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December 01, 2011

Art Basel: The Changing Value of Asian Art

By Alexandra Wolfe | Miami Art Basel


Ai Weiwei's Tree #1. Courtesy of Alexandra Wolfe.

Art Basel Miami Beach-goers believe this year’s fair is drawing more Chinese artists and collectors than ever before, including Zeng Fanzhi, the artist whose works sell for more than any other in the country, and noted collector Thomas Oh. Today, Phil Tinari becomes the new director of China’s biggest museum, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, in Beijing. Yesterday he was catching up with colleagues at the fair’s collectors’ lounge, where we pulled him aside.

Why have Chinese collectors avoided Miami in the past?

It’s been hard to get visas, but this year you have a lot of top Chinese collectors poking around. Right now China is a place very much about the crossover between art and design, and art and fashion. This fair has always been about that.

What are they buying?

They’re really starting to branch out. Before they were focused almost exclusively on Asian art, but now you see a real push toward works of Pop and Minimalism, but also to very contemporary international artists like Olafur Eliasson and Jim Lambie.

What has happened to the Chinese Contemporary art market itself?

It’s no longer the flavor of the month; it’s just part of what’s going on in a more natural way. Two things are happening: There are trends that seem to fluctuate, and then another layer is its steady increase in approval. Especially since Basel has now acquired a majority stake in Art HK, I think you’ll see a reorienting of the three Basel fairs. Art HK will have a lot of the Asian art and Miami Basel will be a lot of U.S. and Latin American art. It’s a huge trend. That was always the idea.

What do you hope to accomplish here?

It’s the winter meeting place of the international global art world, so you don’t just see what’s being shown, you see your colleagues and collaborators around the world.

How is this year different?

It’s really become a mature fair. The first time I came, in 2005, it felt really experimental.

At the fair, where would you suggest going first?

Urs Miehle has an amazing piece by Ai Weiwei. It’s really smart because it’s not political at all. It’s this giant tree and it’s quiet, contemplative and reflective. It’s really quite powerful.