Frieze London 2022 Misses China

What Happened: On October 12, the inaugural VIP day of Frieze London and Masters, the crowds were immense, with the 11 a.m. slot seeing queues winding around Regents Park. However, despite the impressive turnout and optimistic energy felt throughout, Chinese attendees were sparse.

In fact, out of the entire 2022 London-leg of the contemporary art fair which featured 163 institutions, just three were independent Chinese galleries — the Hua International, Vacancy, and Don galleries. Founders of all three shook their heads at the question of whether they had seen any Chinese art collectors attending. The complication of a 10-day quarantine upon returning to China, visa issues, and waiting for the upcoming National Congress to end were given as reasons as to why locals were failing to attend.

Other Asian counties such as Vietnam appeared to have a wider presence at Frieze London 2022. Photo: Vietnamese artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s Broken Into A Thousand Arms

The Jing Take: TEFAF reported that the mainland made up 22 percent of the global art market in 2019; this figure jumped to 39 percent in 2020. Furthermore, the country’s growth has become a central focus for the international secondary market too. In March 2022, Christie’s made $35 million (RMB 222 million) from its first sale at its new Shanghai gallery Bund One, selling 95 percent by lot and 90 percent by value. While there’s little doubt that Beijing’s pandemic policies have disrupted outbound travel, these figures show that the domestic art industry has not halted whatsoever. 

Still, the lack of Chinese gallerists and collectors at this leading, lucrative global art fair during a period of such economic uncertainty reinforces just how insular China is with its zero-COVID policy. Representatives from all three galleries at Frieze London explained that while there is, understandably, a lack of Chinese visibility at the event, local collectors are still very much focused on international art.

Xiaochan Hua, Berlin-based founder of the gallery Hua International, explained to Jing Daily that despite launching her gallery at the start of the pandemic, it has not only met all targets but exceeded them.

hua international

A shot of Hua International in Beijing on Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District. Photo: Hua International

A spokesperson from The Vacancy Gallery agreed that there is not much interest in local artists which conflicts with the guochao or national pride trend that has promoted many industries such as luxury, fashion, and beauty. Hua agreed that it is for that exact reason her gallery has excelled, stating: “We are known for bringing international artists to Beijing. People want to see even more international artists. I think that’s why we have won the Gallery Weekend Beijing Best Exhibition prize twice.”

Out of the 42 countries at the world-leading art fair, China has the smallest presence physically, even though it is one of the market’s most influential players. Whether that continues will surely be down to the nation’s approach to quarantines and visas. Frieze proves that the industry relies heavily on travel, and for now all it can do is wait and see.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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