Art Basel Hong Kong 2015: new calendar and format successful – fair round up

With rich regional flavours and concerted programming, Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 offered a significant boost to the Asian art scene.

The third edition of Art Basel Hong Kong drew to a close on 17 March 2015 with strong sales and a star-studded turn-out. Art Radar brings you key trends and first-hand perspectives from Asia’s largest blockbuster art show.

Yang Maoyuan (Platform China) at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Yang Maoyuan (Platform China) at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Surge of Chinese collectors

The usual Art Basel Hong Kong fair statistics were satisfying on all counts:

  • Over 3000 artists showcased their works, which were worth altogether USD2.5 to 3 billion as estimated by insurer AXA Art;
  • 233 galleries hailing from 37 countries and territories took part in the fair, with the customary fifty/fifty split between Asian and Western exhibitors;
  • There was a re-application rate of 92.6 percent from last year’s edition, with a 7 percent rise in applications for the main Galleries Sector;
  • 29 galleries were first-time participants, with twenty coming from Europe, representing heightened global dealer interest in the Asian collector scene;
  • Around 60,000 visitors roamed the halls of the fair, slightly down from the 65,000 last year, but well-accounted by the fact that the fair was open one day less this year;
  • The star-studded attendance list included Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham and Dita Von Teese, among many others.

Despite the slight drop in actual footfall – primarily due to the decreased duration of the fair – almost all galleries interviewed by Art Radar perceived a larger number of visitors compared to last year. Many observed that the difference was especially noticeable at the invite-only previews, with this year’s edition attracting an extremely robust VIP attendance.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Notable institutional and private collectors included Britain’s Tate galleries director Nicholas Serota, M+ Director Lars NittveUli Sigg, Adrian Cheng, Richard Chang and Budi Tek, among others.

A shared perception was that there was a surge in numbers of young mainland Chinese collectors. Alibaba founder Jack Ma, worth USD22 billion, was counted among their number. Mauro Ribero, Director of Rossi & Rossi London, told our Art Radar correspondent that

although the visitors are diverse, there are more Chinese (mainland) collectors and visitors than ever before.

Strong sales, rise of new media and video

The new March dates, which distanced the Hong Kong edition from Art Basel‘s flagship fair in June, ensured not only a better turnout but also the presence of prime quality works – while previously dealers tended to save A-grade works for the Basel fair. Energy was sky-high and sales were brisk – a new thing for the Hong Kong fair, as Asian collectors tended to take their time in the past.

Splashy transactions occurred right from the get-go, the most hyped being David Zwirner‘s high-profile sale of Chris Ofili‘s Dead Monkey – Sex, Money and Drugs (2000) for USD2 million – a transaction that happened immediately after the fair opened its doors at 6pm on 13 March. Meanwhile, eight paintings by Zhang Enli were sold by Hauser & Wirth within the first two hours of the fair, priced at USD250,000-350,000 apiece.

Skarstedt Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Skarstedt Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

As expected, paintings were the medium of choice, “both figurative and abstract, by a wide range of artists – so long as the canvases were supersized”, observes BLOUIN ArtInfo. Some of the most high profile sales include two abstract paintings by Atsuko Tanaka sold by Hauser & Wirth for prices between USD400,000 and USD600,000, a vintage Sean Scully sold by ShanghART for USD850,000 and a pair of large Neo Rauch paintings, each for about USD1 million, sold by David Zwirner to Chinese clients.

Sales were not limited to paintings, however; this year’s fair witnessed a rise of new media not only in attendance but in the books as well. Photography works did well, as did digital art: Nam June Paik‘s three-TV installation Internet Dweller (1994) sold to a foundation for USD500,000, Tracey Emin‘s neon work sold at USD67,250-74,350 and Tony Oursler‘s LCD aluminium screen at USD70,000-90,000.

Video works were also snapped up by institutions and private collectors – a rare occurrence in previous years. Joanne Huang Chi-Wen of Chi-Wen Gallery told Art Radar that new media and video works were a rising trend:

We have sold four works so far, including two video works to collectors from the United States. Video works were hard to sell in the past. It’s improving though!

Gagosian Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Gagosian Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Huang also credited the fair’s Film sector, curated by Beijing- and Zurich-based curator, multimedia artist and producer Li Zhenhua, in raising interest and awareness in film and video.

Check out Art Radar‘s rolling media round up on Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 for more sales reports.

Sophisticated programme tickles developing Asian tastes

Sales aside, Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 distinguished itself by the increased presence of quieter, subtler works. Modest yet high quality pieces held their ground alongside blue-chip and Instagram-friendly ‘art fair art’ – think Australian artist Sam Jinks‘ hyper-realistic silicon crouching nude, which drew crowds “like hyenas swarmed around a dead gazelle”, according to art critic John McDonald, or Nam June Paik’s Golden Buddha (2005) at Gagosian, one of the most photographed works at the fairARTnews observes:

[…] More dealers are eschewing flashy, shiny, hyper-colorful, attention-grabbing “art fair art” for subtler pieces. […] During previous editions [“art fair art”] seemed […] calculated to appeal to […] local taste. This year, there were smaller, quieter works like paintings by the young artist Helene Appel at Cohan, trompe-l’oeil depictions of scattered rice, and a modestly-sized Kai Althoff painting being shown by Gladstone.

Kalfayan Galleries at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Kalfayan Galleries at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Many commented that Asian – especially mainland Chinese – collectors were displaying increasingly sophisticated tastes, harbouring unprecedented interest in non-Western and less-established names. Yuli Karatsiki, Gallery Manager of Kalfayan Galleries, told Art Radar that they witnessed “a remarkable growth in the confidence of the collectors [from mainland China]”, and Bloomberg writes:

While in previous years mainland buyers focused on acquiring works by highly collected artists like Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, they are now showing increasingly broadened tastes.

Catering to this maturing audience, rich regional flavours infused the fair’s halls. Up-and-coming talents from around the world made impressions on the newly discerning collector-base in the themed Insights and Discoveries Sectors. In particular, Cambodian artist Leang Seckon at the Rossi & Rossi booth attracted strong international sales with his “blend of surrealism, personal confession and social commentary”; his works were priced from USD4,000 for a small collage to USD24,000 for a large-scale painting.

For more coverage on Asian contemporary art at Art Basel Hong Kong 2015, check out Art Radar’s pick of top 10 thematic booths in Art Basel Hong Kong 2015.

Nezaket Ekici performing at Insights Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Nezaket Ekici performing at Insights Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

In addition to collectibles, eager Asian audiences were treated to a dose of live art by veteran performance artist Nezaket Ekici. Drawing wide-eyed crowds to the Pi Artworks booth, the Turkish-born artist’s re-enactment of her 2002 Emotion in Motion saw her repeatedly applying red lipstick and kissing blank canvases in nothing but a lacy white nightgown. Art Radar‘s correspondent spoke with Ekici on one of her breaks; the artist commented on her enraptured Hong Kong audience:

Their faces were so full… There were so many expressions on their faces. I could see their hunger – it is so obvious that they want to see more [of these kinds of works]. They want to see something different, something fresh. There is so little performance art in the fair – I think galleries could be more open-minded in their choice of works.

First-class international stage for Asian art

Drawing A-list buyers from the East and the West, Art Basel Hong Kong is the largest, most impactful international stage for Asian art, which constitute 50 percent of the works in the fair. Most notably, this year’s much-lauded Encounters Sector showcased twenty large-scale, show-stopping sculptural and installation pieces, all created by Asian artists.

Xu Longsen at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Xu Longsen at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Expertly curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, Executive Director of Artspace in Sydney, the ambitious, concerted presentations enlivened the fair and made a powerful statement about the current strengths of Asian contemporary art.

Meanwhile, Asian galleries seized the chance to introduce their best works to an expectant Western audience, whose interest is steadily growing. Taiwan’s Chi-Wen Gallery reported sales to US collectors, and Japanese dealer Elisa Uetmatsu at Taka Ishii Gallery observed a marked increase in interest in Japanese contemporary art by US museums.

Johnson Chang, Director of Hong Kong-based Hanart TZ Gallery, which had sold more than half their works at the time of interview, revealed to our Art Radar correspondent:

We are patronised a lot by mainland China and Taiwanese visitors – naturally, given the subject [of Chinese landscapes]. But international collectors are also beginning to engage with this field, which is very encouraging.

Samson Young at Discoveries Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Samson Young at Discoveries Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Local Hong Kong artists gained a significant share of the spotlight. Photographer Trevor Yeung and artist Samson Young were shortlisted for the BMW Art Journey award for emerging artists along with New York-based Mika Tajima. The three young artists will submit proposals and compete for the final award. Mimi Chun of Blindspot Gallery, who represents Yeung, told the South China Morning Post:

Hong Kong artists are beginning to enjoy a harvest this year with more international recognition, which they deserve.

Connecting Asia to itself and its histories

A subtler yet no less important impact of Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 is its effect of connecting Asia to itself. “[T]he different art scenes in Asia are historically so disconnected from one another”, commented Marc Spiegler, Director of Art Basel, to The New York Times. By bringing together diverse narratives and cultures and situating them side by side, the fair fosters curiosity, cultural dialogue and cross-regional collecting.

The result is increased cohesion and depth in the Asian art scene. Mumbai-based Chemould Prescott Road Gallery, which sold a stunning Atul Dodiya painting to Hong Kong’s M+ Museum, revealed to Art Radar that they had a fair amount of traction from Korean and Taiwanese groups this year – more than before. The Drawing Room, based in the Philippines, reported serious interest from museums and art advisors in Asia.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Adeline Ooi, new Director of Art Basel Hong Kong, said in an interview:

[There are a] multitude of art scenes in the Asia region, which are so diverse and different, yet have touch points. If we can not only show this when looking at contemporary art but place it in the context of history, these differences and similarities become even more remarkable. […] This is something we are trying to offer our visitors: putting regional art into context.

Escorting Asian art into the mainstream

When asked about some of the challenges facing gallerists today, Mauro Ribero of Rossi & Rossi replied to our Art Radar correspondent:

Promoting Asian art is sometimes still challenging, especially in London where ‘Asian-ness’ is sometimes still seen as something ‘exotic’ and its art appreciated through an Orientalist point of view. The challenge lies in changing that perspective and helping audiences understand otherwise.

From what we have seen at Art Basel Hong Kong 2015, it is safe to say that perspectives are already changing, what with Asian contemporary masterpieces ascending the world stage, an increasingly sophisticated Asian collector-base as well as international buyers developing keener tastes for Asian art. It might be said that the Hong Kong edition of the behemoth fair is the first truly international fair that foreshadows a future globalised art world.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: art fairsmarket watchbusiness of artcollectors, connecting Asia to itself, globalisation of artevents in Hong Kong

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