and curatorial practices from across Asia and the Pacific specifically through performance and roundtable discussions and includes new performances by Frances Barrett, Abdullah M.I. Syed and Latai Taumoepea. Others to watch out for are Jack McLean with The Container (Tokyo) and Ting-Tong Chang represented by Christine Park Gallery (London).

  • Will you be moving in the direction of utilising visiting curators in future?

We have worked hard to create even stronger links with fair partners for programming and commissions this year, including non-profit organisations that work with their own visiting curators. We look to further expand on this for 2017.

  • In terms of exhibiting artists this year, are galleries moving towards emerging Asian art, or has it shifted to also include more established western artists?

We are proud to be hosting more than 100 galleries from 21 countries, with a strong representation from greater Asia at more than 75 per cent. This focus on the region was important to us in developing the fair, though we did not set any specific quota for our committee in terms of a ratio of galleries from Asia vs. the rest of the world. Inevitably a great majority of the work shown is by artists from or working within Asia.

  • Hong Kong is known as a city driven by commerce. Do you feel that the art sales are fundamentally market driven?

While it is true that Hong Kong benefits from an investor focused art market, in my view Hong Kong and indeed the region has a growing number of genuine art collectors who truly value art and acquire for a number of reasons that are not simply market dependent. Collectors, compared to investors, are more culturally and intellectually attuned to the artworks, doing research on the background of the art pieces they buy and making considered purchase decisions, which is a very positive thing for the art market.

  • It’s obviously a huge event and very well orchestrated, but have you had any behind the scene disasters that you had to overcome? Can you give us a brief insight?

When you collaborate with numerous people, things can go awry or change in an instant. The ability to be flexible and be quick to make a call, and the right call, is therefore one of the most important attributes of an art fair organiser. One of the biggest challenges we face is to create amazing visitor and gallery experiences despite constant deviations to the plan that are out of our control. But the trick is turning them into positives, as if they were always intended. I’ll never tell!

By Suzanne Harrison for .M Contemporary –


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Behind The Scenes of An Art Fair

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