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Art fair with Thai boxing proves controversial combo

By Wang Jie (Shanghai Daily)

09:23, May 07, 2012

A CITY art fair is planning to create a carnival atmosphere this week in a move it hopes will help attract a bigger audience, but which critics claim is demeaning to art.

Art fans and collectors attending the Shanghai Spring Art Salon will be able to cast an eye over paintings, ceramics and other works in a pavilion set up in a city park, complete with exquisite flower arrangements and a soothing 3D water curtain movie.

And if they want a break from art, they can sample Thai cuisine or even watch a Thai boxing bout.

This is the first time in the event's 10-year history that Shanghai Spring Art Salon has been held in a public park and is inspired by "Frieze," an international contemporary art fair that has been held every October in London's Regent's Park since 2003.

"The number of visitors to Shanghai Spring Art Saloon was limited to 20,000 to 30,000 each year in the past," said Zhang Jun, the fair organizer. "However, this year's edition will be different. The dazzling events on offer won't disappoint anyone."

Zhang says there will be six sections to the fair titled "Art Shanghai 2012 Hong Qiao Arts Carnival" - painting, sculpture, ceramics, glassware, design and video.

Glassware is the focus of much attention this year, with the "New Glass Art Exhibition" attracting nearly 100 artists from both home and abroad to participate, some being the pioneers and leaders in the area including Bertil Vallien, Andrea Spencer and Roisin de Buitlear.

To take full advantage of the space on offer, the organizer has planned a series of other attractions and activities - such as flower arranging workshops, Thai dancing and singing on an outdoor stage or the reading of poems written on the trees, an on-site appreciation of ceramic and glass production. "This will fuse art with the natural environments, like the sunshine, plants and breeze," Zhang said. "We hope we can create a Frieze-style event in Asia."

But the new-look Shanghai Art Salon is proving controversial, attracting negative comments from industry figures. "There's nothing wrong with moving the fair to an outdoor venue but stuffing with lots of things unrelated to art, and calling it a carnival is ridiculous," said an art critic who asked not to be named. "And don't get me started on the Thai boxing performance lined up for every evening."

"Art is supposed to be serious. Can you imagine people fighting on the stage while surrounded by those artworks in the park?"

Claiming to be influenced by Frieze, which is run by the publishers of the influential magazine of the same name, is not enough to bestow quality on an art fair, said the critic.

"The core of Frieze includes specially commissioned artists' projects, a talks program and an artist-led education schedule, all clearly involved with art itself, all very academic and professional," he said.

Other industry figures questioned whether the pavilion tent was a good idea.


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