MIAMI ART FAIR | KANSAS CITY GALLERY ATTRACTS ATTENTION
The Kansas City Star Visual Arts, Sunday, December 21, 2008, By Alice Thorson
Reports from Miami suggest some art dealers had a tough I time moving work at the recent Art Basel Miami Beach art fair. Not Byron Cohen His Kansas City gallery sold more than a million dollars of art during the fair’s four-day run Dec. 4-7.
Cohen said It didn’t hurt that Byron Cohen Gallery made the front page of the Miami Herald on Dec. 5 and also received a plug in the Heralds online article “The Art Basel Cheat Sheet: What You Have to See."
Bruce Hartman, director of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary-Art visited the gallery- at the fair and found it “always filled with collectors." “And this was a major accomplishment." he said, “considering the hundreds of prominent, international galleries vying for attention." Cohen took booths at both Scope and Art Asia, two of 20 satellite fairs around Art Basel Between the two he sold 20 paintings priced from $8,000 to $400,000. All were created by contemporary Chinese artists, an area he has been exploring for almost a decade. Most of the work is figurative and reflects the dynamic changes happening in China today.
The Heralds online story singled out Wang Huaxiang’s sculpture and painting of tiny workers swarming over a monumental figure of Mao as a “don't miss." Wang Huaxiang is from a generation of artists in their 40s and 50s whose work tends to focus on political and social concerns. Raised under the austerity of the Cultural Revolution they look askance at China's new consumer society; whereas younger artists take it for granted.
Cohen's sales — to collectors from as far away as Germany — encompassed works across the generational spectrum, from Wang Jia-zeng's dark vision of contemporary industrial workers imprisoned in an assembly line of boxes, to Gao Xiaowu's roly-poly fiberglass sculpture commenting on consumers “bloated with their desires." Although Cohen has represented some Chinese artists in the past (notably Hung Liu, whose work is included in many Kansas City collections), his full-scale commitment to contemporary Chinese art is relatively new. It began at last year’s fair, he said, when he met Lenny- Sc has, an artist and former San Diego art dealer who was looking for a partner. Sc has is married to a Chinese woman and divides his time between San Diego and Beijing. He became a good friend." Cohen said. "He knows all these artists personally."
In conjunction with this year’s fair, Cohen put out an illustrated color catalog, with informative essays, of works by 40 Chinese artists he is handling. The influence of Western styles is apparent, but the artists adapt them to express Chinese cultural concerns.
As Arthur Hwang, a Beijing-based curator and critic from London, notes in his introductory essay, “Evolutionary- processes that took the West over 200 years to complete are being collapsed into a few decades of explosive growth and ruthless transformation"
The sudden changes are producing social upheaval Hwang said, but also cultural revitalization Patronage is part of it. “The Chinese are buying like crazy because they can’t buy- land. All they can do is buy things," Cohen said.He attributes his red-hot sales to scarcity. “This work is difficult to get." he said. “And people in the know know.” Many of the works he showed in Miami were made specifically for Art Basel, bypassing the Chinese market. It’s not always easy for galleries from smaller cities to get space at the big international art fairs, but Cohen figures that’s changed for him. “We did extremely well" Cohen said. “They’re going to let me go into any fair I want now "
To reach Alice Thorson, art critic, call 816-234-4763 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org