Report: Art Fair Hong Kong 2011

ART HK 26th- 29th May 2011
They came, they saw,  yet they didn't buy much

written by Bharti Lalwani

HK Art Fair returned with its fourth edition firmly establishing itself as one of the world's premier art fairs. What was different this year was that the fair was split into two floors - The lower level for established galleries while the upper floor was reserved for Art Futures (younger galleries) and a new feature Asia One where Asian galleries could exhibit solo shows by emerging artists, allowing for more breathing space for artworks as well as between booths unlike last year when, on the day of the Vernissage, you couldn't move two feet without hearing the sound of breaking champagne flutes! New participants this year were Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Blum & Poe, Peter Nagy's Nature Morte from Delhi and Vitamin Creative Space from Hong Kong.

Blue chip galleries this year took a risk by bringing in a variety of works by recognizable artists - White Cube, instead of solely focusing on works by Damien Hirst or Tracy Emin, brought a good selection of other artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hellscape Dass Kapital ist Kaput? Ja? Nein! Dummkopf! (2008) which surprisingly sold to an Asian collector for £525,000 and Hauser & Wirth from London which sold Bharti Kher’s An eye for an eye, (2011) to a Beijing-based collector for US$265,000. Note that all sales figures mentioned are from ART HK's post fair press release where there is no mention of a Warhol sale, surprisingly. Speaking of Warhol, I spotted Jose Mugrabi (reportedly the biggest individual collector of works by Andy Warhol) at a NY gallery's booth. The main floor on the whole felt dull, empty even, and the sales seemed slow in comparison to the upper section Asia One and Art Features where works were not only affordable but also more experimental, edgy, uninhibited and apparently “fun” judging by the number of families out with kids to explore art! But here's the thing, for an art fair in Asia, who do you think will make better sales- the overseas gallery selling Venessa Beecroft, Olafur Eliasson or Yinka Shonibare or the Asian gallery selling Chinese or Indonesian artists such as Liu Wei, Yan Pei-Ming, Fx Harsono or Heri Dono, whose representatives can speak at least Cantonese or Bahasa? After all, why should a Chinese or a Southeast Asian collector buy Tracy Emin, for instance, when her work has absolutely no resonance with this particular audience?

L & M's (NY) Francois Renet explained his decision for bringing in heavy-weight works which would be new and unfamiliar to the Asian audience such as a 1961 soft sculpture by Claes Oldenburg as well as a Jeff Koons Walrus Trash can which went unsold (his Orange Monkey Train painting did sell to an Asian buyer for USD 3.5 million). Basically L&M and many other galleries are in agreement with fair director Magnus Renfrew that the primary focus is not on making “blockbuster sales” but instead on educating the diverse audiences many of whom are treading towards an art fair for the first time. The fair then becomes a hub for an exchange of ideas and not just about “Asian Audience” learning about “western artists” but the other way round as well.

As we all know now Art Basel has bought into Art Hk (which has bought into India Art Summit-now India Art Fair) so it will be extremely interesting to watch the eastern hemisphere with 2012 kicking off with former Basel head Rudolph Lorenzo's Art Stage Singapore (or A.S.S) 12-15th January, then India 25-29th of the same month followed by Hong Kong 2-5th February. But before you think “fair fatigue”, get this- Lorenzo was at Art Hk to assure potentially interested galleries that he would be willing to change the dates around as its too close to India and HK, while I have it on good authority that Magnus will keep the May dates as businesses will be shut during the Chinese New Year for the entire month starting end of Jan 2012! Unless I'm completely wrong and Art HK maintains its Feb dates on the presumption that the locals will forgo their lunar holidays just because there's an art fair in town!