Camilla Hewitson on the Affordable Art Fair and the Hong Kong art market – interview

Art Radar speaks to Director Camilla Hewitson about the Affordable Art Fair and the art market in Hong Kong.

The Affordable Art Fair (AAF) in Hong Kong, which ran between 21-23 March 2014, positions itself as a counterpoint to spiralling art auction prices and aims to demystify art collecting. Just before this year’s fair opened its doors, Director Camilla Hewitson talked to Art Radar about the event, why it is different from other fairs, and the development of the art market in Hong Kong.

Affordable Art Fair, installation view. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

Affordable Art Fair, installation view. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

The Affordable Art Fair (AAF) was founded in 1999 in London by Will Ramsay, who was also involved in the establishment of numerous other art initiatives, including PULSE (New York and Miami) and Hong Kong art fair Art HK (now Art Basel in Hong Kong). AAF is a contemporary art fair held in various cities around the world including London, New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Milan, Mexico City, Singapore and Hong Kong, among others.

The Fair was conceived as an alternative to the mainstream, high-end international art fairs, and as such it aims to make art accessible to everyone. A distinctive feature of AAF is that the art on offer is priced between HKD1,000 and HKD100,000 and prices are clearly labelled on the walls. The Fair programme includes Art Talks, workshops, a Children’s Art Studio, an Under HKD10,000 art wall, Young Talents Hong Kong Exhibition and Artist Special Projects.

Over the past fifteen years, more than 1.4 million people have visited an AAF and art sales have exceeded USD300 million. The launch of AAF Hong Kong in 2013 was the most successful AAF fair launch to date, according to an AAF press release, with over 16,500 visitors and over HKD26 million in art sales.

AAF Hong Kong 2014 took place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) from 21 to 23 March 2014, with 121 participating international galleries, of which 35 were from Hong Kong.

Art Radar spoke to Fair Director Camilla Hewitson about AAF and its development, the art market in Hong Kong and what she foresees for the future.

Ho Fan, 'Hand-in-Hand', 1962, silver gelatin print, edition of 25, HKD11,000 including frame and museum glass. AO Vertical. Image courtesy AO Vertical and Affordable Art Fair.

Ho Fan, ‘Hand-in-Hand’, 1962, silver gelatin print, edition of 25, HKD11,000 including frame and museum glass, at AO Vertical. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

How would you evaluate the performance of the Fair in 2013? And what do you hope to improve or develop this year?

We are proud to be able to state that last year’s fair was our most successful launch Fair in our brands’ fifteen-year history. This year the Fair is bigger, with an increase in galleries from 84 in 2013 to over 120 this year and many more artworks to see and buy.

We have also increased our interactive elements this year, with features such as our Creative Workshops, Art Talks and Gallery Speed Dating, in addition to key Fair focuses such as the Children’s Art Studio and Young Talent Hong Kong Exhibition.

In your opinion, how has the Hong Kong art market evolved since the fair’s first launch? How does the state of the art market affect your planning of the fair?

Hong Kong has made great strides in the past few years to become an influential art centre, notably since 2008 with the launch of Art HK (now Art Basel Hong Kong). With Hong Kong being the leading contemporary art market in Asia, the Affordable Art Fair is the next step in the evolution of the market, a market with vast potential.

But before we launch in any market, a detailed research project takes place to ascertain the potential growth of a visitor base, the support from the galleries and stakeholders, as well as securing the all-important dates and venue. The response from galleries and our partners has been overwhelming in this second year.

Jiang Shan, 'Under The Sea', 2011, pencil, colour in digital, Giclee print on archival paper, 32 x 57 cm, limited edition of 60, USD3,300, at Art Projects. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

Jiang Shan, ‘Under The Sea’, 2011, pencil, colour in digital, Giclee print on archival paper, 32 x 57 cm, limited edition of 60, USD3,300, at Art Projects. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

What are your strategies to increase the fair’s success and popularity in Hong Kong? Do you think you will encounter any challenges to accomplish these aims?

This year, the Fair [has] over 120 galleries participating, including 35 local Hong Kong galleries, with new features designed to bring people and art closer together. We have everything from live body-art painting to an enormous inflatable pink pig, to creative workshops where visitors help to create the art. I think it’s fair to say that we do offer something a little different from the other fairs and our focus is on improving that this year, with a lot more interactive and fun elements to look out for and enjoy throughout your visit.

Did you tailor the Hong Kong version of the fair differently compared to Affordable Art Fairs in other countries?

We follow the Affordable Art Fair ethos in all markets, as from our fifteen years’ experience this is a formula that works. It’s always interesting to see how the local population reacts to the Fair, for example it’s interesting to have witnessed the “glocal” concept in Asia: global diversities, local taste and preference.

A good example of difference is the Children’s Area. In London, it acts more like a creche to give Mum a break and a chance for a cup of coffee with a friend, whereas in Singapore and Hong Kong the Children’s Area is more of an educational space dedicated to offering young children the chance to get creative themselves. Ultimately, we are a local fair for a local audience, so we are humbled to work with the art community in each city to create dynamic programmes, exhibitions and events at each Fair.

Su Zihan, 'Intoxicating loneliness 3', 2009, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, HKD13,000, at Art Supermarket. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

Su Zihan, ‘Intoxicating loneliness 3’, 2009, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, HKD13,000, at Art Supermarket. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

Do you think the fair’s yearly presence will change Hong Kong’s mindset towards art?

Hong Kong is a dynamic and influential art centre, and the Fair’s mission is to compliment all existing art initiatives in the city, from other art fairs to galleries and of course the auction houses. What is key in our ethos, and hence the mindset of the Fair, is that we act as a catalyst to encourage new collectors in the market place, by providing a relaxed atmosphere wherein people feel comfortable and compelled to buy.

The Fair therefore plays a role in developing the art market, by creating a new generation of collectors and making art accessible to more people. The Fair’s fun, relaxed and open nature has been well-received by the diverse population and people seem happy to buy, which is key – we want to see more of that this year.

The number of art fairs in the region is increasing year on year, with new fairs planned from the Philippines to Singapore in 2014. How will AAF HK respond to this increased competition and what is different about you?

I’m really proud to be a part of something unique and influential. Having an affordable price point is not the only differentiation we have, it is the atmosphere we create at the Fair, aiming to provide a fun, inspiring, informative and pressure-free environment in which visitors can view and buy a huge array of art.

Representatives from the galleries are there to interact with the visitors and answer any questions that they have. This is a true point of difference at the Affordable Art Fair, we take away any of the intimidation. Most of all, the price point breaks down so many perceived barriers about the price of contemporary art and the perception that you need to be a millionaire to afford to buy art.

Marcus Koppen, 'Hong Kong #16', 100 x 100 cm, limited to 150 copies, HKD12,300, at Yellow Korner. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

Marcus Koppen, ‘Hong Kong #16’, 100 x 100 cm, limited to 150 copies, HKD12,300, at Yellow Korner. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

 

Joey Leong Ka-yin, 'Tangle', 2013, chromogenic print on archival paper, graphite, ballpen, diam. 22 cm each, HKD22,000. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

Joey Leong Ka-yin, ‘Tangle’, 2013, chromogenic print on archival paper, graphite, ballpen, diam. 22 cm each, HKD22,000. Image courtesy Affordable Art Fair.

Claire Bouchara

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Related Topics: art fairs, events in Hong Kong, art and the community, democratisation of art, business of art, market watch, interviews

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