Art Basel Has a New Plan for Asia: Become a Consultant for Fairs and Events Across the Region

Art Basel says it is not leaving Hong Kong despite new collaborations with S.E.A. Focus in Singapore and Art Week Tokyo.

Visitors to Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. (Photo by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Art Basel has a new game plan for Asia. Rather than launching another fair in a region that is saturated with deep-pocketed young collectors, the Swiss giant is taking on the role of consultant, advising regional art events on how to make a bigger splash.

Art Basel will collaborate with Singapore’s S.E.A. Focus on its 2022 edition, which will take place from January 15 to 23. The international fair will advise the boutique event on communications, programming, and other matters as S.E.A. Focus seeks to stake a bigger claim on the emerging market of Southeast Asia.

The new initiative is something of a twist on Art Basel Cities, in which the Swiss company offered itself up to local governments as a cultural producer for hire. (The Cities project launched in 2016; its only full-scale event was held in Buenos Aires in 2018.) The experiment with S.E.A. Focus is Art Basel’s second such collaboration; it has a similar arrangement with Art Week Tokyo, which debuts next week from November 4 to 7.

“If there’s anything that COVID has taught us, it is that we should work together and make something meaningful,” Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director of Asia, told Artnet News. “We play a role as an advisor, a consultant… Basically we are happy to answer any questions they may have to support the success of S.E.A. Focus.”

Tent of SEA Focus 2020_Image courtesy of STPI — Creative Workshop & Gallery

Tent of SEA Focus 2020_Image courtesy of STPI — Creative Workshop & Gallery

Basel’s new Asia strategy may spark speculation about whether the fair is having second thoughts about Hong Kong, which, despite an exceptionally strong art market, is facing ongoing political turmoil and an extremely stringent and much-criticized up-to-21-day hotel quarantine for inbound travelers.

Ooi said Art Basel is planning to return to Hong Kong in March 2022. “Hong Kong remains the flagship for our Asia show. But why not try different ways to work together?” she said. “If this cultivation process works, we will have new audiences and we are strengthening the region. From an Asian standpoint, we want to do something respectfully.”

The invitation to collaborate with S.E.A. Focus came from the organizers of the Singapore event, which has served as an anchor of Singapore Art Week since the collapse of Art Stage Singapore in 2019.

Organized by STPI Creative Workshop & Gallery with backing from Singapore’s National Arts Council, the showcase for regional galleries wants to reach out to the world while cementing itself “as a critical and much-needed platform that is going to champion the art from Southeast Asia,” said Emi Eu, project director of S.E.A. Focus and executive director of STPI.

“Southeast Asian art is appreciated locally but the demographic from abroad isn’t that large,” Eu told Artnet News. “The Art Basel team in Hong Kong is going to help us, precisely because they know this region so well.”

Overview of SEA Focus 2020_Image courtesy of STPI — Creative Workshop & Gallery

Overview of SEA Focus 2020_Image courtesy of STPI — Creative Workshop & Gallery

As of now, participating galleries include Yavuz Gallery, Gajah Gallery, Yeo Workshop, Mizuma Gallery, and Ota Fine Art from Singapore, as well as Vietnam’s The Cuc Gallery, Silverlens and Drawing Room from the Philippines, and Thailand’s Nova Contemporary.

Meanwhile, Art Week Tokyo, organized by the Japan Contemporary Art Platform with support from the Agency for Cultural Affairs and Art Basel in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Dealers Association Nippon, will bring together 50 museums, galleries, and art spaces for a joint program connected via bus links. The goal is to give a boost to the local art scene amid the pandemic.

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