Art Basel in Hong Kong a Hit With Asia’s Collectors
Buyers from Mainland China helped drive strong sales.
A flurry of sales marked Art Basel in Hong Kong this year. The fair got off to a strong start beginning Wednesday, May 15. Visitors from across the globe filed into the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre to browse works presented by 245 galleries—32 of them Mainland Chinese ones—from 39 countries.
Fairgoers said they were impressed by the cleaner layout, well-curated booths and higher quality artworks—a noticeable improvement from the 2013 edition that inaugurated the Art Basel brand. “There is a lot less second-guessing from gallerists on what will sell,” said local collector Alan Lau. “The only way to win is to bring your best work and take [Asian collectors] seriously. That’s what they’ve done this year.”
Lau, who sits on the boards of Tate’s Asia-Pacific acquisition committee and Hong Kong’s respected nonprofit space Para/Site was among the collectors who snapped up several works early. Among his acquisitions was an aluminum briefcase by the young Fuxin-born Chinese artist Sun Xun titled The Citizenship Pack (2014), for $13,000, and Chinese painter Yuan Yuan’s Common ground community (2013) for HKD 245,000 ($31,605). Lau said his other purchases included work by Korean artist Haegue Yang and Ai Weiwei, represented by Galerie Chantal Crousel and Galerie Urs Meile, respectively.
Lau wasn’t alone in his early purchasing. Dealers acknowledged that business was brisk this year during the daytime VIP preview and early evening vernissage.
Other gallerists had to wait until just before the vernissage began. “It started off slow,” said Darren Flook, senior director at Max Wigram Gallery. “If you had asked me at 3:30 p.m., I would have been the most depressed man in Southeast Asia, but by 4:30 pm I had champagne in my hand,” Flook’s booth featured a solo presentation of black-and-white photo realist paintings by James White. Max Wigram sold five works, including two large still life scenes for $64,000 each, and two smaller works for $15,000.
Just five minutes after the doors officially opened, Mumbai-based gallery Chemould Prescott Road sold Hema Upadhyay’s What are we? (2013) for $50,000. The delicate work of handwritten text on rice grains was snapped up by a Hong Kong collector. The gallery later sold Jitish Kallat’s work Celes Terres Perpetuum (2013), featuring a row of rotis, for $25,000.
“Much more decision-making took place at the opening than in past years,” observed London dealer Simon Lee, who has a gallery in Hong Kong. The gallery reported first-day sales of 10 works by artists including Toby Ziegler, Ran Huang, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Valerie Snobeck.
The Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) sold a sculptural paper collage by the much-talked about Filipino artist Ronald Ventura Into the Woods no. 2 (2012) for SGD 125,000 ($99,817) and a work by Do Ho Suh for $15,000 among others. It also closed a sale of Haegue Yang’s Spice Moons (2013). New York City’s Museum of Modern Art purchased the large work made from potent cooking ingredients like turmeric and chili powder for €120,000 ($164,656). Said head of communications and projects Nor Jumaiyah, STPI made “a tidy sum of $153,000” on Wednesday.
Wednesday also saw Upstream Gallery from Amsterdam sell out its booth in the Discoveries section of the fair, a solo presentation featuring hyperrealist drawings by British David Haines. Among the works to go was More than Domes (2014), for $22,000.
The pace of sales continued overnight.
By Thursday morning, Edouard Malingue Gallery had sold out its entire booth, a solo presentation featuring four moody and three other works by Yuan Yuan. The largest work went for HKD 600,000 ($77,402).
And London gallery Victoria Miro sold five works on the first day, including the sprawling wool and cotton tapestry Map of Truths and Beliefs (2011) by Grayson Perry; a Taiwanese corporation purchased it for $95,000. The sale followed on the heels of an acquisition of a larger Perry tapestry by the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, the first time the institution had acquired a piece from a Western living artist. Miro also sold a large Idris Khan work for $68,000 to a Hong Kong collector.
Driving so many of these sales were collectors from the region. If fairgoers had taken a good look around them, they would have spotted Hong Kong–based developer Adrian Cheng, Marcel Crespo from Manila, and Rudy Tseng from Taiwan. Collectors from Mainland China like karaoke king Qiao Zhibing, Chinese-Indonesian billionaire Budi Tek (who opened his Yuz Museum in Shanghai on May 17), and media mogul Thomas Shao were also present.
From farther afield came Princess Michael of Kent, Guy and Myriam Ullens, and US–based Peter and Paula Lunder.
Artists like Hernan Bas, Mariko Mori, Takashi Murakami, Oscar Murillo, and Wim Delvoye could be spotted in the crowds. Big-name Chinese artists Zhang Enli, Zheng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang, and Liu Kuo Sung also made an appearance.
This year there was a large contingent from international museums, including representatives from the Smithsonian, Rome’s MAXXI Museum, and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Alexandra Monroe from the Guggenheim could also be spotted alongside Jessica Morgan from Tate Modern as well as a group from the Louvre. From London there was Gregor Muir of the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Tim Marlow of the Royal Academy.
While deep-pocketed buyers combed the aisles, others took a moment to enjoy the interactive installations spread throughout the fair. The large-scale installations in the Encounters section curated by Yuko Hasegawa, the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, proved enticing. People amused themselves by playing a round of ping-pong on donut-shaped tables in the “Ping Pong Go-Round” installation conceived by Singaporean artist Lee Wen, and climbing on Taiwanese artist Michael Lin’s colorful bleacher-like installation titled “Point.”
Then it was back to buying.
New York gallery Lehmann Maupin sold Do Ho Suh’s ethereal blue fabric sculpture Specimen Series: Medicine Cabinet, 348 West 22nd Street, APT. New York, NY 10011, USA (2013) for $85,000. Among the gallery’s biggest sales was a monumental painting The Guru (2013–2014) by Miami painter Hernan Bas, which was purchased for $350,000 by a collector from Mainland China. Crowd #9 (Sunset Five) (2013), a photograph by American artist Alex Prager was also snapped up by a Mainland Chinese collector for $40,000.
Hauser & Wirth sold Rashid Johnson’s bold mixed media work Eddie (2013), composed of burned red oak flooring and black soap, for $135,000 to a private collection in Brazil. Zhang Enli, who was having a solo exhibition in the city organized by K11 Art Foundation, fared well. In the first two days the gallery sold eight works by the Chinese painter including a simple oil painting titled The Branch (2014), and Tension 1 (2013) for $210,000 each. The Textile (2014) and A Roll of Wires (2012) sold for $180,000. It also sold two works by Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal including muted, grey-toned piece Plock (2004) for €85,000 ($116,481), which was snatched up for a private collection in Beijing.
American artist Sterling Ruby proved popular at the fair this year. A private museum in Shanghai acquired a major suite of his works from Hauser & Wirth, and a foundation in Israel purchased his vivid ceramic work Basin Theology/Early Development (2013) for $85,000.
Tokyo-based Taka Ishii Gallery also sold a large work by Ruby, QUILT (4857) (2014), for $85,000. The massive bleached and dyed canvas inspired by Amish quilts was the most expensive work in its booth.
Chinese collectors visting the Ishii booth purchased several editions of erotic prints produced by Nobuyoshi Araki from between 1995 and 2008. Each edition of Kinbaku (shot in 1991, printed in 2012), featuring a bound nude woman, sold for HKD $86,300 ($11,131) each. “It was unusual,” dealer Takayuki Ishii said of the collectors, “as they never responded to Araki [previously] because his work has a lot of sexuality.”
Japanese dealer Sueo Mizuma, whose eponymous gallery has spaces in Tokyo and Beijing, was similarly impressed by collectors from the region. “Sixty percent sold of our work sold,” he said. “We had to change the works in our booth by the second day.”
Sean Kelly Gallery sold three small paintings by Scottish painter Callum Innes for 40,000 ($67,306) each, including Untitled Painting No. 14 (2013) and a futuristic fiberglass sculpture by Mariko Mori, Renew lll (2014), which a private foundation in Korea purchased for €130,000 ($178,180).
Galleria d’Arte Maggiore of Bologna sold a number of works by iconic Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, including the stunning Piazza d’Italia con Arianna (1964) which went for €300,000 ($411,184).
Closer to home, Taipei-based Soka Art Center sold Chinese artist Hong Ling’s oil painting Red (2013) for $600,000, plus two editions of Taiwanese artist Hsi Shih-Pin’s intricate metal work Symbolic Steed of Memory (2014) for $80,000 each.
Johnson Chang of Hanart TZ gallery impressed collectors with a solo show of New York–based Chinese artist Gu Wenda’s work. He sold a large number of Wenda’s creations, including the installation “Forest of Stone Steles – Retranslate & Rewrite Tang Poems #6 #7, #9 (Ink rubbing book)” (2006–07) for HKD 530,000 ($68,000).
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