Guangzhou’s art hub ambitions in doubt with sales slow at Moordn Art Fair

“All these hint at a great potential, and the local audience are studious and well-mannered,” says Sophia Wang of Beijing’s Pifo Gallery, who brought work by eight artists to sell at the fair, the prices for which ranged from 40,000 yuan (US$5,600) to 900,000 yuan.

This was not the first Moordn Art Fair. It was first staged online in 2022, when Covid-19 pandemic social-distancing precautions were still in effect.

Some of the art on show at Moordn Art Fair 2023. Photo: Cheung Hon-hang

Moordn is a four-year-old art-industry consulting and marketing business whose quirky spelling comes from its Chinese name – a pun on the words for magic lantern and modern, which are homophones in Mandarin.

The company’s founder Tim Lee, a graduate of the Academy of Art in Guangzhou, set up a collectors’ club in collaboration with high-end lifestyle brand K11 in Guangzhou in 2020, followed by an art space in the nearby city of Foshan in 2022.

Tim Lee, founder of the Moordn Art Fair. Photo: Moordn Art Fair

Lee says the art fair is his latest venture to engage with the thriving art scene in China’s Greater Bay Area, which comprises nine cities in southern China plus Hong Kong and Macau.

But does the Greater Bay Area need another art fair?

Beyond Hong Kong’s well-established art fairs, another of those nine cities, neighbouring Shenzhen, has Art Shenzhen – a government-sponsored fair that has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, and DnA Shenzhen – the third art fair put on by Shanghai-based ART021; staged for second time this year, it was well attended.

We believe that the art market in Guangdong will develop rapidly

Zhang Yong, director of the Shanghai branch of Arario Gallery, present at Moordn Art Fair 2023

Guangzhou itself isn’t without art fairs, but their impact remains limited.

The Guangzhou International Art Fair focuses primarily on traditional Lingnan-style ink paintings, while the fourth staging of the Guangzhou Contemporary Art Fair was reduced to just 10 exhibitors this year, compared to over 30 galleries before.

Lee says the time is ripe for an art fair that caters to local collectors’ tastes, and that his experience in organising gallery and artist studio visits for members of his collectors’ club gives Moordn Art Fair a competitive edge.

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Forty-five galleries took part in the fair, which ended on December 11. They ranged from established names like Tang Contemporary Art and Galerie Urs Meile to emerging galleries from beyond the major art hubs of Beijing and Shanghai.

The works exhibited by the galleries were largely at the affordable end of the spectrum, with prices starting from thousands of yuan. Arario Gallery and Tang Contemporary were exceptions, both offering works in the 1 million to 6 million yuan range.

Kenna Xu’s eponymous art gallery attended the fair with works by artists from America, Africa and elsewhere at prices ranging from 45,000 yuan to 800,000 yuan. The Shenzhen gallerist says he was drawn to the high quality of the fair and the potential of Guangzhou.

The Moordn Art Fair drew 45 art galleries, both well-established and emerging. Photo: Cheung Hon-hang

“There is not only young but also old money here [compared to Shenzhen],” he says.

Despite the potential of Guangzhou’s art market it remains small, a fact which limited the success of the fair.

Representatives of many of the galleries the Post spoke to, including Arario, Tokyo Gallery + BTAP and Tang Contemporary, said they had not closed any deals at the time of writing.

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Galerie Urs Meile sold an abstract painting by Zhang Xuerui for 300,000 yuan, as well as a few other paintings. The gallery said it sold to existing clients rather than new ones at the fair.

So will galleries come back next year?

“We believe that the art market in Guangdong will develop rapidly and therefore we are willing to come back with works more attuned to the local taste,” said Zhang Yong, the director of Arario Gallery in Shanghai.

But others are not so sure.

“We will focus on fairs outside Guangdong,” said Aaron Chen, the owner of ATTN Gallery, a Guangzhou gallery with a second space in Guizhou province, southwest China. There simply wasn’t any “home advantage” that warranted his gallery’s return, he said.

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