Basel’s Fairs Boast More Asian Galleries and Artists But Fewer Collectors

At Art Basel, the number of galleries with an Asian presence is up 20 percent from 2023.

Visitors at Art Basel 2024 enjoyed themselves in front of video installation DOKU The Flow (2024) by Chinese artist Lu Yang, presented by Société at Unlimited. Photo: Vivienne Chow

Soon after Art Basel opened doors to the First Choice VIP crowd on Tuesday morning following its annual champagne breakfast, the fair’s Statements sector located on the upper floor of Messe Basel was already swamped with enthusiastic collectors and industry professionals. They were apparently impressed by the 18 solo presentations of emerging artists, and some even opened their wallets on the spot to buy the works on show.

Several of the standout works were by Asian artists: the sonic installation “An OK Space to Rest” by the Indonesian artist Julian Abraham “Togar,” brought by ROH Projects from Jakarta; Hong Kong artist and filmmaker Tiffany Sia’s poignant video installation “The Sojourn” at the booth of the Vienna-based gallery Felix Gaudlitz. Collectors also flocked to the sleek solo booth of delicate glass sculptures by Korean artist Omyo Cho, presented by Wooson, which has spaces in Daegu and Seoul in South Korea. All of three galleries are first-time participants at Art Basel in Basel this year.

“I can’t believe I am showing in Basel,” said the ecstatic Cho. The gallery’s CEO and director Eunah Kim hoped that the two sculptures, each priced €20,000 ($21,501), could find a good home in Europe. The gallery also brought hardcover books of the first chapter of a novel written by the artist to the fair. “It’s very difficult to get into Basel,” Kim noted.

An East Asian woman posing next to a glass sculpture

Korean artist Omyo Cho and her sculpture Nudi Hallucination #1 (2022) at Art Basel’s Statements sector, 2024. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Asian galleries have taken a long route to find their way to the top fair in Europe. For decades, the week of Art Basel in June has been a major market moment, with an array of satellite fairs and prime institutional programming running alongside the flagship event in that idyllic Swiss city.

But the week of Art Basel is a major market moment for Asia, too. Ever since the Swiss firm held its inaugural edition in Hong Kong in 2013, a week in the Swiss town, plus a preceding stop at Zurich Art Weekend, has become a regular ritual for many Asian collectors, dealers, and industry professionals.

For Asian galleries, the week presents a crucial opportunity to meet high-caliber clients from around the world. They might have to work harder to make sales, since they are showing artists and styles that are often less familiar to Western collectors, but they keep returning. Their presence, however, has remained low. Wooson, for example, is only the third Korean gallery that has ever made it to the Basel fair.

An installation artwork of a small video monitor, yellow paintings on a blue wall.

“An OK Space to Rest” by Indonesian art artist Julian Abraham “Togar,” staged by first-time participant ROH Projects from Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

At Art Basel, which features 285 exhibitors at the Messeplatz, the number of galleries with an Asian presence is up 20 percent from 2023. In addition to ROH Projects and Wooson, new exhibitors from the region include Taipei’s Tina Keng Gallery, which attracted an entourage of Taiwanese collectors to the fair this year, and Shanghai’s MadeIn Gallery, who are both featured in the Galleries sector, alongside returnees such as STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery from Singapore, Kukje Gallery, and Gallery Hyundai from South Korea.

Some of the artists featured in this year’s Unlimited also have Asian heritage, such as the Shanghai-born Lu Yang, presented by Société, and the New York-based Canadian artist Dominique Fung, who has ancestry in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Her ambitious project A Tale of Ancestral Memories (2023) is presented by Massimo de Carlo in the fair’s Unlimited section for large-scale works.

Yet even with more Asian galleries and artists participating, the presence of Asian collectors has noticeably dwindled at the fair. Fewer Chinese and Korean collectors were spotted roaming the fairground compared to the previous years. However, there were sightings of Japanese collectors, including the investor Kankuro Ueshima, who started building his collection in 2022 and is opening his museum in Tokyo this month, returned to Basel for a second year in a row.

A dark haired woman taking photos at an art gallery booth

Seoul-based gallery P21 makes its debut at Liste Art Fair in 2024 with a solo presentation of Korean artist Keem Jiyoung. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Nevertheless, the addition of more Asian galleries extends to the other fairs that run during the week. At Liste, which has 91 exhibitors and focuses on emerging art, about a dozen dealers from Asia are participating, including newcomers P21 and Cylinder from Seoul and Tokyo’s Yutaka Kikutake.

“It’s always nice to be back in Basel because collectors and institution representatives all come here,” said P21’s founder Soo Choi. The gallery presents a solo booth of Korean artist Keem Jiyoung featuring more than 20 works from across three series, each priced $1,000 to $5,000. “We want to push her global presence,” Choi said.

At a concrete bunker across from the Messeplatz that was transformed into an exhibition space by Herzog and de Meuron, the booth-less June Art Fair will welcome Magician Space from Beijing, Palas from Sydney, and PHD Group from Hong Kong in its lineup of 12 galleries. Tokyo galleries Hagiwara Projects and Misako and Rosen will also be returning; the latter is one of the current co-organizers of June, which aims to be an alternative fair model.

Volta, which tapped Lee Cavaliere as its artistic director last summer, strives to shine a spotlight on underrepresented voices. The Asian galleries in its 45-exhibitor roster include Odds and Ends from Hong Kong, H.A.N. and Lee and Bae from South Korea, Transmit Studio from Japan, and Warin Lab Contemporary from Thailand.

Basel-based non-profit outfit PF25 presents the exhibition “Inner Alchemy” featuring London-based Hong Kong artist Hanison Lau Hok-shing and Swiss artist Julia Steiner, curated by its founder Angelika Li. Several Asian galleries are also showing at the buzzy Basel Social Club this year, including galleries from China, such as A Thousand Plateaus Art Space based in Chengdu, Antenna Space from Shanghai, Empty Gallery from Hong Kong, and LINSEED from Shanghai.

A version of this story was published in The Asia Pivot, May 29, 2024.

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