We want to break the hierarchy between craft and art. Interview with Florance Xia and Noga Zhang Shahar from Froots & Nogart

Interview  /  CarolinDenter   CriticalThinking   Galleries   Market
Published: 15.05.2019
Director Florance Xia and Curator Noga Zhang Shahar Director Florance Xia and Curator Noga Zhang Shahar
Carolin Denter
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The series by Klimt02 offers space for questions, ideas, and discussions about galleries, artists and the current jewellery market. This is the fifth interview in a series of interviews with gallerists and art dealers from around the world.

We continue with FROOTS & Nogart, a leading western art and design agent and brand in China. It represents artists and designers from around the world, organizing a wide range of commercial, academic, and cultural activities in China.
Situated at the heart of the Shanghai art and business center, the company’s showroom functions as an operation base, hosting solo and group exhibitions.  In addition, FROOTS & Nogart is engaged in a range of other activities including Chinese online vending, art fairs, museum exhibitions and more. We talked with Florance Xia,Director of FROOTS Gallery and Noga Zhang Shahar Chief Curator of FROOTS Gallery and Founder of NOGART(Agency)
Please describe your gallery’s criteria in one sentence.
Noga Zhang Shahar: Froots is a leading platform of international contemporary artists of varied fields: painting, sculpture, installation, ceramics… and jewelry.

Many galleries curate their artists with a specific vision in mind. You are promoting especially western artists. Please tell us more about your personal vision.
Noga Zhang Shahar: Numerous Chinese artists have obtained international fame in recent years; Chinese art collectors and the art market are among the most active ones in the world. But Chinese artists, galleries and the audience still have a long way to catch up. And showing western artists can create opportunities for Chinese people to learn and for cultural exchange too. Nonetheless, FROOTS doesn’t close its door to local artists. We will always keep open minded and not draw demarcations.

Outer view of the Froots Gallery in Shanghai

Please tell us more about FROOTS & Nogart Gallery and the Chinese contemporary jewellery market: what major successes and challenges have you had this year?
Florance Xia: FROOTS Gallery Shanghai & Beijing held nine exhibitions in 2018, showing artworks of about thirty artists, and gained 2022+56540 audiences. Contemporary jewelry is, in fact, quite a new area in China. The public knows little about contemporary art let alone contemporary jewelry. Due to those exhibitions of Froots and those of our contemporary jewelry brand “FROOTS & Nogart”, they become interested in contemporary art. This is quite a significant achievement.

The challenge we’re facing is a practical one. Contemporary jewelry is such an unpopular field in China that even professionals in the contemporary art field don’t think it is a part of it. A few contemporary art medias would even charge us fees when we were promoting contemporary jewelry, because they thought it was just a commercial advertisement. Therefore, we encounter a lot of limitation while promoting contemporary jewelry through art media. It reflects the big challenge we are facing right now.

Outer view of Froots Gallery in Bejing

Talking about the professional market: What are the values of your gallery in the professional market and what kind of values do you look for the in the jewelry artists you represent?
Noga Zhang Shahar: Marco Polo brought inventions of humanity and science from China to Europe which pushed the European culture forward. FROOTS is doing the same thing in the field of art and in the opposite direction. In addition, Froots works as a bridge between western and Chinese art.
One of the reasons for contemporary jewelry being a unique art is that people may wear them. They can help with both women and men’s self-expression and self-confidence. In order to realize this extraordinary value, I think we should push art jewelry out of the tiny community of collectors and bring it closer to regular people.

Art gallery openings and closings have always been part of the art world, but recently, there have been more closings than ever in Europe. The annual report on the art market published Art Basel and UBS omit that in 2017, for the first time in 10 years, closings of galleries outnumbered openings. How do you see the future of your own gallery and what are your hopes regarding this issue? Do you see any differences between the Asian and the Western market?
Florance Xia: With the exception of some world-class international galleries, I think the current situation for most galleries is very challenging. Because today we are in the information age, people have numerous choices when facing artworks, galleries, artists, etc., so when he can choose to buy a piece of artworks, he will actually be more prudent. For example, in Shanghai and Beijing, hundreds of high-quality exhibitions take place every week in art museums or galleries. The audience will be thoughtful thinking about which one to visit.

FROOTS Gallery’s goal has gone beyond a Gallery. It does work of an art museum, which is expressed not only through the curation of exhibitions, but also cooperation with different art institutions to hold public education and art events. Therefore, FROOTS Gallery is always aiming to be more diversified, and artworks and art activities will also be products that galleries can provide.

The overseas markets may be optimistic about the potential of consumption in the Chinese market, but in my opinion, in the field of art, more time should be spent on art education.
FROOTS Gallery insists on Art for Public. Good exhibitions, works, and artistic activities are promoting to establish beautiful relationships between art and the public, and enhance their artistic aesthetic and creativity. Therefore, we believe that Art is involved in the process of pushing forward the development of society, and it is not just business. The gallery can be in a concrete space, which I prefer to be invisible. It can be found in two Spaces of FROOTS in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as in the elderly community, schools in mountainous areas and hospital wards, bringing people the beauty and tranquility of art. So this is what FROOTS Gallery is trying to do, including the display of large works of art in a public environment, aiming to make the city more alive and energetic. Therefore, at present, FROOTS has not planned to participate in other high-end and well-known art fairs or events except the influential contemporary jewelry art week Schmuck in Munich, because this is against the position and direction of our gallery.

Educational speak: Lecture of an Artist for the interested audience

Speaking of competition, this is an important part of the art market. Do you think of other galleries as a challenge, a competition, and/or an improvement in the field you are working in?
Florance Xia: Instead of treating other galleries as competitors, we should think together about how to operate in a more professional and standardized way as a community in the field of the art business. The more standardized the operation, the more competition can become mutual promotion opportunities. Even if we are in the same field, each gallery is positioned differently and the artists they represent are also different. It would be beneficial for us to have more communication, share information and learn from each other.

Exhibition view at Froots Gallery

FROOTS & NOGART Gallery has many ongoing projects next to sales and online vending, such as collaborations and academic activities. We would like to know more about your marketing strategies and how you are able to survive?
Florance Xia: FROOTS & NOGART is part of FROOTS gallery, representing contemporary jewelry. FROOTS Gallery is engaged in not only contemporary jewelry but also other contemporary arts. Yet contemporary jewelry is so important to us that it covers 2/3 of the gallery exhibitions. However, until now, the sales of contemporary jewelry cannot guarantee the survival of the gallery. FROOTS has been putting a lot of effort into public art education in order to attract more audience. At the same time, FROOTS Gallery runs public art projects and sales of other types of contemporary art.

Regarding the marketing aspects of running a gallery, what do you think is the most important part for your gallery?
Florance Xia: The most important part for me is connecting the public and embracing the public. Although involving more collectors is important for the gallery, we may find that still very few people in China know about or are interested in contemporary art. Even in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen, people who are truly interested in art accounts for quite a small amount. As a relative niche gallery, FROOTS did its best in presenting high-quality exhibitions in the last 5 years. Artists from no matter contemporary jewellery or other areas are all included in our exhibitions. We also received a lot of positive feedback from audiences who expressed their appreciation. Therefore, we hope that FROOTS can function as a bridge, connect the public and the art world. We hope they can feel the sincerity in art through our exhibitions, and no longer think that art is something out of reach. Everyone can appreciate artworks equally and naturally.

The first “documenta” of our gallery is themed as One: Craft and Art. We displayed works of different materials and types, such as jewellery, ceramic, mosaic, origami, painting and installation. These artworks which are traditionally divided into “craft” and “fine arts” are mixed and presented together. We expressed our attitude in this exhibition. We want to break the hierarchy between craft and art because they are part of each other. So we curate this exhibition to show craft and art on one stage.

Display of different works, from ceramics to jewellery

Is a professional sales platform that develops and shares your work to increase sales something that interests you? What are your thoughts?
Florance Xia: Online sales are very developed and widespread in China. Yet for artworks, online sales are still very challenging, because most people still purchase them offline. Only if they have already known the artist and trust the gallery, they will buy artworks online. Speaking of contemporary jewellery, buyers prefer to see the work in person so they can try wearing them, which is a crucial part.
Maybe someone will be interested in one work when walking around in the exhibition and then feel connected to it when trying. Only after that, he/she will make the purchase decision

Moreover, an online sales platform should also target clearly. People from different countries trade online very differently. For example, deciding to prioritize promoting gallery or promoting artists is important, as well as identifying its function of promoting contemporary jewellery together with the gallery. It also bears educational function, like media.

"The Palace of Shettered Vessels" a traveling exhibition, initiated by Froots & Nogart, working on the topic of ancient chinese ceramics, reused in jewellery.

Besides selling pieces, how do you see the role of the gallerist in the artist-gallery relationship?
Noga Zhang Shahar: “Promoting art for artists” is a principle of Froots’. If we believe in art, we must believe in artists who are the creators of art. Gallerists should take responsibility to support its artists.

What do you think is missing at the moment and what do you think should cease to exist if any?
Noga Zhang Shahar: Like people in general, artists are varied. We just need to select the suitable ones. Because FROOTS works with artists for the long term, the selection is crucial for the gallery and for the artists too.

What would be your approach to expand, strengthen and change the art market based on your professional experience? What are your thoughts on improving the contemporary jewellery market?
Noga Zhang Shahar: My approach is to go with the stream of the art market, responding to people’s needs.
Talking about improving the contemporary jewelry market, we should first ask the question “What is the contemporary jewelry market?” It is thousands of makers on one side and tens of buyers on the other side if I am not mistaken. I think the right solution is to lower the prices. FROOTS &NOGART has thousands of fans of jewelry today as a result of its public education. Few of these young audiences can afford a piece of jewelry for more than 300 Euros. Though, it is not a matter of simply bringing down prices but is to build a more reasonable market.

About the Interviewee

Florance Xia (Xia Shiyuan) was among the first industry elites in the field of Brand Marketing in mainland China. In 18 years she successfully planned and executed marketing activities for more than 100 internationally renowned brands, from Givenchy and Dior to Phillips and Apple. Her cultural and commercial real estate projects included MGM Shopping Mall (now North Shore Changfeng) in Shanghai, Changfeng Business District and Minsheng Wharf Project in Pudong New Area, Shanghai; and Dulwich College, Yao International School, Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, etc. In 2014 she founded FROOTS Gallery, and was responsible for building its unique multi-functional system. In recent years, Florance Xia has been involved in the curation of more than 30 contemporary art exhibitions.

Noga Zhang Shahar is a graduate of Peking University.  She is an artist and a curator of art. Her book of illustrations Monkey and the Magic Gourd was issued in 2008 by the Tel Aviv publisher Am Oved. Her later educational experience includes comparative literature at Haifa University, Israel; Stage design at Tel Aviv University, Israel; and courses of Printmaking and Art History at Stanford University, US. Beginning in 2010, Noga Zhang Shahar curated dozens of exhibitions covering all fields of contemporary art – from painting and installation to ceramics and jewlery – in such prestigious venues as the CAFA Museum and the Today Museum in Beijing.

About the author

Denter completed her vocational training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. 
In 2017 she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she started working as Marketing- and Designmanagement Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein at the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement. Since 2015 she is working at, an online platform for the communication of contemporary jewelery. Trough articles and interviews she is developing critical subjects on the field of contemporary jewellery. Carolin is constantly working on her own jewellery, which has been exhibited among Europe.