Art Radar rounds up key takeaways on Asian art and Asian collecting from Art Basel 2016.

The 47th edition of the Swiss mega fair saw Asian collectors on fire and a rise in prominence of young Asian art.

The Unlimited Sector at Art Basel 2016. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Asian collectors going big

Art Basel 2016 closed on 19 June 2016 with reports of buoyant sales across all levels of the market. Defying once again the precarious economic and political times, dealers showed the world that high art remains more or less immune to the vicissitudes of the general economy. The especially stalwart nature of the primary art market as opposed to the secondary market was also highlighted. The New York Times reports:

Despite year-on-year totals that were down by as much as 64 percent at last month’s Impressionist, modern and contemporary auctions in New York […] it soon became clear that the “primary” trade in new works by contemporary artists and “secondary” re-sales by dealers and auction houses — usually at significantly higher prices — are two distinct markets […] new “primary market’’ pieces by bankable names were selling steadily.

Various media outlets noted that some of the biggest buyers at the Swiss fair were visitors from the East. The Times revealed that Frank Stella‘s 50-foot-wide Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation I) (1970) sold to an Asian collection for USD14 million; Artnet News reports that Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian made headlines yet again for snapping up a coveted 36-foot-wide Richter from Marian Goodman; and South China Morning Post quotes another Frank Stella going from Sprüth Magers into a private Asian collection for USD1.1 million. Speaking to Artnet News, Hauser & Wirth partner Iwan Wirth said:

We went into the week wondering what we’d find out about the market. And here’s what we learned: The private market is in an extremely healthy condition. The truly great material prevails. And thanks to our new Asia strategy and our expanded team focused on the region, we are thrilled to report major multi-million dollar sales to Asian collectors. We couldn’t be more pleased.

Installation view of ShanghART Gallery, Waldburger Wouters at Unlimited in Art Basel 2016. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Installation view of ShanghART Gallery, Waldburger Wouters at Unlimited in Art Basel 2016. Image courtesy Art Basel.

According to the SCMP, David Zwirner (who will open a branch in Hong Kong next year) sold a number of works to collectors in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, and Galerie naechst St. Stephan from Vienna closed a “major sale” to a Hong Kong collector. The article quotes Jiangnan Wang, an art consultant based in Berlin:

Traditional collectors such as Liu will continue to buy the most expensive blue-chip works. But the younger ones are looking at more diverse and experimental pieces.

Unlimited 2016: Asian star artists shine

Of the 286 galleries showcased at Basel, only a few hailed from Asia. However, as veteran art reporter Vivienne Chow observes at Artsy, Asian artists were “given a particularly strong platform” at the fair’s curated Unlimited section, which showcases monumental artworks aimed at museums or institutional collections.

A clear standout was Hong Kong star artist Samson Young‘s Canon (2015), a sound art and performance piece which made multiple international headlines. Dressed in a Hong Kong police uniform (which might have been mistaken as a North Korean military uniform), Young stood high above the bustle of the fair on an eight-metre-high elevated structure manoeuvring a sonic weapon used by police to disperse protesters. Rather than sending out lethal sound waves, Young’s Long Range Acoustic Device was instead used to play bird songs to fairgoers. Speaking directly to Art Radar about his experience, Young says:

Standing there whistling was kind of meditative. It’s just artistic labour – I go into work, I do my thing, and I get off at a certain hour. I have done durational performances before; the longest one lasted for 1.5 months at Team gallery in New York. It was pretty easy this time compared to that. 

Installation view of Chiharu Shiota's piece "Accumulation: Searching for Destination", 2014-2016, presented by Galerie Daniel Templon. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Installation view of Chiharu Shiota’s piece “Accumulation: Searching for Destination”, 2014-2016, presented by Galerie Daniel Templon. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Another standout piece by Asian talent is Korean artist Haegue Yang‘s Sol LeWitt Upside Down – Structure with Three Towers, Expanded 23 Times, Split in Three (2015), a monumental and entrancing structure that Art Radar briefly introduced one year ago. Meanwhile, another of Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota‘s signature stunning woven installations was once more on view: Accumulation: Searching for Destination (2014-2016), presented by Galerie Daniel Templon, features vintage suitcases suspended by threads from the ceiling.

On the video art front, Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen has contributed a video installation The Nameless (2015), presented by STPI; and Chinese artist Cheng Ran showed a nine-hour long film In Course of the Miraculous (2016), presented by Galerie Urs MeileArtlyst summarises the strong international showing of this year’s fair:

This year’s edition received widespread praise for its strong booth presentations and for the powerful artistic positions, many poignantly responding to the current socio-political situation within Europe and further afield.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, Japanese artists, Korean artists, Chinese artists, Singaporean artistsfairs, market watchround-ups

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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