Fine Art Asia, Hong Kong’s Homegrown Art Fair, Returns—a Third Smaller, More Local, and With NFTs

After last year's team up with Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021 saw new strategies to navigate the still-evolving landscape.

A spectator at Fine Art Asia takes a shot of a photography work featuring Hong Kong swimmer Siobhan Haughey, who bagged two silver medals at this year's Tokyo Olympics. Courtesy of Fine Art Asia.

Fine Art Asia has returned for another edition in Hong Kong held during the COVID-19 pandemic, welcoming a masked local crowd that was willing to splash cash on antiques, contemporary works, and even NFTs aimed at the Chinese market.

With stringent travel restrictions still in place—seven to 21 days of quarantine for inbound travelers even if they are fully vaccinated—the fairground at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center saw a largely local crowd. All the same, some of the 66 exhibitors said they had managed to make sales on the first VIP day on Thursday, coinciding with Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s autumn auctions preview. More than 3,000 visitors turned up on the first day.

Last year, Fine Art Asia—the only fine art fair based in the region—formed a one-off partnership with Art Basel due to the pandemic. This year, Art Basel managed to stage its main show in Hong Kong despite having to move from its usual March slot to May, and Fine Art Asia continues without the partnership.

All the same, organizers said these twists and turns had no impact on either traffic or sales.

Fine Art Asia first VIP day in Hong Kong. Courtesy of Fine Art Asia.

Fine Art Asia first VIP day in Hong Kong. Courtesy of Fine Art Asia.

The number of exhibitors may be one-third less than during pre-COVID times as many overseas exhibitors decided not to come, but the fair also felt younger and more energized with the increasing presence of local contemporary art galleries. This cadre of Hong Kong spaces brought a newer crowd to the fair, fair director and Chinese antique dealer Andy Hei told Artnet News.

Ora-Ora has sold a few colorful sculptures by Cristobal Gabarron priced between $20,000 to $80,000. The gallery’s founder Henrietta Tsui-Leung said the fair felt like the return of good old times with opportunities to reconnect with long-time Hong Kong collectors.

Hanart TZ Gallery sold works by Hong Kong-based artists Tobias Klein and Peter Nelson. The Culturist sold works by local artist and illustrator Lee Chi-ching at $3,000 to $4,000.

Pricier works on show also garnered a lot of interest. Dealer Pascal de Sarthe’s new outfit, de Sarthe Advisory, made its debut at Fine Art Fair. Specializing in blue chip modern and contemporary masters, it presented works by Zao Wou Ki, Chu Teh-Chun, Hsiao Chin, and Max Ernst, as well as Gutai artists Tanaka Atsuko, Uemae Chiyu, and Yoshihara Jiro priced from $100,000 to $3 million.

“We only see local buyers,” de Sarthe told Artnet News. “One of the goals of participating in an art fair is to meet new collectors and we did achieve this [on Thursday].”

The fair also experimented with a new form of collaboration with overseas galleries. Andy Hei’s own Chinese antique booth served as a proxy sales space for several galleries so that they didn’t have to run a “ghost booth,” directed remotely from abroad.

London’s Nicholas Grindley and Pine’s Art (which has spaces in Taipei and Shanghai) tried the arrangement, showing Ming and Qing Chinese furniture pieces. One HK$3 million ($385,371) classical huanghuali table from Nicholas Grindley was sold on the first day of the fair, Hei noted, even as he himself was in negotiation over a few other high-priced Chinese antique furniture pieces from his own gallery.

“This is a very smart way for overseas galleries to make sales without having to travel,” Hei said. “I have told antique dealers in London to ship their items over and give it a try, but most of them are still conservative.”

Restrictions on overseas travel have changed the way people spend, Hei added, as they shifted their budget on trips to buying collectibles locally.

The fair has also tapped into the NFT trend, offering a series of works displaying strong Chinese cultural elements. Artworks can be bid on on NFT marketplace OpenSea even as the physical form of the work is also on show at the Hong Kong fair.

Hei boasted that the fair introduced antique-themed NFTs at Art Basel in May. The current presentation, he said, was an effort to connect the centuries old culture with digital natives.

Fine Art Asia runs until Monday, October 11.

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