The Art Market Moves East: How Gagosian, David Zwirner, and 14 Other Western Art Businesses Are Trying to Expand to Asia

China has been described as “the largest growth market for the art business, anywhere.” See how auctioneers and dealers are tapping into it.

Florentijn Hofman's inflatable duck alit in Hong Kong during the summer of 2013. Photo: Philippe LopezAFP/Getty Images.
Florentijn Hofman's inflatable duck afloat in Hong Kong during the summer of 2013. Photo: Philippe LopezAFP/Getty Images.

In the past year alone, no fewer than six galleries have opened or announced plans to open an outpost or office somewhere in Asia.

Amid announcement after announcement, it may feel like Western art businesses have been working forever to tap into the Asian art market. But in fact, the push to set up outposts in China—as well as South Korea and Japan—began less than a decade ago. And much of the momentum has picked up only in the last several years. In a recent interview, the CEO of Phillips, Edward Dolman, called China “potentially the largest growth market for the art business, anywhere.”

Now, galleries are looking not only to import their own artists to cities like Shanghai and Beijing, but also to scout major local talent. And some have begun to look beyond financial hubs like Hong Kong to expand into less saturated markets like Seoul.

Having trouble keeping up with all the action? We have compiled a handy list of major galleries and auction houses’ initiatives in Asia to get you up to speed—fast.

Christie’s 

Staff take phone bids at a Christie’s auction in Shanghai. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images.

Cities active: Offices across Asia; salesrooms in Hong Kong, Shanghai
Major hires: Deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia Pacific Xin Li has remained the indomitable force behind the house’s Asian expansion since she jumped ship from Sotheby’s to Christie’s in 2010.
Strategy: In the first half of 2017, Christie’s sales for Asia totaled $325 million; 21 percent of all new buyers at the house came from Asia. Geographically, Asian clients accounted for 35 percent of sales by value, with spending increasing 39 percent compared to the equivalent period last year.

Phillips

Phillips Auction House.

Cities active: Hong Kong, Tokyo, Tapei

Major hires: Ken Yeh, a veteran of the Chinese market, joined Phillips earlier this month to beef up its Asian expansion effort. The specialist in Modern and contemporary Asian art served as the chairman of Christie’s Asia before joining Acquavella Galleries to manage business development. Jonathan Crockett, formerly of Sotheby’s, joined as deputy chairman of Asia in 2015.
Strategy: Phillips held its first auction in Hong Kong in December 2015 and, after adding several specialists, organized its first full evening sale in the city this year. It has also branched out elsewhere in the continent, hiring regional directors in Japan and Taiwan and making plans to hold its first preview in South Korea.

Sotheby’s

Sotheby's staff gather for a group photo following the sale of a 59.60-carat giant diamond named the "Pink Star", breaking the world record for a gemstone sold at auction, fetching $71.2 million. Courtesy of Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images.

Sotheby’s staff post-sale of a 59.60-carat giant diamond. Courtesy of Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images.

Cities active: Offices across Asia; salesroom in Hong Kong
Major hires: Linus Wing Lam Cheung, who joined the auction house’s board in November 2016. He is the retired chief executive officer of Hong Kong Telecom and a renowned collector of Chinese art.
Strategy: Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith said recently that the latest series of Hong Kong auctions this fall brought in 42 percent more money than last year’s equivalent sales. This year, the major Hong Kong sales raised more than $810 million, the highest level since 2014. In October, Sotheby’s sold an ultra-rare brush washer sold for an unprecedented $37.7 million, setting a new record for a Chinese ceramic. 
Installation view of "Markus Brunetti: FACADES" at Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Hong Kong. Courtesy of the artist and Axel Vervoordt Gallery.

Installation view of “Markus Brunetti: FACADES” at Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Hong Kong. Courtesy of the artist and Axel Vervoordt Gallery.

Cities active: Hong Kong
Major hires: Korean-born Mi Jeong Kim joined to manage the Hong Kong space in 2014; Boris Vervoordt is director of both the Belgium and Hong Kong galleries.
Strategy: The Antwerp-based gallery timed its Hong Kong opening to coincide with the city’s 2014 edition of Art Basel. It opened with an exhibition of African artist El Anatsui, but emphasized its longtime support of both the Zero and Gutai art movements as an impetus to branch out into the Eastern market.

Ben Brown Fine Arts

Installation view of "Jan Worst: Interiors" at Ben Brown Fine Art in Hong Kong. Courtesy of @benbrownfinearts via Instagram.

Installation view of “Jan Worst: Interiors” at Ben Brown Fine Art in Hong Kong. Courtesy of @benbrownfinearts via Instagram.

Cities active: Hong Kong
Major hires: Amanda Hon, previously of Mitchell-Innes & Nashjoined Ben Brown’s Hong Kong outpost as managing director in 2016.
Strategy: The first major Western gallery to expand to Asia, Ben Brown set up shop in the Pedder Building in 2009. In the next two years, Gagosian Gallery and Hanart TZ would follow suit, buying property in the the iconic building; Simon Lee and White Cube soon opened nearby. In recent years, Hon has led the charge to present more contemporary Asian artists alongside blue-chip Western names.

Blum & Poe

Interior view of "Victor Man" at Blum & Poe's Tokyo location. © 2017 Blum & Poe.

Interior view of “Victor Man” at Blum & Poe’s Tokyo location. © 2017 Blum & Poe.

Cities active: Tokyo
Major hires: Ashley Rawlings, the former managing editor of ArtAsiaPacific magazine, has been the director of Blum & Poe‘s Tokyo space since it opened.
Strategy: Japan is part of the DNA of Blum & Poe. The gallery’s co-founder Tim Blum worked in Tokyo for four years when he was in his 20s and began working with Japanese artists like Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami soon after opening in Los Angeles. The gallery debuted a viewing room in Tokyo in 2012 and a full-fledged outpost near Harajuku Station in 2014.

David Zwirner

David Zwirner flanked by Jennifer Yum and Leo Xu, heads of his new Hong Kong gallery. Photo courtesy of David Zwirner.

David Zwirner flanked by Jennifer Yum and Leo Xu, heads of his new Hong Kong gallery. Photo courtesy of David Zwirner.

Cities active: Hong Kong
Major hires: Dealer Leo Xu, who is closing his own gallery Leo Xu Projects to helm the new Hong Kong-based branch in January, and Jennifer Yum, who was plucked from Christie’s postwar and contemporary department, where she headed evening sales in Shanghai.
Strategy: Zwirner made waves when he announced earlier this month that he had recruited Yum and Xu, two of the brightest young stars in China’s art world. In just a few months, the gallery will open its more than 10,000-square-foot space in Queen’s Road Central with an exhibition of new work by Michaël Borremans. As Xu explained in a recent interview with artnet News, Zwirner plans to present Minimalist and conceptual art—hallmarks of the gallery’s program—and is on the hunt for new Asian and Chinese artists to add to its roster.

Gagosian

Installation view of "Cy Twombly: The Last Paintings" at Gagosian, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

Installation view of “Cy Twombly: The Last Paintings” at Gagosian, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

Cities active: Hong Kong
Major hires: Nick Simunovic, who decamped from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum back in 2007, has led the Asian arm of Gagosian since its inception.
Strategy: One of the first Western galleries (along with Pace, Ben Brown, and White Cube) to see the potential in Hong Kong, Gagosian used its massive coffers to secure an entire floor of the Pedder Building in January 2011. However, relatively speaking, it was late to the party: The Hong Kong branch was Gagosian’s eleventh global outpost.

Hauser & Wirth

Hauser & Wirth's future home in Hong Kong. © CL3 Architects / Henderson Land Ltd.

Hauser & Wirth’s future home in Hong Kong. © CL3 Architects / Henderson Land Ltd.

Cities active: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong 
Major hires: Vanessa Guo, formerly of Christie’s, who joined the gallery in 2016, and Lihsin Tsai, a former advisor to collector Qiao Zhibing, who joined this year. The dynamic duo will co-direct the Hong Kong space. 
Strategy: Not content to merely test the waters, the international powerhouse jumped into the Chinese market with both feet this fall. It opened offices in Beijing and Shanghai last month, and is planning to open a 10,000-square-foot gallery in Hong Kong’s Central district in spring 2018. Hauser & Wirth will be neighbors with Pace and David Zwirner, which also have spaces in the building.

Lehmann Maupin

Installation view of Tracy Emin's "I Cried Because I Love You" at the Lehmann Maupin gallery in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Wallace/ AFP AFP/Getty Images.

Installation view of Tracy Emin’s “I Cried Because I Love You” at the Lehmann Maupin gallery in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Wallace/ AFP AFP/Getty Images.

Cities active: Hong Kong, Seoul
Major hires: Shasha Tittmann, who joined the gallery as a director in Hong Kong in September after serving as the director of sales and marketing for Tang Contemporary Art.

Strategy: The gallery recently announced its plans to launch a “viewing office” in Seoul, near the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It is scheduled to open on December 14 with a group show of gallery artists. In 2013, the gallery opened its first international branch in a Rem Koolhaas-designed space in Hong Kong’s Pedder Building.

Lévy Gorvy

Danqing Li, appointed Senior Director of Lévy Gorvy Asia. Photograph courtesy of Lévy Gorvy.

Danqing Li. Photograph courtesy of Lévy Gorvy.

Cities active: Shanghai
Major hires: Danqing Li, a former postwar and contemporary specialist at Christie’s, will lead the new office as the gallery’s senior director of Asia.
Strategy: Lévy Gorvy is taking a slow and steady approach to the Eastern market. Two months ago, the gallery announced it would be opening a Shanghai-based office—but not a full-blown gallery space. In an interview with artnet News, the gallery’s Brett Gorvy alluded to plans for Asian growth, mentioning its intention to open offices in Hong Kong as well as Shanghai. Gorvy also pointed to the inaugural show at Lévy Gorvy, which combined works by de Kooning and Zao Wou-Ki, as one that he would hope to bring to Asia, where a new audience would be introduced to de Kooning.

Massimo De Carlo

Massimo de Carlo's Hong Kong gallery. Image courtesy of Massimo de Carlo.

Massimo de Carlo’s Hong Kong gallery. Image courtesy of Massimo de Carlo.

Cities active: Hong Kong
Major hires: Claudia Albertini joined as director in Hong Kong in February 2016 after serving as director for Platform China, a project space based in the city.
Strategy: After scouting the Central neighborhood for years, the gallery set up shop in the Pedder Building—a hub for galleries—in March 2016. De Carlo had been on Art Basel Hong Kong’s selection committee and timed the opening of the outpost to coincide with the fair’s 2016 edition and the gallery’s 30th anniversary.
Installation view of "teamLab: Living Digital Forest and Future Park" at Pace Gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Pace.

Installation view of “teamLab: Living Digital Forest and Future Park” at Pace Gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Pace.

Cities active: Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul
Major hires: Beijing native Leng Lin, who founded the alternative artist space Beijing Commune in 2004, is president of Pace Beijing and Pace Hong Kong.
Strategy: Pace was the first Manhattan-based gallery to expand to Beijing. The gallery coordinated the opening of its massive 22,000-square-foot space in the Factory 798 District with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Since then, the powerhouse has expanded to Seoul, South Korea, and opened two locations in Hong Kong. The gallery has been uniquely focused on adding Asian artists to its roster as well as converting Asian collectors to Western art. It represents artists including Hong Hao, Li Songsong, Yue Minjun, and Zhang Huan.

Perrotin

The new site of Galerie Perrotin's Tokyo location in the heart of Roppongi. Wallpaper by: Pierre Le-Tan. Courtesy of @emmanuelperrotin via Instagram.

The new site of Galerie Perrotin’s Tokyo location in the heart of Roppongi. Wallpaper by: Pierre Le-Tan. Courtesy of @emmanuelperrotin via Instagram.

Cities active: Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo
Major hires: Alice Lung and Etsuko Nakajima, the co-directors of Perrotin Hong Kong, who helped establish the gallery’s presence there. Lung previously worked at Gana Gallery and Seoul Auctions.
Strategy: Emmanuel Perrotin is known as the man who introduced the high-fructose work of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to the Western art world. In June, the French gallerist put down permanent roots in Japan with a sleek new gallery space in Tokyo’s booming Roppongi arts district. Perrotin opened its popular Hong Kong outpost in 2012, and opened a 3014-square-foot gallery in Seoul in 2016. In an Instagram post from June, Perrotin can be seen posing after an Oharai ceremony which he described as “for the purification and success of our new gallery in Tokyo.”

Simon Lee

Installation view of Mel Bochner at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong.

Installation view of Mel Bochner at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong.

Cities active: Hong Kong
Major hires: Katherine Schaefer, director of the Hong Kong outpost. Schaefer has worked with the gallery in various capacities since 2009; she was tapped to oversee the Hong Kong expansion in 2012.
Strategy: Prioritizing a presence in Asia before expanding to New York or any other Western art hub, Hong Kong was the first city outside London that Simon Lee expanded to after operating his gallery for nearly a decade. Lee’s Hong Kong outpost not only showcases gallery artists but also collaborates with local talent. According to Apollo, Simon Lee was the first Western gallery in the city to present a group show of Hong Kong artists.

White Cube

Installation view of Danh Vō at White Cube in Hong Kong. Photo: Kitmin Lee for White Cube.

Installation view of Danh Vō at White Cube in Hong Kong. Photo: Kitmin Lee for White Cube.

Cities active: Hong Kong
Major hires: Laura Zhou, formerly of ShangArt, was brought on to lead the gallery as director of White Cube Hong Kong.

Strategy: White Cube made news in 2011 when it revealed that it had chosen Hong Kong as its first overseas gallery location, taking up two floors of an office tower a stone’s throw from the Pedder Building in the city’s Central neighborhood. The gallery inaugurated its Asian outpost in 2012 with an exhibition of Gilbert and George.


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