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Last updated: May 12, 2012 1:27 am
The first Art HK was launched five years ago to high expectations but some doubts as to whether it could really succeed. At the time, Hong Kong’s cultural infrastructure was weak: there were few museums or indeed collectors, the gallery system was slight and there was little government support for culture.
How things have changed. For a start, Art Basel has bought the fair, bringing it into the prestigious group that also includes the leading Swiss and American events. In fact from next year the event will be renamed Art Basel – as will the other sister fair, currently Art Basel Miami Beach. There are ambitious plans for a new museum, M+, in West Kowloon, a contemporary art centre in a former police station, and, most importantly, a scramble by western art galleries to set up in the territory.
“Over the past five years, we have been in touch with about 300 art-related businesses ... and some 20 galleries have subsequently set up here,” says Andrew Davies, associate director-general of the government-funded InvestHK, which created a dedicated creative industries team two years ago.
“There are more than 3m high net worth individuals in Asia with wealth totalling $10.8 trillion,” says Davies, who adds that the rapidly growing number of wealthy Asian and Chinese collectors “has added to the buoyancy of Hong Kong’s art market”.
The main auction houses have been conducting auctions in Hong Kong for decades but using hotels for their sales. Now Sotheby’s has expanded into a 15,000 sq ft space on Pacific Place and will open it as an art gallery on May 19. “Hong Kong is our third biggest selling region but clients who came to see us only saw our offices. We wanted to give them an experience closer to that of London or New York,” says Kevin Ching, chief executive of Sotheby’s Asian operation.
The gallery will launch with a selling show by Yayoi Kusama, Hong Kong Blooms in My Mind, along with Modern Masters: Corot to Monet (both May 19-31). In addition, Ching says, the expansion will allow clients to show their own collections, not necessarily for sale. “These will be unique, educational events,” he says.
One of the first western galleries to set up in Hong Kong was London dealer Ben Brown, who has family connections in the city. “I arrived in 2009 with the express aim of bringing world-class standards to the Hong Kong gallery scene,” he says. So far he has expanded twice – proof, he says, of his success. This month he devotes a show to Boetti (from May 15), the first time the Arte Povera artist has been exhibited in Asia. Brown’s Hong Kong gallery is located in the Pedder Building, a historic edifice brilliantly placed in the centre of the city that is rapidly filling up with other galleries, including Gagosian with a large space on the seventh floor, the local Hanart gallery, the Londoner Simon Lee and Pearl Lam.
The glamorous Lam is of course no stranger to Hong Kong: it is her birthplace. For some years she has had galleries in mainland China, before deciding to return. The decision is connected with the fair, she says: “Art HK has done for the territory what Frieze did for London: it made people much more aware of art.” Her neighbour, Simon Lee, sees his gallery as “building bridges” to local collectors. “We had 20 Chinese for lunch recently and three were founding museums on the mainland,” he says. He is opening with a show by Sherrie Levine but comments: “I’m not expecting a bonanza of sales, this is a long-term project for me.”
Pedder Building is quite small and other galleries have set up elsewhere. Nearby are the French dealers Edouard Malingue and De Sarthe; towards the seafront, at 50 Connaught Road, are White Cube and Perrotin. White Cube opened in March with Gilbert & George; this month it features German artist Anselm Kiefer, with Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom (from May 16). The French dealer Perrotin, who has extensive contacts in Asia though his representation of Takashi Murakami, Mr and Aya Takano, has a huge space on the 17th floor of the same building and opens on May 15 with a show by Kaws.
Two days later the Paris gallery NeC opens on Hollywood Road. “We have local investors,” says Rémy Jarry of the gallery: “They contacted us knowing we specialise in contemporary ceramics, which are so important to Chinese culture.” The gallery will also focus on sculpture and starts with a show of 20 new works by the Danish sculptor Steen Ipsen.
Many galleries cite their artists’ desire to be shown in Asia as a reason to set up in Hong Kong. Lee says: “We are giving artists a platform to be better known here”, while Tim Marlow of White Cube also says that the decision was partly artist-driven.
Other businesses have come in the wake of the gallery arrivals. Public relations specialist Calum Sutton founded an Asian offshoot a year ago, and works with Art HK as well as Pearl Lam, the Asia Art Archive and the Ullens Center in Beijing. He cites the “huge vibrancy and energy of Hong Kong”, the art fair, along with the West Kowloon Cultural District, and the redevelopment of the Central Police Station as motivations for his decision. And his presence, he says, also benefits his UK clients; he is working on projects in Hong Kong for London’s Royal Academy of Arts. “We’ve had a great start,” he says. “We now have a team of five here.”
Davies thinks the number of art-related arrivals will continue to grow: “In comparison with other art auction cities, Hong Kong’s tax advantages will continue to make it a prime choice,” he says.
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