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Recognising Taiwan as a major player in the contemporary art market

Taiwan has more major buyers than its neighbour China, with more than 1,000 voracious collectors

Taipei

Long before the high profile courting of art collectors in mainland China, buyers from Taiwan had proved to be Asia’s major customers at auctions and art fairs. While most of today’s Taiwanese collectors travel internationally to attend museum exhibitions and commercial events, dealers and advisers have ramped up activities that engage them on their own turf.

Having a direct relationship is key. “Taiwanese collectors need more time to study and understand the works. They like to be in-depth… they want a long relationship,” says Eva Lin, the director of Art Taipei, the main contemporary art fair that takes place each autumn.

Lin believes there are more than 1,000 contemporary art collectors of note in Taiwan, which has a population of only 23 million. In Asia’s art market, dealers privately say that there are no more than 100 such collectors among the billion-plus people in mainland China. “Five years ago we had 78 galleries, now we have 150 galleries joining Art Taipei. Five years ago 30% were foreign galleries, now we have half—and we get new applications all the time,” she says. “[They] are not coming to meet the international collectors they can meet in Hong Kong and Singapore. Eighty-five percent of visitors to Art Taipei are Taiwanese.”

“Face-to-face is important for Taiwanese collectors,” says Pascale de Sarthe, a dealer who has sold a number of Western contemporary works to prominent Taiwan collectors. He has galleries in Hong Kong and Beijing, and helped the owners of the iconic Taipei 101 building to acquire a large outdoor “Love” sculpture by Robert Indiana that has become a Taiwan landmark. De Sarthe visits Taiwan at least once a month.

Popping up

In the past few months, to keep a presence throughout the year, other savvy international art market players have experimented with pop-up exhibitions and collaborations with local Taiwan art spaces.

Edouard Malingue, who has a gallery in Hong Kong, joined forces with Esther Lu, the curator of Taipei Artist Village (a housing and exhibition centre) and of the Taiwanese Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. They staged the recent well-received pop-up group show, “Never Odd or Even” at the artist village, which explored the boundaries of aesthetics and was timed to coincide with the Taipei Biennale (until 4 January). The project was supported by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture.

A tradition of appreciation

Taiwan has one of the longest traditions in Asia of art appreciation and collecting, dating to after the Communist Party took power in Beijing, in 1949. Many Chinese intellectuals and wealthy merchant families moved to Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Chinese government also installed its Imperial art collection, brought from the mainland by ship.

De Sarthe likens Taiwan to Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea, which have many voracious collectors but which are not necessarily on the international art map. “Taiwan collectors have a real passion for art. They are bold. And when they get into an artist, they don’t just buy one or two pieces.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Face to face with collectors in the other China'