Art Fairs – Hong Kong and Basel (Fall 2011)

This year’s 4th edition of the Hong Kong International Art Fair (ART HK) has solidified its position as the most important annual Asian art fair. Leading galleries from all over the world exhibited, primarily those specializing in Contemporary Art (Gagosian, White Cube, James Cohan, Pearl Lam Galleries) but also some known for Modern Art (Acquavella), suggesting the belief in an increasingly diversified interest amongst potential buyers.

As this venue is now considered “the place to be” in Asia for exhibitors, only half of the 500 galleries which applied to exhibit were selected to participate. The fair and an entire week of art events (including Christie’s 13 sales and various gallery openings) were attended mostly by mainland Chinese but also by a number of collectors from Europe and the US. When it comes to actual sales of Western art to Hong Kong and mainland residents, however, ART HK is arguably more about the promise than the reality. Fundamental language and cultural barriers inhibit a majority of the Chinese wealthy when considering the purchase of Picassos and Warhols. This evolution, while in progress, is not happening overnight and will require the patience of Western galleries and an investment in Chinese-speaking staff.

Christie’s spring auctions were held in the Hong Kong Convention Center concurrent with the fair, which had the potential to either benefit or detract from Christie’s sale results. Despite overall success at Sotheby’s Hong Kong sales two months earlier in the categories of Fine Chinese Painting, Ceramics, Contemporary Chinese Art and Wine, many were convinced that the disappointing Meiyintang auction results on April 7 were an indication that the astonishing mainland Chinese demand for art did in fact have its limits. This sentiment left many anticipating that the two convergent events would offer too much property for the market to absorb at one time. Others argued that the sheer size of the Sotheby’s sale (nearly double that of the previous October sale) had caught the Chinese collectors by surprise, as they had been unprepared to spend so much in April, but that going forward expectations would be adjusted.

In their execution, each of the events proved successful. Christie’s may have even fulfilled the Chinese collectors’ incredible appetite for traditional art such as Ceramics and Paintings, which were entirely absent from ART HK, which featured almost exclusively Modern and Contemporary Western Art.

This was an exceptionally strong year at the 42nd Edition of Art Basel. Widely considered the best Modern and Contemporary art fair in the world, most major global galleries exhibited (Pace, Marian Goodman, Sperone Westwater, Hauser & Wirth). Attendance was estimated at over 65,000, a new record, and the value of art on offer was nearly US $2 billion. Many artists and a few notable celebrities were seen walking the fair, and sales were brisk from the start, with countless galleries reporting that the mood of collectors was upbeat and their buying energetic. One noticeable difference from the height of the market in 2007, and positive from the perspective of market stability, was that buyers were alert to realistic pricing and works with unreasonable mark-ups often failed to attract serious interest.

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