20% of the buyers are Asian
Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses make out that at this point in time 20% of their buyers of modern and contemporary art are Asian.
Consumption and creation
Despite the fact that China is currently imposing strict foreign exchange controls on Chinese nationals, the whole of Asia has become a major platform not only for the consumption of art but also for artistic creation.
To observe this you just have to visit Hong Kong during the period of the Art Basel Hong Kong fair (ABHK), which takes place from 29 to 31 March. This mega-show (featuring 242 exhibitors) attracts art market operators from all over the globe with equal proportions of Asian and Western participants.
Elizabeth Chun, who runs a resort complex on the outskirts of Seoul created in 2017 called Paradise City, is one of these new buyers who has a high profile in Asia.
She’s made the journey specially to attend ABHK. She explains that she supports “Korean artists, but I exhibit big international names at Paradise, too, like Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons and I also buy classic yet more experimental works by artists like Cy Twombly or Robert Rauschenberg”.
Western galleries in Hong Kong
At the Western galleries with branches in Hong Kong, the program is impressive at this time of year.
Gagosian is staging an encounter between Cézanne (1839-1906), the great figure from the dawn of modern art, the contemplative Italian artist Morandi (1890-1964), and the Chinese-French painter Sanyu (1901-1966), now highly sought after. Nothing is officially for sale at this exhibition, curated by the contemporary Chinese star painter Zeng Fanzhi (born in 1964), whose recent canvases are also on display at the fair at a booth of another multinational gallery, Hauser & Wirth, for most likely over a million dollars.
Iwan Wirth, the owner of Hauser & Wirth, claims that in 2018 “despite the Chinese economic slowdown 20% of our sales were made in Asia.” At his Hong Kong gallery he’s presenting a remarkable exhibition by the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), who is also the subject of a show right now at the Song Art Museum in Beijing. These works were on sale for between 250,000 and 4 million dollars and sold out within one day of the opening.
The famous gallery located in Berlin, Los Angeles and London, Sprueth Magers, while also showcasing at ABHK, is organizing a temporary exhibition of women artists in the Central district,in the Queens building, featuring contemporary art stars from Cindy Sherman (born in 1954), the American photographer who’s always used self-portraits to create a world populated by multiple characters, to Louise Lawler (born in 1947), the mischievous American who observes, also through photography, the art world and its collectors. These works are presented from 40,000 to 1 million dollars. Monica Sprueth justifies this by saying: “We have to play the globalization game and put forward our women artists as an example.”
Brett Gorvy, co-founder of the Levy Gorvy gallery based in New York, Los Angeles and London, is inaugurating a new space in the megacity during the week of ABHK. “We conceived it as a salon. People learn fast here,” explains the dealer, who at last year’s fair sold a painting by de Kooning for 35 million dollars. At his space, for example, he is displaying a small yet remarkable painting by Picasso from 1932 exhibited in 2018 at the Tate Modern, on sale for around 13.5 million dollars.
Zao Wou ki
At his booth he is also presenting, among other things, a work on paper by the Chinese-French artist Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013) dating from a few months after his arrival in Paris, 1949, on sale for 250,000 dollars. The painter’s value has risen considerably in recent years, achieving a record price in September 2018 with 56.1 million euros.
The next documenta
This result corroborates the observation from the director of ABHK, Adeline Ooi: “We are witnessing a significant increase in the value of Asian artists, while others are being discovered or rediscovered. The knowledge within the field is growing considerably nowadays.”
The selection of a collective of 10 artists, the Ruangrupa from Jakarta, to curate Documenta 15 in Kassel also accentuates this trend, placing further importance on art from this part of the world.
In the same spirit the American gallery Lehmann Maupin, which opened a space in Seoul in 2018 after Hong Kong, is championing various Korean artists, including Lee Bul (born in 1964) who is taking part in this year’s Venice Biennale. She’s created a fantasy world, represented at the fair by her silver airship, which was exhibited in the summer of 2018 at the Hayward Gallery in London (on sale for 200,000 dollars).
Empty Gallery has existed for 3 years in Hong Kong and is taking part in ABHK for the first time with a solo show dedicated to a remarkable Chinese-American artist, forgotten since the 1990s, Tishan Hsu (born in 1951). These days he creates sophisticated compositions using family photos that have been reworked and altered by a range of technological processes (on sale for up to 80,000 dollars). This is one of the great revelations of the fair.
Lastly we must highlight the emergence of new countries from this part of the world, like the Philippines, onto the international scene. Isa Lorenzo from the Silverlens Gallery in Manila is exhibiting the painter Pow Martinez (born in 1983) at ABHK, whose compositions humorously depict the excesses of today’s society in a naïve style. His works are on sale for 8000 dollars and are due to be exhibited next June at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. “South-East Asia offers a new horizon for contemporary art. It’s opening up to the world,” is the enthusiastic conclusion from this pioneer of the art trade in her country.
From 29 to 31 March, www.artbasel.com/hong-kong.
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