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June 3, 2011 5:14 pm

The Art Market: OK in HK

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‘China’ (1984) by Warhol/Basquiat

‘China’ (1984) by Warhol/Basquiat

The Hong Kong art fair, which closed last Sunday, has put in an extraordinary growth spurt, mushrooming to 260 exhibitors (from 101 in 2008) and attracting 63,500 visitors – almost 40 per cent up on last year. It brought together most of the world’s major international art galleries and as a result has made a quantum leap in quality – and price points. All the major collectors from the region were there: “This is no longer an emerging market; it’s a market and poised to become the next great thing,” said Amy Gold of L&M.

But this rapid growth comes at a price, and expectations sometimes outstripped the reality. For many of the exhibitors, the fair has become, as Arne Glimcher of Pace put it, “too huge, and too generic”. While the deal to sell the event to Art Basel only takes effect on July 1, this year’s edition already had a “thick layer of Basel varnish”, according to another. And banishing most of the Asian galleries to a separate section up two escalators did not garner universal approval. “When we started doing the fair, we had Chinese galleries all around us, and that was better,” said Olivier Bélot of Yvon Lambert. As for the much-anticipated mainland Chinese collectors, while they were present, they were not necessarily buying heavily, and many sales were to Americans or Europeans.

As for business, the picture was varied. Some dealers sold nothing, but many did very well, and on both floors. Very high-priced works were certainly not flying off the shelves, and Asian buyers were most interested in their own artists. Unsold, for example, was a Warhol/Basquiat collaboration, “China” (1984), tagged at $6.8m with Bischofberger. But David Zwirner cleaned up, selling Tuymans (for $1.1m), Abdessemed, Richter and Yan Pei-Ming. Chambers sold a delicate cut-paper panel by Wu Jian’an to the Australian White Rabbit museum (in the $25,000 range), while Long March Space placed an extraordinary floating sculpture of the Potala by Liu Wei, “Don’t Touch” (2011), with a European buyer for HK$2.5m (about $320,000).

Those dealers who had done their homework did well – Cheim and Reid found a new mainland Chinese collector for three Louise Bourgeois works, including “The Geometry of Pleasure” (2009) at $650,000: Adam Sheffer of the gallery said: “It’s not just luck.” He and his colleagues have been taking Chinese protocol and language courses for the past year.

. . .

Art Basel was planning to hold the next Hong Kong fair in February, placing it evenly between Miami and Switzerland, but was forced into a U-turn after a blast of protest from the Chinese and many galleries. “That timing was horrible as everyone goes away for the Chinese new year; it’s our worst month in our Beijing space,” said Arne Glimcher of Pace. So next year the fair will be held on May 17-20, but the organisers maintain that, in the long term, they want to move it to early spring.

. . .

It didn’t take long for some of the cash that was paid for the Hong Kong art fair to find its way into another venture. Last week in Hong Kong, two of the fair’s previous owners announced that they had bought 49 per cent of India Art Summit, renamed it India Art Fair, and are moving it into a giant tent left over from the Commonwealth Games. Will Ramsay (who owns the Affordable Art Fairs) and Sandy Angus are partnering with the current owner Neha Kirpal to produce the new event, which will be held at the end of January 2012. Kirpal says import tax regulations in India are being relaxed, in order to make it easier for foreign galleries to do business there.

. . .

Meanwhile Art Forum Berlin has thrown in the towel after a failed attempt to merge with the gallery-organised event ABC (Art Berlin Contemporary). In a snippy release, the organisers of Art Forum pointed out that they had “invested substantial resources” over 15 years after starting the event “at the request of leading gallery owners”. But some of Berlin’s leading galleries did not support the event and it has always struggled; now it has given up the fight.

. . .

Among the artistic heads that dealer Larry Gagosian would love to dangle from his belt is Zeng Fanzhi, best known for his “mask” series. Fanzhi makes the super-sized paintings that Gagosian favours, and which have high price tags as well. Rumours were buzzing in Hong Kong that Gagosian has wrested the Chinese superstar from Acquavella and that he will have a show in Gagosian’s Hong Kong space in September. Asked about this, Gagosian said “no comment” and Acquavella’s Michael Findlay seemed resigned, noting that the gallery did not have “exclusive representation” of Zeng’s work and that “we have his work in our inventory, so [if he goes to Gagosian] that’s good for us”. At Christie’s Hong Kong sales, “The Leopard” by Zeng made $4.63m in a sale that totalled $63.3m.

. . .

A substantial “seven-figure” sum has been paid for a collection of tribal art from Congo by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The 35 works come from the Belgian collectors René and Odette Delenne, one of the oldest surviving collections of tribal art in the country. Many are unpublished, and the Cleveland Museum is planning to hold an exhibition of the acquisitions in spring next year. The purchase adds to the museum’s existing African art holdings and puts it among the top museums in the US for this speciality: “This is transformative for our African collection,” said the museum’s director, David Franklin. “This is a collection of masterpieces, with many having their original pieces of fabric and jewellery attached, which is very rare.”

Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

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