Case study: Taipei Dangdai art fair

The inaugural art fair may draw comparisons to Art Basel Hong Kong, but its Asia-heavy lineup and inclusive price points are a boon.

The inaugural Taipei Dangdai that took place in January this year at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Centre was the first international art fair hosted by the city. The event was set up by the same people who founded ArtHK, now known as Art Basel Hong Kong following the sale to MCH Group. Both events name UBS as a main sponsor.

The comparison drawn to Art Basel HK added some welcome interest in the new festival, but organisers of Taipei Dangdai (translating to ‘the present moment’) were determined to make it distinctive.

The ideas

Magnus Renfrew, one of the four co-founders of Taipei Dangdai, envisioned the event as a regional-based contemporary arts festival with a stronger emphasis on Asia-based galleries and artistes.

The event is a joint venture between Single Market Events, ARTHQ/Events, Angus Montgomery and Ramsay Fairs. Pico was appointed to handle event operations.

“We have been very [upfront about] having a different positioning. We don’t want to be too Western-centric, because there are [already] art fairs that do that,” says Renfrew. “We didn’t want to try to create Art Basel Hong Kong; we wanted to be Taipei Dangdai.”

In doing that, the galleries were represented predominantly by Asian exhibitors—from Chengdu to Singapore—besides a limited number of galleries from New York and a few other European cities. The art fair also introduced several features, including the Salon sector, which exhibited artwork priced below US$8,000.

“I am a firm believer that you can actually buy quality at every price point, I want to help demonstrate that,” says Renfrew. Organisers have previously used stickers on booths to indicate different price sections, which Renfrew believes has not been very effective in its messaging. 

“By actually having a physical location where all these things are placed, it is much more accessible and readable for the audience,” he says.

On the whole, Taipei Dangdai was less costly for galleries, compared to other major international art fairs and Art Central, the satellite fair held the same time as Art Basel Hong Kong.

However, Hong Kong has a plus by not imposing taxes on art, making it a cheaper city for the transportation and transaction of artworks.

For Taipei Dangdai, a number of galleries took up the organiser’s offer to work with its partner shipping company to alleviate some of the upfront taxes for exhibitors. Renfrew adds that the role of art fairs is evolving, and transactions now often take place weeks or months after the art fair, or at a separate art fair.

“[Art fairs are] increasingly regarded as touchpoints, enabling people to deepen their relationships with existing collectors and broaden their relationships with new collectors,” says Renfrew. “In the end, if you [want to] generate an exhibition business that can work well, it [has to] give exhibitors a sense of comfort that they are meeting the right kind of people and establishing relations that can further the career of the artistes.”

The insights

Taipei Dangdai drew 28,000 collectors, exceeding its initial target of 20,000. According to Renfrew, sponsorship activation from UBS, which brought in its VIP list of high net worth collectors, helped expand the reach of the fair.

A packed itinerary was planned for VIP collectors, such as bespoke events organised by international curators, as well as the Taipei Gallery Night and an after-hours tour of the National Palace Museum.

“We had people coming to discover the art fair, but they were also coming to discover the city. And I think they enjoyed the buzz and energy… the Taiwanese are fantastic hosts, there was a real sense of excitement within the Taipei arts community,” says Renfrew.

He says there will be a second edition next year, and adds that much of the work in growing the festival involves generating buzz for Taipei in the international art scene.

“There are a lot of fairs organised by people who don’t have an events background, and don’t make investment in high-level marketing and PR campaigns. We managed to generate US$10 million worth of press coverage [as measured by the standards of Advertising Value Equivalent], which is extraordinary to put Taiwan and Taipei on the cultural map,” he says.


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