Art Basel Hong Kong has been at the core of Hong Kong’s transformation in the Asian art hub for its fourth year.
Art Basel Hong Kong recorded new highs of about 70,000 visitors and gallery sales.
The Epicentre of Making Hong Kong the Art Hub of Asia: Art Basel Hong Kong 2016
Hong Kong, located on the southern coast of China consisting of the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, is a global financial city. The range of skyscrapers creates a night time scenery that entices the dreams and desires of people. Hong Kong is experiencing a rise in cultural capital. Instead of the Cantonese pop music and noir movies, now wine trade, auctions, and the art market has flourished, putting Hong Kong in the league of New York and London. I visited Art Basel Hong Kong 2016, which has been at the core of Hong Kong’s transformation in the Asian art hub for its fourth year.
reported by Harry Jun | materials provided by Art Basel
The 4th Art Basel Hong Kong was extravagantly held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on 24–26 March. Wealthy VIPs from roughly 70 countries participated in the preview event on the 22nd and 23rd and competed to buy the works the galleries had to offer. This year’s fair was full of famous galleries that continue to shape the world art market, including the Gagosian, White Cube, Pace, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Blum & Poe, Dominique Levy, and Galerie Perrotin, and recorded new highs of about 70,000 visitors and gallery sales. This rendered the expected low participation of Chinese collectors amidst China’s lowest growth rate yet wrong. Christina Heekyung Kang (CEO, Paradigm Art Company), who has visited Art Basel Hong Kong every year, said that ‘Asian collectors were in the majority until last year, but this year we could see the event had risen to the international level’ and ‘it is exciting to see more collectors from Australia and Europe’. She added that ‘The rich are always rich, so the super-rich never hesitate to buy art. In the case of China, it has become common for the young affluent class to create foundations to collect art. Because purchasing artwork is not popular, the art market will regain its vigour and expand a year or two after a recession.’
Dansaekhwa Settling in the Market
Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 was divided into the large sections of Galleries, Encounters, Discoveries, Insights and so on. From Korea, Kukje Gallery, PKM Gallery, Hakgojae, and Arario Gallery installed their booths at the Galleries section. Kyungah Ham of Kukje Gallery showcased her embroidery painting series of chandeliers at the Encounters section where a large-scale installation art were exhibited and Wan Lee, who won the 1st Art Spectrum Artist Award organized by LEEUM, Samsung Museum of Art, received local attention for presenting his entire personal exhibition work at the Discovery section. Dansaekhwa, which has recently become the buzzword of the Korean art scene, have dwindled in quantity compared to last year when the boom first came about, but seemed to have matured in terms of understanding of the global market. Director Ashley Rawlings of Blum & Poe, one of the more active famous galleries promoting Dansaekhwa, said that ‘Dansaekhwa is receiving spotlight after Lee Ufan and Gutai, Mono-ha of Japan were recognized’ and provided her analysis that the popularity of Dansaekhwa will continue because those who were immersed in Europe-U.S. centric modernism painting have begun to fall in love with the Korean monochrome painting movement. The Senior Director Emilio Steinberger of Dominique Levy who showcased Dansaekhwa work this year stated that ‘Dansaekhwa that go through the process of adding colour to the canvas and building another layer are themselves equivalent to meditation.’ Steinberger also added positive feedback that ‘the internal strength, beauty, and painting process are beginning to be internationally recognized.’ In fact, the PKM Gallery sold Yun Hyongkeun’s painting work on the first day of the preview event to a German collector for about half a million USD. This demonstrates how the focus on Dansaekhwa has naturally led to sales.
Art Basel Hong Kong to Art Week Hong Kong
Most visitors of the Art Basel Hong Kong could not help but visit the art related events all around Hong Kong. Tim Etchells, who launched Art Basel Hong Kong’s predecessor ART HK in 2008, and sold it to Art Basel’s parent company MCH in 2011, returning to Hong Kong with Art Basel Hong Kong’s satellite art fair, Art Central last year. ‘We aim to become a fair that cannot be substituted: distinctly Asian edge.’ In just two years, the Art Central, which started off in tents at the Central Harbourfront area, grew to be an art fair specializing in Asian art shoulder to shoulder with Art Basel Hong Kong. Moreover, world-class galleries who prospered with the growth momentum of the Art Basel Hong Kong have established offices in Hong Kong, forming the so-called gallery buildings. They added more variety in the art scene of Hong Kong, hosting the display of famous artists such as Tracy Emin’s first exhibit in China and Robert Rauschenberg’s first Hong Kong exhibit this year. The M+ Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2019 in the West Kowloon Cultural District as the first modern and contemporary visual culture museum in Hong Kong, has stirred significant attention by opening ‘M+ Sigg’ exhibit, presenting portions of the famed Chinese contemporary art collector Uli Sigg’s donations.
The Asian Art Hub Hong Kong and the Future of Seoul
Tim Etchells explained that what made Hong Kong’s rise as Asia’s center of art possible was that ‘Hong Kong is an ideal place for business. In the gateway linking the East and West, English is commonly used, import and export tariffs are 0%, and located five hours distance from major cities in Asia. Consumers in Hong Kong are mature enough and Hong Kong’s geographic location of attachment to Mainland China is a huge advantage’. Does it mean that major Asian cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo already failed in the race of the Asian art hub? Ashley Rawlings agrees with Hong Kong’s competitive edge but adds it is not yet perfect. ‘Other Asian countries lack an attractive point compared to Hong Kong. In particular, the tariff issue is a barrier. However, Hong Kong falls behind on having a cultural infrastructure. Think about, for instance, the museums and galleries of other cities. It is not yet clear if Hong Kong’s first modern and contemporary museum, the M+, will fulfill its function.’ In other words, Hong Kong is in the lead, but it is not too late for other cities to catch up. Art Basel Hong Kong 2016 lured the most number of Korean visitors ever, indicating that Korean collectors are no longer staying within the Korean art market. It is time for Korea to review its own plans to rise as the art hub of East Asia, taking into consideration the example of Hong Kong. If not, all we can do is to book flight tickets and hotel rooms in March every year.