HONG KONG ART FAIR
“What do you think of the art fair this year?” Advisors, fair visitors, writers and artists graciously suffered our question ‘du jour’ for the duration of the much-anticipated second edition of Art HK.
Tipped to be the Art Basel of Asia after its successful inaugural edition in 2008 we, along with art market participants around the world, were curious to know if this year’s show was still on track to fulfill its promise.
There was more art on offer this time with 110 participants (up from 101 in 2008) and there was a consensus view that the show was well-organised. “The management of the show is slick, very slick,” said a reporter from an established London-based arts magazine.
Whether it was the latent potential of the Asian market or the polished work by organisers Asian Art Fairs Ltd , a collaboration between Single Market Events, Andry Montgomery and Will Ramsay of Pulse Contemporary Art Fairs, prestigious galleries such as New York’s Gagosian and London’s White Cube signed up for the first time this year in an unexpected coup for a fair so early in its career.
But what about the quality of the art? Did it hold up against the top international art fairs? What did galleries dare to bring to a new market in the midst of a wrenching recession? How safe did they play it?
The answer: Happily not very safe at all. The utilitarian convention centre hall venue was filled to the rafters with eye-sizzling non-decorative pieces: intriguing installations vied with over-sized multi-media works and towering sculptures.
Last year Amelia Johnson Contemporary sold Macau-based Russian artist Konstantin Bessmertny’s popular paintings like sweets. The year she also showed his more demanding enormous horse sculpture/installation/performance piece Momentum pro Aliquis 2008/9, a riderless Renaissance horse in wood.
“It is much, much better than last year” said a Hong Kong-based art advisor with 15 years of experience. “It is more cutting edge, much riskier”. Managing editor of Orientations magazine, Hwang Yin agreed “Yes the quality of the art is far better this year, less Chinese painting. The work on show is much more interesting.”
Even a Hong Kong hedge fund manager fair visitor who has not purchased an artwork in 10 years noticed the difference. “The quality is up several notches compared with last year. I found plenty of ideas and I am thinking of buying a piece this time”. An account manager for a London-based arts magazine visiting the fair for first time said she liked the art at the fair because it is ‘international’ and was particularly intrigued by the Korean works because of their novel use of space and materials.
While feedback was overwhelmingly positive, there were a few stray, albeit muted, dissenters. A young highly-regarded Asian curator was less enthusiastic: “I think the art could be better but to be honest I am biassed. I have a problem with fairs anyway as I come from a non-profit background. But I can say that the work at Green Cardamom is stellar and The Drawing Room is showing some interesting pieces too”.
Hong Kong artist James Feldmanblogged unhappily about the Ferdinand Botero-like fat figure sculptures and the ‘saccharine kitsch’ from Beijing. But he did like Baselitz and Schnabel: “they stood out like a couple of grizzled WWII vets swaggering through a kindergarten”.
Surprise was the response of renowned Biennale-exhibiting artist Din Q. Le from Vietnam whose solo show South China Sea Pishkun at 10 Chancery Lane opened during the fair. “I am taken aback by the enthusiasm for the fair that everyone is showing. In the west the art scene is kind of depressed.”
Hong Kong is known for its energetic, can-do culture and maybe that accounted for some of the fizz and excitement. But for Johann Nowak of DNA Berlin, it was the future opportunities offered by the Asian art market which made his voice bubble with excitement as he talked to us. He believes Hong Kong is the ‘perfect place in every way’ for an art fair. ‘It is just perfect’. Pressed for specifics he came up with a benefit new to us: he explained that one of the key advantages of Hong Kong is that “there are no dominant galleries in the town” allowing a level playing field and equal opportunities for visiting galleries. ”There are no gallery intrigues, that is what makes Basel work so well too”.
And what about sales?
Reuters focussed on the performance of the major international galleries in the first days of the fair and reported ‘notable sales’ such as the Gilbert and George ‘Gingko’ piece bought from White Cube by an Asian collector for GBP325,000. For a rounded view, Art Radar approached a few of the other lesser known and Asian galleries on the last day of the fair.
Tokyo-based Yamamoto Gendai said “We have not sold so many pieces here, about 5” and German gallery Levy reported just one sale. Korean art specialist Cais Gallery who participated last year too said they had sold 4 to 5 pieces in the US$4-8,000 range. “It is slow compared with last year, fewer collectors”. Another Japanese gallery sold 5-6 pieces in the US$5-20,000 range with much interest shown in Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs. Beijing -based Aye Gallery sold 7 pieces.
In terms of sales, this was a “bits and pieces” fair and on the last day the mood was less buoyant than suggested by early press reports. Nevertheless the galleries remained firmly committed to the fair because of ‘the quality’. According to Novak, this year making sales is less important than networking and exposing work to institutions and international collectors. “Next year is the year to watch sales.”
- Newslink round up – Art HK 09 – May 09
- Art Dubai 2009 – who sold what to whom? – Mar 09
- Shanghai art fair goes ahead despite advice to cancel – Mar 09
- Who are the top artists at art fairs? – Mar 09
- Newslink round up Arco Madrid 2009 – Feb 09