Hubert Burda Media

Inside Photofairs Shanghai: A Contemporary Curation

In the 5th year, the annual art exhibition moved on with more experimental works.


This year Shanghai Photofairs saw a shift in focus towards more experimental photography, video, installation, sculpture and new tech photography as the Chinese art market moves beyond the obvious.

Nataline Colonnello, Director of Beijing’s Three Shadows Photography Art Centre says that “in China the perception of contemporary photography is changing. There’s a much more refined taste and a growing number of younger collectors who look for international works.”

Run by the World Photography Organisation, Photofairs Shanghai hosts around 50 galleries from mostly around Asia (though Europe and the US are represented). More classic Chinese photography fans enjoyed the works of Beijing-born Yang Fudong (represented here by ShanghART Gallery), one of China’s most prominent photographers and cinematographers, and popular work ‘Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forrest’.

Pekin Fine Arts also brings director and artist Zhao Liang’s ‘Black Face, White Face’ to the fair. Works like ‘This Face’ by Xu Yong, featuring Chinese sex workers drew curious visitors and were shown alongside his abstract newer pastel coloured works.

Notable Asian artists, curators and photographers like Wang Qingsong, Stanley Fung, Heung Shing Liu, Karen Smith where all there on opening night. Getting to know the whims of the Asian and Chinese collector, Group Fair Director Georgia Griffiths says that there was a concerted effort to encourage galleries to show more daring artists and works. Has it worked?

Whilst some interesting leading galleries like Taka iishi, Continua and Pace were represented, Liu – a veteran Chinese photojournalist and founder of Shanghai Centre of Photography – had the impression of a “conspicuous absence of some other big galleries this time, like Camerawork and M97…In previous years there were several big German, American and Brit galleries that are nowhere to be seen this year.”

Georgia Griffiths, Group Fair Director, PHOTOFAIRS at the fair | Credit: PHOTOFAIRS SHANGHAI

No doubt there were new additions. When asked why they joined for the first time this year, Ciara Cararatti of Novalis Gallery in Hong Kong says: “this is the focus of photography in Asia…It’s important for us to understand what collectors like from all over Asia, and to promote our artists that are connected to Asia as well.”

Others noted a good mix of visitors, included some international industry, specialised types from museums and institutions, who had been drawn to the event. Well-travelled Chinese collectors are showing more sophistication and galleries are noticeably pulling back from showing just celebrity works, as they actively promoted lesser known figures and local names. “There’s also more interest from the Chinese towards their own community of artists as “understanding of supporting the next generation grows,” Griffith adds.

This being the focus at Three Shadows, Colonnello explained how they selected works around the “topic of environmental protection or degradation – we showed Zhang Kechun, Michael Cherney (who’s on show at the Met in New York) and Xiao Hong Huang, three of them who speak a very different visual and conceptual language but there’s the common sense of the past in dialogue to contemporary times.”

“The very well curated exhibition,” added Colonello, “The fair had more specialised visitors. The sales were OK but not super hot as it might have been in past years, this I heard from other galleries.”

But some collectors have often found a problem in banking on the staying power of young Chinese photographers as an investment – perhaps it’s growing pains of a new-ish market. Nevertheless, Shanghai’s arts scene continues forward at a rapid pace.

This year, the Pearl Art Museum, How Art Museum and the gigantic, tragically named Silo of 80,000 Tons all open their doors. In addition to it’s many new existing art institutions like the Long Museum and the Yuz, events like this boost the city’s cultural kudos in line with Shanghai government’s master plan to transform into a global city and modern cosmopolis by 2035.


2018 World AI Conference (housed in Shanghai’s West Bund area district) kicked off a few days before Shanghai Photofairs. Perhaps this is a fitting context to what Griffiths says has evolved from a very traditional photo fair to being “photographic in the broader sense of the medium… really reflecting what’s going on for artists” many of whom work in new approaches to photography, and video, painting, sculpture and installations with their photography.

“I’m waiting for the day that I can get a VR installation in here,” she says. “New tech is the way of life.”

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