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alexandra seno

When the Toronto International Art Fair (Art Toronto) opens in late October, a notable feature this year will be the Focus Asia section.

The market for art as an alternative asset is thriving in Asia, and Linel Rebenchuk, vice-president of Art Toronto, says it's a natural for Asian dealers and others to try to engage collectors in Canada.

"The Canadian market is attractive not only because of its sophistication but also because the economy is so strong – better than many older, larger art markets in Europe. The Canadian art market is growing."

Seventeen countries will be represented at Art Toronto, where about 40 per cent of the 100-plus galleries come from outside Canada.

Focus Art, which is invitation-only, will include 14 enterprises. They come from near and far. SAVAC, the South Asian Visual Arts Centre, is based in Toronto. Art Lexing and Tyler Rollins Fine Art are from the United States. Gao Magee Gallery is from Spain, and Galerie Zimmermann Kratochwill is from Austria.

There will be three from Japan: MA2 Gallery, Galerie Paris and Tezukayama Gallery. Two each from Korea – Galerie Pici and Wellside Gallery – and Beijing: Gallery Yang and the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art. India (Gallery Sumukha) and Taiwan (Galleria H) will also be represented.

"In general, the Canadian art market is more conservative than New York and about the same as Chicago. We are a young country, but Canadian collectors are very adventurous," Mr. Rebenchuk says.

While that conservatism means mainstream preferences still bend toward traditional, European-style aesthetics, the new openness is resulting in more Canadian buyers who are interested in contemporary art from around the world.

To create Focus Asia, Mr. Rebenchuk collaborated with experts: Zheng Shengtian, the editor of Vancouver's Yishu, the respected contemporary Chinese art journal, and Beijing independent curator Katherine Don.

"I travel everywhere and see the explosion in contemporary Asian art. The Canadian market is thirsty for something different," Mr. Rebenchuk says.

The fair attracts about 20,000 visitors.

"In any new market where you go for the first time, you need to introduce what you have. Many collectors might not recognize the gallery and the artist, and they can be nervous to pay $50,000 the first time, but at $5,000 to $15,000, if they love the work, they will buy and want to know more. I want Asian galleries coming to Canada but they also need time to prove themselves. They should get to know the Canadian collectors," Mr. Rebenchuk explains.

He has advised galleries in the Focus Asia section that have not shown in Canada before to bring their strongest works, even if they are expensive, but also to have more affordable pieces, priced under $20,000.

Mr. Rebenchuk describes Canada as a "common-sense" market, where the savviest buyers are careful to study the fundamentals.

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