New Fair, Art Central, Challenges Art Basel in Hong Kong

Can Hong Kong Handle Another Art Fair?

A mockup of Art Central Hong Kong's tents Photo: Courtesy Art Central

How many art fairs is too many? Hong Kong is going to find out if its collectors can stomach at least one more. A new event called Art Central will launch this year as a satellite art fair to Art Basel in Hong Kong. The brains behind Art Central are a team of art fair veterans, including Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus, who founded the original ART HK and later sold it to Art Basel.

Opening on March 14, one day earlier than Art Basel in Hong Kong, Art Central will showcase works from 77 international galleries in a 10,000-square-meter (108,000-square-foot) state of the art exhibition tent by the waterfront, a short walk away from the Art Basel location (see ArtHK Founders to Launch Rival Fair to Art Basel in Hong Kong). 

Compared to the Goliath that is Art Basel, this new fair may be smaller in scale (see Art Basel in Hong Kong Has 231 Galleries on Deck for 2015). But it seems equally muscular. 

“It has all the ingredients for it to work,” says Alex Errera of “The trick is to avoid becoming a mini-Art Basel. How can it break the boundaries of a high-end, high quality art fair without becoming an affordable art fair?”

The art consultant observes that new models for art fairs are appearing in Asia and do seem to be working such as Shanghai’s ART021, a fair that successfully focused on newly-minted Chinese collectors in its debut edition (see ART021 is the Chinese Fair You Need to Know About). Art Central will similarly need to find its niche audience.

“I personally think there is a gap in the Hong Kong art fair scene,” says gallerist Angela Li. “Between Art Basel in Hong Kong and a lot of these smaller fairs we really need something in the middle that is very good quality but maybe the price point is not as high.”

Something Refreshing

The dealer is on Art Central’s inaugural selection committee, which she says looked for emerging talent that wouldn’t necessarily be shown at Art Basel. “Something refreshing that the market hasn’t seen yet,” she explains.

One of the big-ticket installations to be shown at Art Central is a collaboration between Swarovski and artist Joyce Wang whose name is fast becoming familiar among local collectors. Titled Oculus, the work is described as a striking objet d’art that will emit kaleidoscopic light. 

Another highlight is the solo show of acclaimed American artist Rona Pondick. Collectors and visitors will get to see her surreal parahuman sculptures that are collected by the MOMA and other museums. 

A Focus on Asia

But it is Art Central’s focus on Asia that will set it apart on a world stage. More than half of the participating galleries are from the Asia Pacific region, countries including Australia, China, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The fair’s co-director Eve Share Banghart points out that contemporary Chinese ink works will be significantly featured. The medium is enjoying a surge in interest among both seasoned and young collectors in the region. 

Renowned Chinese ink painter Lan Zhenghui will create an installation presented by Ethan Cohen Fine Arts. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Galerie Du Monde will dedicate its booth to ink painting, including works by Qin Feng and emerging conceptual ink painter Li Hao. “Each of the artists are using the same basic materials to vastly different effect in these presentations,” says Share Banghart.

The novelty of the inaugural edition of Art Central will certainly pique the interest of many of Art Basel in Hong Kong’s 60,000 visitors, luring them to make the short walk over for a look at the city’s newest, flashiest fair. 

Local players are hopeful that in future years the event will be strong enough on its own to warrant the undivided attention of collectors. A marker of a successful art fair is to have successful satellite fairs around it, diversifying the range of art and audience—something Hong Kong needs. 

“If we are going to be the arts hub of Asia, it is important that there are more players here and that the scene becomes more active with alternative platforms for galleries of all shapes and sizes,” says Louise Wong of Creative City, an initiative that gives voice to Hong Kong’s creative industries. “A strong new art fair can only be good for the art scene in general.”

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