Portraits of excellence

Portraits of Excellence – Alexandra Fain, founder of Asia NOW

  • 21 October 2021

  • Ardian

  • Paris

Reading time: 6 minutes

It is on a lovely fall afternoon that Alexandra Fain welcomes us virtually to her offices and introduces us to members of her team. With smiles here and there, waves and a few words exchanged via the webcam, we catch a glimpse of the studious and warm atmosphere at the premises. It is three weeks before the start of Asia NOW, the contemporary Asian art fair co-founded by Alexandra Fain, and everyone is working flat out to get everything ready for the big day.

This year, Covid-19 delayed the project’s preparation, which had kicked off in high gear. Modest yet energetic, the “ambassador for Asian art in Paris”, as she is often called, sits comfortably on the sofa and takes us on a fascinating journey: from Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore, on the quest for young and talented Asian artists, to Tehran and Paris, where Asia NOW started, the adventure of a lifetime. So let’s follow the guide…


East-West

In 2010, the Asian artistic scene was buzzing. Alexandra Fain, who then worked in marketing and communications and travelled very regularly to Asia, discovered a fast-changing world: "From one trip to the next, I’d have trouble recognizing certain cities from an architectural and artistic viewpoint. In China, a lot of private foundations and contemporary art centers of impressive size and scale were springing up at that time.

Back in Paris, Alexandra Fain realized there was a gap: “This momentum I had witnessed in Asia barely reached France. People still had largely fixed and clichéd opinions about Asian art”. For Alexandra it was time to make a difference. In 2015, she invited a group of Chinese artists who gained prominence thanks to a firmly established art curator in China to the Venice Biennale and then organized the first ever Asia NOW exhibition at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris. This was also the year she invented Asia NOW, the first-ever Parisian fair dedicated to the contemporary Asian art scene, with a single goal in mind: showcase the emerging Asian art scene and give young artists the visibility their talent deserves. Increasingly, Asia NOW will also welcome well-established artists presented as part of their Asian programs by leading international galleries which propose numerous artists such as Danysz, Nathalie Obadia, Templon, Continua, Perrotin or Almine Rech.

Ardian was very quick to take an interest in this pioneering initiative and provided its support right from the 2nd edition. And so a very trustworthy relationship was forged between the private investment company and Alexandra Fain, who share the same vision of the world:

Openness of mind, solidarity, focus on sustainable development, boldness, taste for exploration, desire to contribute to global changes, leadership and much more. Ardian is more than just an investor. We are both looking in the same direction and share fundamental values.

Alexandra Fain, founder of Asia NOW

Off the beaten track

The 2021 edition of Asia NOW is devoted to “awakening consciousness”. A theme which, according to its creator, echoes the health crisis that the world has endured in recent months: “2020 and 2021 have encouraged us to be more aware of our surroundings. This year I wanted to promote a stronger social, societal and ecological commitment at the fair”. However, the idea of painting an apocalyptic or melancholic vision of the world was out of the question: Alexandra Fain’s approach remains fundamentally pragmatic and optimistic. For her, it is important to be able to ask yourself the right questions and take control of your life. And this is what art encourages us to do: “Art does not necessarily provide the answers but enables us to ask questions about the world around us. It allows us to see life differently, multiply points of view and reinvent our relationship with life”.

And she has succeeded with this new edition of Asia NOW that is all about decentering and exploration. Territorial exploration by expanding its scope to Western Asia: Iran is showcased with 8 galleries from Tehran and the presentation by Odile Burluraux, the curator of the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art, of the work of 10 Iranian women artists and the social struggles that they evoke. Then an exploration of techniques, with a specific focus on ceramics. The fair also explores the Chinese concept of “Shun”, which means “to adapt, to go with the flow”- a concept presented by Nicolas Bourriaud, art critic and independent curator. Kathy Alliou, director of the art works department at the Beaux-Arts de Paris museum, focuses on the Matsutaké mushroom, which has virtually disappeared from Japan’s forests but has the unique ability to grow in destroyed or damaged areas. For Alexandra Fain, this allegory of the power of life, of “life springing up from the ruins” is “the very expression of our ability to drive change in times of crisis. And crisis = opportunity”.


Shun

A form of resilience or resistance that Alexandra herself wonderfully embodies, having succeeded in navigating the Asia NOW organization through thick and thin, despite the pandemic, the lockdowns and closed borders. She explains: “We had to adopt contingency strategies this year to enable artists to travel and present their work. I am particularly pleased about the presence of the 8 Iranian galleries, which were brought to France despite the health context.” Adaptation is perhaps the key to the success achieved by Alexandra Fain, who, in keeping with the precepts of “Shun”, is capable of adapting to today’s world and the changes in her environment. And this year, adaptation has been synonymous with digitization:

The pandemic has boosted the use of digital technology in the art world. I wish for Asia NOW to become a place in the future where people can meet physically, at key events in the art world, and a platform for digital exchanges that is in tune with the world and the times.

Alexandra Fain, founder of Asia NOW

When asked what the 2021 edition of Asia NOW means to her, Alexandra Fain replies with conviction that it is both a motionless journey (showing the world through the eyes of the exhibition curators associated with the event) and a commitment: this year more than ever, the exhibition will be set up as a project fair with the organization of a conversation platform by the association Thanks for Nothing. The Thanks for Nothing team has organized a series of round tables which will highlight the committed practices of figures from the art world and enlighten the general public on themes that pervade our societies to create a collective awareness and pave the way for new forms of commitment. The aim of these round tables, which will be held on Friday October 22 at the exhibition site, is to improve the understanding of Asian cultures. They will question historical and geographical approaches adopted in Asia and showcase the curatorial practices and social commitment of figures from the art world.


A fascinating exploration that she wishes to offer her visitors. A delightful place which offers a change of scenery and from where she hopes they can leave feeling more upbeat and mindful, stronger and perhaps even happier.

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