Art Radar surveyed galleries from Asia on their fair experience at the 45th edition of Art Basel.
Art Radar roamed the grand halls of Messe during Art Basel 2014 to gain some insight into the Asian galleries present and to detect current trends in the international art market. The 2014 edition of the fair, held from 17 to 22 June 2014 in Basel, Switzerland, wrapped up with strong sales and a confident turnout.
Now in its 45th edition, Art Basel featured 285 galleries from 34 countries, with works by over 4,000 artists. The closing press release reported over 92,000 visitors hoping to see high-quality art, with a 6,000 increase from 2013.
Collectors like Tico Mugrabi, whose family is believed to own the world’s largest Andy Warhol collection, Anita Zabludowicz, top patron of emerging contemporary art, and the Rubell family, who organised an exhibition of 28 Chinese artists in conjunction with Art Basel Miami in December 2013 were all spotted at the fair.
Twenty-four galleries from across the world participated in Art Basel for the first time. One of them, Aye, a Beijing-based gallery, represented Chinese painter Ji Dachun and joined 24 other curated projects in the Feature section of the fair. Incidentally, Dachun’s works often explore the complex and multifaceted relations of Eastern and Western cultures.
Asian art for Asian collectors?
This year, 21 galleries from Asia participated, 10 fewer compared to the previous edition. This may have been a conscious decision on the part of the Art Basel group, which launched Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013. The franchise wrapped up its second edition last month (May 2014) and had devoted 43 percent of its Galleries section (171 in all) to Asian galleries.
As part of Art Radar’s Art Basel 2014 round up, five Asia-based galleries were surveyed about their participation in the fair. When asked to rate their overall experience as exhibitors, the galleries scored an average of eight out of ten, indicating a positive experience.
Their sales turnout also averaged an eight out of ten in terms of satisfaction. In particular, Long March Space (Beijing) and Galleryske (New Delhi) reported having sold seventy percent of their inventory as of 20 June 2014, while ShanghART (Shanghai, Singapore) had already closed deals for eighty percent of theirs. ShanghART’s inventory ranged between USD30,000 to USD150,000.
Tetsuya Kamimura of Tomio Koyama (Tokyo) remarked on a less positive note that the gallery did better in Art Basel Hong Kong just last month and he attributed this to Japanese art being more popular among Asian collectors.
Some notable works sold were Tokyo-based Experimental Workshop member Otsuji Kiyoji’s 48-piece portfolio “Gutai Photograph”, which was bought by a private collector through Taka Ishii Gallery (Tokyo). Kiyoji’s photographs are a rare documentation of Gutai Art Association, a post-war artistic movement which developed in Osaka during the 1950s. In recent years, Experimental Workshop and Gutai Art Association were revisited during a 2012 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition, “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde“ followed by a 2013 show, “Gutai: Splendid Playground”, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Elisa Uematsu of Taka Ishii commented,
without any doubt, these two [shows] cemented Gutai’s reputation.
Long March Space sold a wall piece created specifically for the fair by Liu Wei, a Chinese artist tackling issues of memories and amnesia in his country by forming geometric abstractions from found objects. Harvest #2 was priced at USD150,000.
The galleries were, on average, pleased with the location of their booths. However, ShanghART, which has been participating for the past ten years and is one of the first Asian galleries to have joined Art Basel, complained about the size and location of their booth. According to Senior Director Chen Yan, the gallery was given seventy square metres in Basel, while they enjoyed a more spacious 120 square metres at Art Basel Hong Kong in May 2014. Their booth in Hong Kong was also placed at a more strategic location near the entrance of the fair where more people passed.
Theresa Liang, Director of Long March Space, more positively recounted how the gallery first exhibited five years ago at Art Basel’s emerging art section, Statements, and has since received a bigger space in the Galleries area. All surveyed galleries plan to be in Basel again in 2015.
Basel and Hong Kong: A comparison
Seven galleries who attended both Art Basel and Art Basel Hong Kong were further surveyed in order to compare the two fairs. All the galleries agreed that the two fairs are very different in terms of the market, gallery selection and presence of collectors, with Art Basel Hong Kong exposing more Asian art and attracting more collectors from Asia.
Uematsu of Taka Ishii added that the Art Basel setup is better than that of Hong Kong, where the venue is much smaller. Despite these differences, the Hong Kong franchise, which has seen only two editions so far, is seen as being able to compete with Basel in terms of quality of works.
Overall, Art Basel still reigns as the “it” fair in the eyes of gallerists, but as Nicholas Baker of Simon Lee Gallery (London) remarked, “Hong Kong is getting better.”
The rise of performance
“14 Rooms“, an exhibition examining live art, was a popular topic of conversation among visitors. Curated by Klaus Biesenbach (MoMA PS1, New York) and Hans Ulrich Obrist (Serpentine Gallery, London), it featured works by artists such as Marina Abramović, Damien Hirst, Xu Zhen and Yoko Ono, to name a few. The show attempted to “explore the relationship between space, time and physicality” and give visitors “an insight into a more performative and interactive practice” through fourteen rooms with different situations.
“The West” branches out to Asia
Another interesting trend at Art Basel 2014 was the number of Western gallery participants with branches in Asia. Hong Kong seems to be the popular choice for establishments like Gagosian (originally Los Angeles-based), White Cube (London), Simon Lee (London), Galerie Perrotin (Paris), and Lehmann Maupin (New York).
Galerie Urs Meile (originally Lucerne-based) and Pace (London), on the other hand, chose Beijing as their Asian base. All these offices have opened only within the last five years. While the said galleries still exhibit mostly non-Asian works, they have also started representing artists from Asia. This is probably why more art from the East was witnessed in Art Basel this year despite the lower number of Asian galleries. According to Lock Kresler from Dominique Lévy (New York),
Collectors no longer pigeonhole artists as Chinese or Japanese, Western or not-Western; they can see stylistic relationships.
Art Basel’s 46th edition will take place from 18 to 21 June 2015.
Malaya del Rosario
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