Commercial galleries China

Move to Hong Kong? Sounds like a good idea…

The opportunities for selling contemporary art are proving irresistible to many

Hong Kong hub: the Pedder building

With the success of the Art HK fair, galleries from all over the world have been looking seriously at Hong Kong as a place to do business. Despite the high rents, dozens of dealers have started looking for spaces, partly encouraged by InvestHK, the government’s investment promotions office, which has a team dedicated to attracting galleries to the region. Already a number of international dealers have committed to Hong Kong despite a limited local market for international contemporary art. The attractions include its free port status and very low taxes, and it has a good concentration of affluent residents: it is also close enough to art collectors in Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea and mainland China.

In early March, Jay Jopling’s White Cube, under the leadership of Asia director Graham Steele (see p19), opened an impressive two-storey space in the Central business district with a show by Gilbert & George (“London Pictures”, until 5 May). Simon Lee Gallery of London and Paris’s Emmanuel Perrotin, among others, followed. Pearl Lam, who comes from a prominent Hong Kong real estate family, decided to open a branch of her eponymous gallery in her home town (she also plans to open a space in Singapore in 2013). Ahead of the latest arrivals, the Gagosian Gallery, as well as French dealers Pascal de Sarthe and Edouard Malingue, have spaces in the city as does London’s Ben Brown.

The market on the mainland for international contemporary art remains limited as affluent buyers there prefer to buy Chinese antiques and traditional paintings. The more mature collecting markets are in Korea, Taiwan and Japan with around ten “serious” buyers of international contemporary art based in China. Selling art in China is also constrained by exhibition censorship issues and taxes.

Hong Kong offers a more practical alternative. Gagosian believes, for example, that there is a market for modern, blue-chip western art in Hong Kong with its most recent show devoted to leading post-war American artists such as John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschen­berg and Cy Twombly (it shows Andreas Gursky from 15 May).

But with the unproven market for contemporary art in Hong Kong, others have decided to take it slowly. Though David Zwirner is holding off opening a space in Hong Kong, the gallery lured away Charlie Spalding from the Beijing operations of Pace. Based in Hong Kong, he is technically part of the New York sales force, heading client development in Asia.

Justine Durrett, director of sales at David Zwirner, notes the creation of new public and private museums in Asia as well as a collector base for artists they represent, like Luc Tuymans. “We want to offer to collectors in Asia the same things we are able offer to all of our collectors internationally,” she says.

“Hong Kong is the art hub for the Asia-Pacific region. It’s the place to buy art now and it’s a friendly place to do business,” says the Vancouver art dealer Ian Tan, who recently opened a 1,000 sq. ft gallery in Hong Kong, upstairs in a building in the Central district.

Meanwhile, in late February, Pearl Lam, who is also a well known collector, sent out emails to her contacts reminiscing about how, when she started in 2004 in Shanghai, she was “embraced and enticed by China’s arts and cultural scene”.

But with the growth of Art HK, now under the management of Art Basel, “Hong Kong has been gradually transforming into a contemporary art centre to rival London and New York… I am elated by and proud of these changes and want to contribute to this continuing transformation. Hence, I am returning to my home,” she wrote.

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