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The Future of Art Fairs In A Post-COVID World

October 15, 2020

Gone are the days of flying from art fair to biennale and, sometimes kitsch, gallery opening. As blockbuster events like Frieze Los Angeles, Art Basel Hong Kong and Miami all go online, deep dive into the art world with Willem Molesworth, director of de Sarthe Gallery in Hong Kong.

De Sarthe works with a powerhouse roster of contemporary artists – David LaChapelle, Bernar Venet, Zhong Wei and Andrew Luk to name a few – and Willem Molesworth is at its forefront as a modern gallerist who’s bringing digital, interactive and experimental art online. Whether you’re an art connoisseur or newbie, Willem shares his top arty recs on the cities, artists, galleries and virtual experiences to check out right now.

Since starting with de Sarthe, how have you seen the industry change?

In the last nine months, especially, we’ve seen galleries and museums completely refocusing on local and regional art ecologies.

What has been the best thing to happen during COVID?

It has been good in that people have been given the time and space to slow down – to think about the art that surrounds them. Here in Hong Kong, collectors have always had an appetite for works from the US, Europe and China, but not necessarily artists based in Hong Kong itself. Now there is the opportunity to consider art by artists who have had similar shared experiences and speak the same cultural language as the buyer.

How is your gallery combatting travel bans, from a gallery perspective and for artists?

We are creating more content than ever for digital consumption and engagement. One of our current projects is a video series called “On-Site Notes.” It is fast-paced, meme-laden and Youtube styled. The open talk showcases our artists, intel and insights on the gallery scene. It’s still early days but the series has been very well received so far.

What do you love about travelling?

I love travelling because of how it connects the world together in meaningful ways. So much so that I started an alternative arts institution called Suitcase Institute with my wife Ysabelle Cheung, who is a fiction and arts writer. 

Suitcase Institute asks artists to create artwork in a suitcase, a piece of work that can ‘travel’ the world freely and be exhibited at any time or location. Like how travel has been shaken up now, it is an attempt to challenge the current modes of viewing art. To think beyond the white cube space and make the most out of our globalized world. 

At the moment, where’s the best place to look for contemporary art?

Right now, I would go online. There is so much happening at the moment it’s mind-boggling.

I find exciting artists and projects just by scrolling through Instagram. Two online projects that come to mind are AORA space and Cabin Fever Playlist

AORA space is an online museum/gallery, where you can navigate a digital space that has been designed by an architect through video-game-like controls. They have wonderfully curated it with artwork.

Cabin Fever is a crowdsourced list of experimental art movies you can watch online, sorted by emotion and other subjects.

Which cities do you travel to for the best art?

That’s hard! Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta and Taipei are all personal favourites. 

More than half of the world's population lives in Asia, yet growing up in the USA I learned so little about art and culture from this hemisphere. As Asia becomes the world's economic engine, exploring how the creative scenes are changing is endlessly interesting. More importantly, as a gallerist based in Hong Kong, I am able to contribute to its development.

Which are your favourite galleries in the world and why?

In Seoul: ONE AND J. The owner of the gallery has a great eye and strong vision for the future of the Korean art scene.


(Photo: Courtesy of ONE AND J)

In Tokyo: Anomaly. It is actually three galleries that united under one roof to build a sort of democratically run power gallery. They have a very engaging and exciting program year-round.

A Drunk Pandemic by Chim↑Pom

Chim↑Pom, A Drunk Pandemic (Photo: Courtesy of Kenji Morita/ANOMALY)

Across Southeast Asia, there are a handful of standout galleries: ROH Projects (Jakarta), Nova Contemporary (Bangkok) and GalerieQuynh (Ho Chi Minh).


Who are your favourite living artists and what are they doing now?

I work with all of my favourite artists— that’s why I do what I do!

Our HK-based artist Andrew Luk is continually developing work that investigates history, culture and our relationship to nature— the new and dystopian world orders.

Our other represented HK-based artist Mak Ying Tung 2. She has an on-going body of work that uses the Sims and Taobao to critique the art market and question society at large. She dives into escapism, Shanzhai culture and more.

One of my other favourite artists is Zhong Wei, who looks at how the Internet affects our mind and shapes our current era.

Home Sweet Home by Mak Ying Tung 2

Mak Ying Tung 2, Home Sweet Home (Photo: Courtesy of de Sarthe Gallery) 

What do you think the future of art fairs will be like?

Things are changing so quickly it's hard to tell. Until we can start travelling freely again art fairs are likely only to exist as local/regional efforts or as online-only viewing rooms.

The need and desire for art fairs have not disappeared, and so it's just a matter of working within the confines of what's feasible.


What’s next for de Sarthe?

We are planning three exhibitions this fall that promises to showcase some of the most exciting, boundary-pushing contemporary coming from Asia.

Follow de Sarthe on Instagram @desarthegallery for inspiration or check out their exhibitions on desarthe.com

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