Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 outperforms, signalling as yet unrealised potential for Asia – round-up

The Swiss fair’s fourth Hong Kong edition exceeded expectations on all counts amidst bleak economic (and weather) conditions. 

Admission tickets sold out during the fair’s final two days, and strong sales indicate a still burgeoning Asian market.

Installation view of 10 Chancery Lane's booth featuring works by Dinh Q. Lê. Photo by Michele Chan.

Installation view of 10 Chancery Lane’s booth featuring works by Dinh Q. Lê. Photo: Michele Chan.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 wrapped up last week logging an impressive footfall of 70,000, a record number in the fair’s four-year history, and sales held strong despite the recent economic slowdown in China. Art Radar brings you a round-up of the multi-faceted event.

Strong sales throughout the fair

Most gallerists were reportedly relieved by sales results. Most had held their breath, cautiously optimistic at best, when the fair doors opened amidst a sluggish market. By the end of the vernissage at 9pm on the first day, however, most booths reported that although “offers came more in a trickle than a flood […] they were definitely selling”.

David Zwirner sold all five of his Michael Borremans on day one, all of them to Asian collectors. The biggest went to China’s Long Museum for USD1.6 million, and a work by Luc Tuymans was sold for the same amount. As Blouin Artinfo reports, other pieces by Marlene Dumas, Giorgio Morandi, Wolfgang Tillmans and Jordan Wolfson went to collectors from Shanghai, Taipei, Beijing, Hong Kong and Seoul. “I am not in the business of feeling relaxed”, Zwirner commented to The South China Morning Post, “but things don’t look too bad”.

Doho Suh, 'Stove, Apartment S, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA' (installation view), 2013, polyester fabric, stainless steel wire, and display case with LED lighting. Photo by Michele Chan.

Doho Suh, Installation view of ‘Stove, Apartment S, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA’, 2013, polyester fabric, stainless steel wire, and display case with LED lighting. Photo: Michele Chan.

It would seem that things were better than just “not bad” for blue-chip galleries. Cardi Gallery closed one of the biggest deals, selling a Cy Twombly with an asking price of USD10 million. Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska sold works by Fernando Botero to collectors in Shanghai, Taipei, Beijing, Hong Kong and Seoul on the first day, the highest selling for approximately USD1.3 million, while Dominique Lévy sold an untitled Rudolf Stingel with an asking price of USD1.9 million.

For Asian artists, Lehmann Maupin reported the sale of Suh Do-ho’s fascinating Stove (2013) on the first day – an Instagram-worthy piece which remained popular with audiences well into the last day of the fair. Suh Do-ho proved to be a star; Lehmann Maupin reported the sale of six of his works. Tyler Rollins Fine Art sold four works by Tiffany Chung, including a large installation piece which went to M+. Pace sold pieces by Yoshitomo Nara and Zhang Xiaogang in addition to works by Agnes Martin, Alexander Calder and Robert Rauschenberg; Leng Lin, regional partner of Pace Asia, commented to The New York Times:

Before, the fair was always good, but this year it was spectacular. […] We met a lot of new collectors this year, as in the past, and the desire to buy was still very strong.

Tayeba Begum Lipi, 'The Nighty', 2013, brass made safety pins covered with electroless nickel immersion gold and mirror polished stainless steel sheet, 31 x 71 x 36 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pi Artworks.

Tayeba Begum Lipi, ‘The Nighty’, 2013, brass made safety pins covered with electroless nickel immersion gold and mirror polished stainless steel sheet, 31 x 71 x 36 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pi Artworks.

Maturing Asian audience and collectors

Based on feedback from gallerists, the Asian appetite for art is maturing. Works continued to sell throughout the five-day fair, and for many, the slightly slower yet steady pace of buying reflects more informed decisions and surer tastes in contrast to the impetuous purchases of earlier years. Yesim Turanli, founder of Pi Artworks, commented to Blouin Artinfo:

Art Basel’s effect on the art scene is so obvious. 5 years ago I would come and leave without having any decent chat with a local person. This year, more than 60% of the interested parties were around the region. We had so many interesting connections, and the age group of the audience seems to be much younger and dynamic.

Installation view of Project Fulfill Art Space's booth, featuring a sound art installation by Wang Fujui. Photo by Michele Chan.

Installation view of Project Fulfill Art Space’s booth, featuring a sound art installation by Wang Fujui. Photo: Michele Chan.

Meanwhile, despite heavy downpours and overcast skies, the Hong Kong public responded enthusiastically to the fair. Art Basel reported 70,000 fairgoers, a staggering 10,000 more than last year, and tickets were sold out by the afternoon of the last two days. Organisers had no choice but to stop selling tickets or risk damage to artworks; as South China Morning Post reports, “[s]ome gallerists […] said the fair was too packed during the three public days, and they were busy guarding the pricey artworks against families and children who were too eager to get close to them”.

Although walk-ins were unlikely to be major buyers, “most galleries said selling was only one of their objectives in Hong Kong, as the sheer number of visitors made it a good platform to make their artists more visible in the region”. Mr. Leng of Pace Asia told The New York Times that “educating and forging links with new collectors in the region was as important as making sales”, and it seems that the hard work of galleries over the past decade is coming to fruition, escalated by the presence of the fair. Fred Scholle, founder of Galerie du Monde, told The New York Times:

When I arrived here, over 40 years ago, there was no arts scene to speak of. […] A lot has happened, and Art Basel has really put Hong Kong in the spotlight and helped make it an art hub.

David Diao, 'Elvy's Private English School with Blackboard', 2015, acrylic and vinyl on canvas, 112 x 140 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Eslite Gallery.

David Diao, ‘Elvy’s Private English School with Blackboard’, 2015, acrylic and vinyl on canvas, 112 x 140 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Eslite Gallery.

Thoughtful themed and solo shows

This year’s Salon talks and panels were popular and well attended, reflecting an increasingly all-rounded interest in art beyond commercial sales. There was also a very encouraging increase in curated and solo presentations by galleries. Some highlights include Goodman Gallery‘s presentation of William Kentridge, Rossi & Rossi‘s exhibition of works by Pakistani-born artist Rasheed Araeen, and Eslite Gallery‘s solo show of recent Hong Kong-themed paintings by Chinese-born artist David Diao. Speaking to Art Radar, a gallery representative from Taiwan-based Eslite Gallery said:

We’re very happy with the results of this year’s fair. We’ve sold all but two of our works already [on the second day of previews]. We are particularly pleased with the location of our booth this year – it is very prominent, and I think it coincides nicely with the Hong Kong-themed works of David Diao.

Installation view of Wu Tsang's solo exhibiiton at Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie at Art Basel Hong Kong 2016. Photo by Michele Chan.

Installation view of Wu Tsang’s solo exhibiiton at Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie at Art Basel Hong Kong 2016. Photo: Michele Chan.

Wu Tsang‘s show at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi presented further works from Duilian, the artist’s intriguing film-centred multimedia project that spotlights the revolutionary feminist poet Qiu Jin. Over at a.m. space, a two-person curated exhibition presented works by Taiwanese artist Chang Huei-ming and Hong Kong artist Frank Tang Kai-yiu. It was a quiet yet show-stopping exhibition that featured Chang’s vibrating IKEA plants and Tang’s silk windowless curtains – a whimsical yet charged combination that teases out potent commentaries about life, death and the pace and costs of urban life. Speaking to Art Radar, a gallery representative from a.m. space said:

The two artists worked separately at first, and then once we realized the potential of collaboration, they began working together. We are very pleased with the results of this two-person show.

Installation view of a.m. space's booth, featuring works by Taiwanese artist Chang Huei-ming and Hong Kong artist Frank Tang Kai-yiu. Photo by Michele Chan.

Installation view of a.m. space’s booth, featuring works by Taiwanese artist Chang Huei-ming and Hong Kong artist Frank Tang Kai-yiu. Photo: Michele Chan.

Untapped growth potential

Summing up the fair’s success, Mr Leng of Pace Asia told The New York Times that “[t]here might be big ebbs and flows, but [the Asian market] going to stay in a growth phase for a long time.” Speaking to The Financial Times, Lu Jie of Beijing-based Long March Gallery says that “the growing number of private museums in China, coupled with foreign interest, is keeping sales buoyant”. He says:

The slowdown is mainly at auction. Over the last two years the primary market has been really strong, and this is not changing.

To tap the as yet unrealised market potential, Art Basel announced its latest initiative “Art Basel Cities”, which promises “cultural events with international resonance” and “vibrant and content-driven programs” in cities “that have either an emerging or an already established cultural scene”, as Artnet News summarises. The new project boasts a high-powered board, including Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, Turkish art patron Füsun Eczacıbaşı, urbanist and author of The Rise of the Creative Class Richard Florida, Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak, and Swiss mega-collector Uli Sigg.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Asian art, art fairs, round-upsevents in Hong Kong

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