Brand new: the name is the game in Hong Kong
Whether you’re an artist, a gallery or even the biggest fair in town, it’s all about recognition
By Melanie Gerlis and Katie Hunt. From Art Basel Hong Kong daily edition
Published online: 25 May 2013
In a city that adores brand names, it is perhaps no surprise that the Art Basel franchise is going down well. With supporters including Ruinart champagne, Davidoff cigars and Audemars Piguet watches, the fair has aligned itself with the trappings of high-end luxury for its first edition in Hong Kong.
At the opening, the fair’s Swiss organisers were keen to underline the importance of East meeting West. There are more Asian galleries at this fair than at any other Art Basel event, although the proportion (more than 50%) includes local branches of international power galleries (see related story). In reality, this is less an Eastern fair, more an international brand in an international, free-trading city. This was reflected in the luxuriously clad visitors—many based in Asia, but mostly citizens of the world—at Wednesday’s VIP preview.
The Swiss-born, Hong Kong-based investors and collectors Max and Monique Burger, the Hong Kong- and China-based entrepreneur George Wong and the Beijing car dealer and collector-gallerist Yang Bin all attended the opening. From further afield came Jas Gawronski, the Italian politician and chairman of Rome’s Quadrennial, the Saudi Arabian-born collector Abdullah Al-Turki and Jerry Yang, the Taiwan-born American co-founder of Yahoo.
Visitors were generally younger than at other fairs, and with a generous helping of glamour: the international crowd was joined by the British supermodel Kate Moss, the Hong Kong actress and singer Gigi Leung and the Hong Kong pop star Edison Chen. Museum directors were also out in force, including Jeffrey Deitch, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, who talked up the “phenomenal critical mass” of Hong Kong.
The exhibitors are keen to turn this critical mass into sales, and the big-name galleries, particularly those who now have a presence in Hong Kong, benefited from their increased brand recognition here. White Cube (1D12) reported several sales to Asian collectors, and Lehmann Maupin (1C09), which opened a space in Hong Kong in March, also sold well (including Tracey Emin’s neon Now Love is for You!, 2013, for $75,500). At Galerie Perrotin (1C37), the stand was having its third rehang by Friday morning. “This is one advantage of having stock and storage in Hong Kong,” said the gallery’s Stephanie Vaillant.
Other European galleries that are well-known on the Western circuit are still fighting for recognition here, but they are comfortable that the long game is starting to pay off. “You need to apply different rules, and be patient—business takes longer,” said Mathias Rastorfer of Switzerland’s Galerie Gmurzynska (3E07).
There were more early sales for these galleries than at the fair’s predecessor, Art HK, including Eko Nugroho’s pink dog, Flower Generation II, 2012, priced at $54,000, which Adelaide’s South Australian Museum bought from the Berlin- and Singapore-based gallery Arndt (3C08). London’s Alan Cristea Gallery (3C22) sold well. Its director David Cleaton-Roberts said: “We are getting the trust that we take for granted in Europe and America.” But for many, the fair remains back-ended, with some European dealers still reliant on buyers among the weekend crowd.
Artists with brand recognition across the region, particularly those based in the East with an international market, commanded the most interest. At the combined stands of London’s Victoria Miro and Tokyo’s Ota Fine Arts (3D05 and 3D06), 18 works by Yayoi Kusama had sold by Friday afternoon for up to $2m each. Pace Gallery (1C07) sold all four of Zhang Xiaogang’s newly made painted sculptures. “He is one of the most famous Chinese artists in the West,” said Arne Glimcher, the gallery’s director.
The Eastern galleries experienced the same response: big-name dealers known by the Asian collectors were favoured, alongside artists with the market’s stamp of approval. At Taiwan’s Lin & Lin Gallery (1C03), all four oil paintings by the Chinese artist Liu Wei had sold by Wednesday afternoon, including the huge The world that can be constructed is not true, 2012, which went to a Taiwanese private collector for Rmb3.5m ($565,000). Liu has had great success at auction recently and is, said the gallery’s manager, Muo Zheng, “a collectors’ favourite”. A video by the other artist showing with the gallery—Taiwan’s Chen Chieh-Jen, who is less visible on the market—had yet to sell midway through the fair.
Brand Venice was also strongly in evidence (the 55th Biennale starts on 1 June). Sales of works by Lee Kit, who is representing Hong Kong in Venice, included Honey Bee Organic, 2013, which Lombard Freid (1D40) sold to a Hong Kong buyer for €16,000, suggesting a new price level for Lee.
The big-name US secondary market dealers took the gamble of bringing their blue-chip Western, Modern artists. Works at Richard Gray Gallery (3E05) included Calder’s Bronze Quadrilateral, 1960, priced at $1.25m. Van de Weghe Fine Art (3E10) showed Picasso’s Nu Couché à la Libelle, 1968, priced at $6.8m. Dominique Lévy Gallery (3E11) brought Andy Warhol dollar signs (1980-82, priced between $70,000 and $6.5m). But collectors were not completely persuaded; by Friday, such sales were sparse. “Hong Kong collectors travel a lot. If they wanted to buy an established Modern master, they would probably go to Paris, London or New York,” said Edouard Malingue (3D20), who opened a space in Hong Kong in 2010. He added: “My siblings [who work at the gallery’s space in Paris] would take very good care of them.”
The smaller, lesser-known galleries benefited from offering lower prices. At Beijing’s Yang Gallery (3D19), two of Yan Bing’s giant peasants’ tools dressed in suits sold for HK$50,000 each to a collector from mainland China, which remains an elusive market. “It’s every gallery’s dream to come to Art Basel,” said the gallery’s owner, Chelsea Yang.
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