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A Vision in ink

Following the success of the inaugural Ink Asia fair last year, expectations for the second edition are high. Artomity talked to its director Calvin Hui about the cultural aspirations and market vision driving the world’s first art fair dedicated to modern and contemporary ink.

By Charlotte Chang

What was the concept behind creating a fair specialising in ink art? 

From the beginning I was not only concerned about the market but also strove to define a mission. I have long been a collector and lover of contemporary ink, because I think ink is the most important language of our cultural tradition. But I felt that resources in this field in China were often not put to good use. The DNA of ink culture – its core spirit – is in our blood as Chinese people. I knew that this shared cultural understanding would allow a fair dedicated to ink to build a very strong connection with the audience. I believed that, coupled with the steadily increasing popularity of ink art in the region, commercial success would follow.

How does Ink Asia affirm Hong Kong’s importance as a hub for ink art?

There are many collectors, artists and galleries in Hong Kong interested in and working with ink art, which makes the city a hub for the medium. I think it is important for this fair to be started in Hong Kong, as the city is already an international platform with well-established infrastructure and ample professional expertise and proper systems for running art fairs. As ink becomes more and more sought after in the international art market, Ink Asia will be a platform that strengthens Hong Kong’s position as a hub while allowing it to reach outwards.

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ink+ at Ink Asia 2016. © Artomity

What are your expectations for the second edition and beyond?

My vision for the short term is to establish the Ink Asia brand within the first three to five years. The idea for an ink fair was perhaps a little abstract at conception, so a lot of people in ink-art circles did not understand how it would look. I defined Ink Asia as a fair specialising in modern and contemporary ink. It would be an open platform for local and international collectors and galleries to intersect.

For the first few years we are positioning ourselves and consolidating our value in the market and art world. We will try not to expand too rapidly, keeping to 50 galleries and institutions. I can confidently say that the gallery line-up for the second year is much stronger.

How has the curatorial structure evolved this year?

We have two new sections. One is Highlights, with 12 established anchor galleries that are among the most representative promoters of ink art, and that will give us insights into ink-market trends. Among them, six are new this year: Pearl Lam Galleries, Kwai Fung Hin and Galerie Ora-Ora from Hong Kong, Ink Studio from Beijing, and Xi Zhi Tang and My Humble House from Taipei.

In the new Spotlights section galleries will curate solo shows of their artists, giving the audience a different approach to art representation at an art fair. This allows galleries to make a statement and show their commitment to their artists. Artists also have dedicated spaces to present their works.

How does Ink Asia bridge the commercial and academic spheres?

I hope to bridge market trends and academic understanding. Ink Asia is a trade fair but at the same time it opens up a dialogue. The goal was for it to be an open platform on which the art market and the academic sector could intersect, and for audiences to gain an understanding of ink art both in terms of the market and for its aesthetic and artistic value.

This year the Ink Society will present four talks on constructing a 21st-century ink-art collection. There will also be talks from acclaimed ink-art collectors, consultants, experts, gallerists and museum directors. Other talks will focus on Taiwanese and Hong Kong ink art. The series will be educational but will also foster an exchange of experiences in collecting ink in order to bridge the academic and commercial ink-art sectors.

The large-scale public installations were a highlight last year, inviting visitors to consider contemporary ink from different perspectives. What are the new attractions this year?

Our public installations section is a novel opportunity for artists to express themselves. This year visitors will see more new possibilities for ink art, such as how it can be three-dimensional or even conceptual. We will show large-scale painting installations. A very special booth from Eherder Studio in Beijing will showcase an ink-living conceptual exhibition that combines art and design into functional furniture pieces with artistic inspiration. From the beginning I wanted to introduce the concept of bringing ink into daily life as a form of everyday aesthetics. This booth specifically brings this concept to life by converting art works into functional pieces like carpets and furniture.

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Frog King Kwok Mang Ho at Ink Asia 2016. © Artomity

There were many highlights last year, the most impressive probably being Liu Kuo-sung’s works. What are the works to watch out for this year?

The highlights this year will be special exhibition projects like the Taiwan Pavilion. Because Liu Kuo-sung’s works presented by Galerie du Monde were the main attractions last year, I came to realise how strong and mature the Taiwanese ink market is, so I spent a lot of time in Taiwan over the past year talking to experts and inviting them to join us. I was able to secure academic support from the famous scholar Gao Qianhui. There will be another curator, Xia Kejun, heading the China Pavilion, which is dedicated to contemporary calligraphy, representing a very different approach from the Taiwan Pavilion.

The Ink+ exhibition last year featured innovative ink works by young Hong Kong artists. What are you planning this year?

We set a clear tone in curating the second edition of Ink+: we want to keep breaking boundaries. The curator shares this vision and has tried to introduce more new ideas and innovative practices by Hong Kong’s young artists. This year there is a larger variety of works, ranging from three-dimensional pieces to audiovisual works. Ink+ also has more dedicated corners throughout the fair for the curator to work with and curate from this year.

What do you expect from audiences and exhibitors this year?

I hope that not only local collectors but also those from Taiwan and elsewhere will come. We have also started overseas marketing, so we are confident that visitor numbers will increase.

Some established galleries have taken up huge booths. We hope the fair will be an open platform to show works but will also foster healthy competition between galleries. This will be a chance for galleries to stretch their muscles and showcase their capacity. I am confident the overall result will be visually impressive and thought-provoking. Everything will be very focused but also very diverse from the audience’s point of view.

How were sales last year? What are the expectations this year? 

The commercial side was great, so we could attract established galleries to join us this year. We expect commercial success this year as well. We encourage galleries to have a diverse price range. If our concept is to introduce ink into daily living, prices must be approachable, but at the same time professional collectors are looking for high-end works with promising investment value. So as well as showing high-end works by masters, we also have young artists’ works at lower prices.

What is your long-term commercial and cultural vision for the fair? 

Hong Kong is where ink art is. We know our cultural history and share cultural values, so it is important this fair is done by Chinese people. On the one hand, ink could be seen purely as a medium. At the same time, the larger meaning of contemporary ink is in mediating spirituality and our age-old cultural heritage through innovative interpretations based on modern experiences. The western world understands our ink culture in a more objective sense; this fair will give Chinese artists an opportunity to interact with the world and explore the traditional medium for new possibilities.

I hope Ink Asia will become recognised as the benchmark for the ink market and seen as the most influential platform in introducing modern and contemporary Chinese ink works to the world.

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