In September 2014, Shanghai hosted a brand new art fair dedicated entirely to photography: Photo Shanghai. Overseen by the World Photography Organization (WPO) and the company Montgomery, Photo Shanghai was created in response to the remarkable explosion of the Pacific region’s art market. Below, Alexander Montague-Sparey - Fair Director – shares his aspirations and thoughts about the Fair.
Photo Shanghai is a brand new and much-needed fair. How this idea took shape and how the team made it possible?
With Shanghai positioned as the most international and modern city in Mainland China - and in the twenty first century - a leading financial and cultural powerhouse, it was an obvious choice. The Asia-Pacific was lacking a platform for collectible photography at the highest level, in a very curated, quality-controlled fashion. We wanted to highlight the best galleries already working with photography in the region, but also to bring the best galleries from the west to the east, for the firs time in this format. Photo Shanghai became a reality when we signed leading galleries such as Camerawork Gallery (berlin), Fahey/Klein (Los Angeles) and Flowers Gallery (New York, London) early on. Leading galleries in the west were overall very excited at the opportunity to promote their artists in shanghai. We then got the support of three leading galleries in Shanghai and Beijing: ShanghART, Pekin Fine Art and M97. With local and international support, the fair was a reality and we could start really building the brand and fulfil our wider objectives through a cutting edge but relevant exhibitions, video and talks programme.
Shanghai is indeed one of the most dynamic places for contemporary photography, providing specialized galleries such as Beaugeste Gallery, M97, Kunst Licht, OFOTO Gallery and the young C14 Gallery. How many exhibitors from China do you expect?
In year one just over half of our galleries are from China. The balance is very international: with galleries from Santa Monica to Tokyo, via Paris, London, Prague and Istanbul and Dubai to name a few.
In recent years China has seen the emergence of several internationally renown photography fairs, such as Lianzhou International Photo Festival, Pingyao Photography Festival, Hong Kong International Photofest, and Dali International Photography among others. How Photo Shanghai will distinguish itself?
Photo Shanghai is above all a collectors’ fair. It is celebrating the medium internationally at the highest level and all the works are for sale. The photo festivals in China remain a national phenomenon and are a mixture of amateur and professional work, which isn’t for sale. The festivals are an integral part to the culture of photography in China. They are responsible for the incredible enthusiasm for the medium that we have witnessed to date. We are working this year for example with the Lianzhou Photo Festival specifically. Duan Yuting, its founder, has been a great patron of Photo Shanghai.
You are noted for creating new auction markets for contemporary photography. How would you qualify the current state of photography market in China?
The interest coming out of China for fine luxury has progressively been on the rise for a sizeable amount of time now, and in recent years we have witnessed the Chinese to become leading buyers and investors. Photography is an extension of this. It is more affordable than contemporary art, and a glamorous art form which ticks many boxes both aesthetically and intellectually. Photo Shanghai aims to pave the way for this development to come to full fruition.
Have you recently encountered a photographer or photograph that you felt strongly about?
Chinese photography on the whole has a very strong identity. Photography in China has traditionally been, and is still to this day, inexorably linked to a sensibility intensely tied to the history and heritage of the country. From strong black and white portraiture to breathtaking larger format colour work. Photo Shanghai aims to further underline and nurture this talent, so that good Chinese work that is lying more ‘dormant’ to audiences in the west, can come into the limelight and receive the attention it deserves.
• Photo Shanghai
• Original article: CABOS. M. 2014. "Photo Shanghai 2014: Alexander Montague-Sparey, Fair Director." L'Oeil de la Photographie.