Watch all ARTINFO videos from Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 HERE.
After a relaxed start on Wednesday, the VIP opening day, Art Basel in Hong Kong quickly became a crowded event with organizers reporting over 65,000 visitors by the time it wrapped up on Sunday night (an eight percent increase on the previous year).
There were no doubts in the minds of people attending, be it collectors or gallerists, that this has become “the” art fair of the region for finding top quality art works and getting a quick education on the latest Asian art scene happenings. As Can Yavuz, founder of Yavuz Fine Art commented, the global brand “comes with quality and the legacy of bringing collectors from the world together,” and the general feeling was that it had delivered. "Art Basel in Hong Kong has consolidated its position as the leading fair in Asia and a key fixture in the international art calendar,” noted Neil Wenman, Senior Director, Hauser & Wirth (Zurich, London, New York).
But many complained the fair still lacked an Asian identity and had more western works than might be expected in its second year.
The fair once again benefited from an inviting floor plan, with wide corridors and a clear layout punctuated by the large installations of Encounters, making it easy to navigate. Many galleries opted for open-plan booths and often made do without an end wall when they were positioned at a corridor corner, which enhanced the open feeling and no doubt helped encourage more visitors to enter.
But if the layout was clear on the main floors of the fair, some galleries did complain about overcrowding, in particular when hordes of students started appearing on Friday, some coming dangerously close to the artworks and apparently showing little respect for them. In one case, I witnessed four teenagers knock over artwork by Sookoon Ang at Fost Gallery while trying to take group photos and selfies. Some galleries admitted they would have to think more carefully in the future about the works they bring in, keeping in mind the crowds.
There was also grumbling about the concentration of Asian art galleries in one section, Insight, with some calling it an “Asian ghetto” that didn’t belong in Asia, though organizers argue it was actually “prime real estate” right in the centre of the fair.
For those lucky enough to have passes, the VIP space on the third floor was further enhanced by the addition of a VVIP upper floor, for UBS, the fair’s new global sponsor, which was decked out with a few pieces from its own impressive collection — Zhang Enli, Shi Guowei, Thomas Struth, Yang Fudong and Isaac Julien to name a few. Davidoff had peppered its VIP booth with a series of artwork commissioned for limited edition cigar boxes, and 50 Collector's Limited Edition prints designed by Caribbean artist Quisqueya Henriquez. Audemars Piguet had an interesting dark cavern-like booth design in its VIP area that stood out due to the replica rock formations descending from the ceiling. Ruinart was the most discreet VIP booth, with the artwork commissioned from young Scottish artist Georgia Russell standing alone with the champagne maker opting to put the focus solely on the artwork rather than its marketing collaborations.
Art Works: B
Blue chip names abounded and there was a good mix of established and emerging artists to whet the appetites of different types of collector. Many galleries seem to be taking on a longer-term approach. In contrast to the previous year when many had tried to “guess” market expectations for a quick sale, they appear this time to have focused on brand building, aiming to present to collectors the range of artists they represent.
But once again many collectors suspect some galleries going on to Basel were keeping some of their best works for the Swiss edition next month.
Collectors were generally impressed by the quality of the Chinese art on offer. “It’s the place to come to see great Chinese art,” said collector Dominique Levy, who was looking to add work from Hong Kong artists to her DSL Collection.
Of note was the much increased presence of Modern art at the fair, including plenty by Picasso, Renoir, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Fontana. First time exhibitor Hammer Galleries from New York had works worth about $100 million in its booth, while French gallery Brame & Lorenceau smartly balanced European masters with Chinese ones like Zao Wou-ki.
Light art peppered the fair’s floors — from Tracy Emin’s over-exposed neon writings to a new LED works in traditional Chinese by Jenny Holzer, and the hypnotic lighting sculptures of Adrian Wong — and many galleries were presenting scaled-up sculptures and artworks that fit the tastes of Chinese collectors.
But video installations and photographs tended to be under-represented.
Collectors in attendance: A
While there were the usual well-known collectors in attendance, from Dominique and Sylvain Levy, Yang Bin, Uli Sigg, Lu Xun, and Budi Tek, there were also plenty of new “young” collectors from China, along with an increasing presence of Western collectors, in particular those from America.
Fair organizers were smart about their Conversation and Salon programming, inviting several well respected artistic directors —Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director of the 2014 Biennale of Sydney and Artistic Director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Sydney; Eungie Joo, Curator of the 2015 Sharjah Biennial; Jessica Morgan, Artistic Director of the 10th Gwangju Biennale and Tate Modern curator and Hou Hanru, Artistic Director at MAXXI Museum, Rome.
Sales were reportedly good throughout the fair with collectors and regular punters in the mood to buy. Numerous artworks were snapped up on the VIP opening day, and most of the headline-grabbing sales seem to have been for Asian artworks: Hong Ling’s 2013 Red for US$600,000 at Soka Art, Hauser & Wirth sold several Zhang Enli painting to different private collectors from China, while PKM Gallery reportedly sold $600,000-worth of art by late abstract painter Yun Hyong-Keun, and also sold all its works of Jeong Young-do while taking on several commissions for the young Korean artist. Paul Kasmin Gallery sold a large acrylic by I Nyoman Masriadi for $350,000, while Eslite got around $600,000 for Zhan Wang’s 45 Degrees, a more than 4-meter tall silvery shard, meanwhile Sean Kelly Gallery (New York) sold Mariko Mori’s fiberglass sculpture Renew III for 130,000 euros to a private foundation in Korea.
White Cube sold Christian Marclay’s Smak Splsh Squish (No. 6), 2013 (which had an asking price of $375,000), along with Antony Gormley’s cast iron Rest II (which had an asking price of GBP 250,000). Lehmann Maupin sold Hernan Bas’ The Guru for $350,000 to a collector from Mainland China, while Galleria d'Arte Maggiore (Bologna, Italy) reported that they had sold a number of works by both Giorgio de Chirico and Giorio Morandi, including Giorgio de Chirico’s Piazza d'Italia con Arianna, 1964, for 300,000 euros.
François-Xavier Lalanne’s Gorille (which had an asking price of 1 million euros) also sold at Ben Brown Fine Arts.
Besides discussions on the quality of the artwork and musings about the number of Western and Chinese art collectors, the talk of the fair often turned to the decision to bring the fair forward to March from 2015.
While fair organizers have argued they wanted to put some distance between its Hong Kong (May) and Basel (June) editions, spreading its three fairs more evenly (Miami is in December), others have pointed out that with the next Hong Kong in Basel set for March 13-17, it clashes with TEFAF in Maastricht (Mar 13-22, 2015) as well as the Asian Week in New York (Mar 13-21, 2015), also an important time for Asian art auctions so there could be some uncertainty about who will attend which event next year.
To see images of the fair click here.