Art Basel in Hong Kong’s Triumphant Coming of Age -

art basel in hong kong2 Art Basel in Hong Kong’s Triumphant Coming of Age   artmarketblog.comHong Kong’s status as a duty-free port has been a point of concern for gallerists, collectors, and curators in the city for a number of years. It has been suggested that the local art scene could be overshadowed or overwhelmed by collectors using the city as a transactional thoroughfare for purchasing the work of Western artists through the major Western gallery juggernauts that have launched branches in Hong Kong – Gagosian and White Cube, for example. But if the 2014 edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong is anything to go by, Asia’s contemporary art scene may be strong enough and vibrant enough to counteract the Western influence, however strong it may be.

In 2013 Art Basel in Hong Kong was criticized by some for being too international, however just one year later the fair has a distinctly Asian flavor that has been enhanced by the strong showing from regional Asian galleries. And although the identity of the fair is still very much characterized by the work of blue-chip Chinese and Western artists, both modern and contemporary, the regional Asian undercurrent that flows throughout the fair has brought with it a refreshing breeze of emerging talent that adds an interesting and exciting progressive edge to the event that the Art Basel team would do well to nurture, develop, and extend.

When asked how the fair had progressed in recent years, Art Basel’s Director Asia, Magnus Renfrew, said that he was struck by the high caliber of works brought by the Western galleries this year, and said that he thought galleries were no longer trying to second-guess the market. While Marc Spiegler, Director of Art Basel, commented on the rate at which the Asian galleries have raised the level of their presentations, especially when it comes to contextualizing the work of their artists. These two different perspectives are a good representation of the developing identity of the fair, which in 2014 is particularly strong. There is a definite sense of confidence and belonging that gives this year’s edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong a mature and established identity that will contribute significantly to Magnus Renfrew’s goal of establishing Art Basel in Hong Kong as an internationally significant event as well as a stop-off for the global art community.

The true indicator of the success of an art fair, sales, have been strong. Galleries have reported sales of major works by Jenny Holzer (Pearl Lam Galleries), Zhu Jinshi (Pearl Lam Galleries), Zhang Enli (Hauser & Wirth), Sterling Ruby (Hauser & Wirth), Mariko Mori (Sean Kelly Gallery), Antony Gormley (White Cube), Hong Ling (Soka Art), Anish Kapoor (Lisson Gallery), Françoi-Xavier Lalanne (Ben Brown Fine Arts), Giorgio de Chirico (Galleria d’Arte Maggiore), Nyoman Masriadi (Paul Kasmin Gallery), Hernan Bas (Lehmann Maupin), to name a few. The M+ museum also announced the acquisition of a number of works using funds from the new $5m HKD Brown Family Annual Acquisition Fund which was donated by Hong Kong-based philanthropist and artist Rosamond Brown. The Museum purchased Byron Kim’s “Belly Painting, (Yellow Green with Streaks)” (2004), Au Hoi Lam’s “Memento (White Shirt)” (2014) and “Memento (She Can’t Remember)” (2014), Hassan Sharif’s “Cotton Rope No. 7” (2012), and Kishio Suga’s “Untitled” (1975).

One of the most important indicators of the current state of the market and the collecting landscape is the nationality and location of buyers. Gallerists have been reporting sales of Asian works to Western buyers and Western works to Asian buyers which is a sign that geographical boundaries are becoming less prominent. The fact that collectors from mainland China have been a particularly active presence at the fair, accounting for a considerable percentage of the sales, is evidence that the art scene and art market of mainland China are continuing to develop and open up.

There have also been a number of trends that have emerged during the fair, in terms of both aesthetics and medium. The spectacle is still very much an influential factor when it comes to attracting buyers, with large-scale sculptural objects, light-based works, kinetic sculptures, and sprawling multifaceted installations attracting plenty of attention. Works featuring repetitive motifs, some in an almost mosaic-style geometric configuration are also particularly prominent, as are paintings featuring heavily impastoed surfaces such as those of Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi. There is also a high number of works that attempt to subvert, divert, and avert the gaze using different methods of visual magic and trickery, light and reflection in particular. Large-scale photographs are also plentiful, pointing to the continued popularity of the medium.

The Japanese galleries are particularly strong this year, even though they are relatively few in number. Given events of the past it would be understandable that the Japanese would be hesitant to proclaim the dawn of a new era for the country’s art scene and art market, but the evidence is there to support such a claim. SCAI The Bathouse of Tokyo, Take Ninagawa of Tokyo, Y++ Wada Fine Arts of Tokyo, Yamamoto Gendai of Tokyo, and Gallery Yamaki Fine Art of Kobe had particularly strong presentations at this year’s fair. Other standout presentations include Galerie Paris-Beijing’s exhibition of works by Yang Yongliang, Galeri Canna’s solo FX Harsono show, Pearl Lam Galleries’ exhibition showcasing the history of Chinese abstract painting, Thai artist Jakkai Siributr’s work at Yavuz Fine Art, David Zwirner’s selection of works by Oscar Murillo, Jan Murphy Gallery’s solo Danie Mellor exhibition, Arndt Berlin’s impressive display of various Asian and Western artists, Starkwhite’s exhibition of New Zealand artist Gordon Walters as well, Hanart’s Gu Wenda exhibition, as the of Project Fulfill, Galerie Continua, Platform China, and Kalfayan Galleries.

**Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer.  He is the founder of the Art Market Blog ( which offers independent commentaries as well as research and analysis on the current art market, and has recently been published in Fabrik magazine, Verve magazine, Visual Art Beat magazine, Australian Art Collector magazine, Art & Investment magazine and many others.  Nic has made several radio appearances (both nationally and internationally) as an art market expert and has received press from the likes of the New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio and Times of London.


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