On the face of it, the first edition of the Hong Kong art fair under the Art Basel umbrella doesn’t look so different to the previous incarnations of the six-year-old event (previously ArtHK, 23-26 May). The fair will still be spread across two separated floors of the city’s Convention and Exhibition Center; it will still have a section dedicated to emerging artists (previously known as Art Futures, now Discoveries); there will again be a platform for Asian galleries and their artists (previously Asia One, now Insights); and there will be space in both the vast halls for large-scale installations (previously ArtHK Projects, now Encounters, curated for the second year running by Yuko Hasegawa, the chief curator at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art and the curator of this year’s Sharjah Biennial). Deutsche Bank is still the fair’s lead sponsor.
It is, however, in the main Galleries section of the fair that the biggest changes have been wrought. More than a quarter of the 180 galleries that exhibited in the 2012 edition of ArtHK are not returning for the 2013 Art Basel in Hong Kong. This is a high level of yearly turnover compared with the other Art Basel fairs (in Basel and Miami) and with other major league fairs. There isn’t much that obviously connects either the 46 galleries not returning to the main section of the Hong Kong event this year, or the 37 that are new. However, half-a-dozen of the non-returners, including Seoul’s Gana Art and Hyundai galleries, had been a presence at the fair since its 2008 inception with others, including London’s Michael Hoppen and Berlin’s Michael Janssen, since 2009. The fair’s organisers, who have increased the size of their selection committee, say that this is not a case of sweeping through with a new Art Basel broom, simply that for any event to stay strong it needs to rejuvenate itself regularly. The event is also deliberately smaller this year, with 245 galleries in total (versus 268 in 2012) with relatively more space to breathe, something that Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel, says worked to great effect at Art Basel Miami Beach. In addition, organisers have been working on giving the fair a more “equitable flow” between the two floors, says Magnus Renfrew, the director of Art Basel in Hong Kong. In previous editions, the upper floor has felt very much like “part two” of the fair, so this year, for example, the VIP lounge has been moved up and will be flanked by important secondary market galleries such as Gmurzynska and Michael Werner.
The ever-changing dynamic seems also to reflect the heightened activity that characterises the art market in Asia, where competition is hotting up to meet the demands of potential buyers. There are now plans for London’s Masterpiece event to link up with Hong Kong’s Fine Art
Asia and for Maastricht’s The European Fine Art Fair to open in Beijing. Meanwhile, both the Chinese and international auction houses are increasing their presence in Asia, while other previously regional art fairs—most notably Art Dubai, which held its seventh edition in April—are growing in international stature.
This was much of the thinking behind ArtHK’s sale to Art Basel (which was announced nearly two years ago)—that the contemporary art fair had reached a level where it needed the heft of a bigger brand to keep its first-mover advantage in Hong Kong, while retaining its Asian flavour. It’s a position that Renfrew says has been “absolutely secured”. Hong Kong’s shared history with the West, its tax advantages (there is no import, export or sales tax in the territory), location and position as an international business centre are “not changing in a hurry,” he adds.