The third edition of the Basel Hong Kong Art Fair opened its doors to the general public solely for three days, plus two days of VIP previews for invited guests and closed on March 17th.
It was a grand and opulent affair spanning three floors of Hong Kong’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. According to many of the return exhibitors, this fair drew larger-than-usual crowds of wealthy collectors, celebrities (Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tommy Hilfiger, David Beckham and Kate Moss.) plus delegations from major art institutions from around the world.
There were a total of 233 exhibiting galleries, about half from Asia. All of the major prestigious galleries trumpeted excellent sales, largely to mainlanders.
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Art fairs are all about sales, and according to the exhibitors, sales were significant. Mega galleries with their mega stables of mega artists fared best selling to the international crowd of mega collectors. Minutes after the show opened, David Zwirner Gallery (New York and London) sold a mega-sized painting Dead Monkey, Sex, Money and Drugs 2012 by British artist Chris Ofili for $2 million USD. Even more impressive and heartening to the high end dealers, the sale was to a client previously unknown to the gallery. A mere two hours later Zwirner had also sold two large canvases Marina (2014), and Die Fremde (2015), by German painter Neo Rauch each for $ 1 million USD to two different Chinese mainland collectors.
Most of the exhibitors praised the strong presence of mainland Chinese buyers. This certainly bodes well for the future of this art fair. White Cube (London, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo) sold a new Shanghai cityscape: a scalpel blade collage on black background by Damien Hirst for $1.2 million USD. White Cube director Jay Joplin said he was pleased with the results of the fair, adding that his gallery also sold works by Andreas Gursky and Theaster Gates.
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Gallerie Gmyrzinska sold a selection of works by Fernando Botero including a horse sculpture for $850,000 USD and five minutes before closed a painting for $1.2M USD. Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac with galleries in in Paris, Pantin and Salzburg, sold an important work by Anselm Kiefer for €750,000 ($792,297USD) and a Georg Baselitz for €520,000 ($549,395 USD).
There is an expanding population of wealthy mainlanders who are increasingly developing an avid interest in art investment. As a result, Chinese art did very well indeed. Here are some notable sales: White Space of Beijing reported that 70 percent of its works sold within the first two days, including several works by the young Chinese conceptual artist He Xiangyu. Hauser & Wirth (Zurich, London, New York, Somerset and Los Angeles) sold eight paintings by the Chinese artist Zhang Enli for between $250,000 and $350,000 each, Liang gallery sold a Chen Cheng-Po painting for $1.3 million. Long March Space gallery Beijing sold: Zhan Wang, Silouette 1, 2010, for RMB 2.5 million ($402,346 USD), Xu Zhen , Under Heaven , 2013 Sold for RMB 1.1 Million ($177,032 USD), Yu Hong, Cloud Layer Sold for USD 207,000 to American collector.
China’s growing collector base is turning Chinese contemporary art into a major blue-chip asset. Chinese contemporary art prices are still behind those of top Western artists. I believe that this price discrepancy will not last for too long.
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The most important and highly valued works by blue-chip mainland artists such as Zhang, Zeng Fanzhi, and Yue Minjun are scarce as collectors tend to hang on to them and they bring in top prices when they appear at auctions
In October of 2014, Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper set the world record for the most expensive piece of Chinese contemporary art ever sold at auction selling for $23.3 million at Sotheby’s.
According to a study by TEFAF Art Market Reports by Arts Economics, the art and antiques market in China has been by far the strongest growing market worldwide over the last 10 years, with sales in 2013 of $ 8.5 billion.
Works offered at lower price levels art also performed well. Affordable up and coming local artists with great potential for market growth experienced strong sales. The Hong Kong Blindspot Gallery presented a solo show by artist Trevor Yeung. The works priced at HK$38,000-80,000 ($4,892-10,300USD) sold out by day four of the fair. Hong Kong-based João Vasco Paiva participated in the Encounters section with his 341 x 341 x 559 cm sculpture Mausoleum, a mountain of stone resin cast Styrofoam boxes with an $141,633 USD price tag.
At Pace Prints, it was a pleasure to re-connect with its director Dick Solomon. In the 1980s and 1990s, they were the exclusive representation in New York for my Novak Graphics print editions by Malcolm Morley and John Chamberlain. He told me that their sales at the fair were very good. He highlighted sales of Chinese artists (even though comparatively the prices of their prints were rather expensive). The robust interest in prints is great news. Next year I will open a Novak Graphics printmaking studio and publishing house in China. The intention is to primarily print and publish works by Chinese artists augmented by other internationals.
The highly interesting Encounters section, curated by Australian Alexie Glas Cantor was scattered throughout halls of the art fair. It included Xu Longsens's Beholding the Mountain with Awe No. 1 (2008–2009), a gigantic Chinese ink painting. This nod towards traditional media was very much welcomed by the Hong Kong general public. The fair focuses upon large-scale installations by international artists precisely because Hong Kong still does not have a world-class contemporary art museum. The proposed M+ Museum in the state-funded West Kowloon Cultural District, is scheduled to open in 2018.
The Canadian presence was slim: no Canadian art galleries participated and the only Canadian artist exhibited was Jeff Wall at the Miriam Goodman booth.