Since it arrived in 2013, how has the global art fair affected the city’s art scene?
By CJC Fellows
Now in its fifth year, it’s indisputable that when Art Basel arrived in Hong Kong, it put the city on the map as the centre of the contemporary art market in the Asia Pacific region. A significant number of galleries have moved to or expanded their presence in Hong Kong since it started, and attendance figures have grown significantly -– —from 2008, when 20,000 attendees visited Art HK (which was bought out by Art Basel in 2011) to 2016, when 70,000 passed through.
Public ticket sales for last year’s Art Basel fair were much higher than expected, and had to be stopped temporarily as too many people rushed into the fair. Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director in Asia, predicts a similar public interest in the fair this year. “Ticket sales have been overwhelming, and we’re expecting a full house”.
Over the last five years, Hong Kong’s art market has developed, thanks to the high-profile event, but less immediately obvious is the real impact Art Basel has had on the local art scene and audience. As an international art fair, Art Basel has helped establish Hong Kong as an arts hub in Asia. It has brought in more art-industry professionals from around the world and has made Hong Kong a regular stop on the international art circuit. On the local level, artists and residents have had more opportunities for international exchange and exposure, thanks to Art Basel’s knock-on effect.
Although Art Basel launched its first edition in 2013, its stake in the local art scene actually began in 2011, when it announced the purchase of Art HK, a local art fair founded in 2008 that first put Hong Kong on the world map. “At the time, I don’t think any of us at Art Basel ever imagined the show getting so much momentum and so much attention so quickly,” said Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel.
During the first four years of Art Basel in Hong Kong, value added by arts, antiques and crafts to the Hong Kong economy grew by 20%, from HK$10 billion to HK$12 billion, according to the Census & Statistics Department.
The success of Art Basel also gave birth to satellite fairs. Art Central, which is in its third edition, is one example. Leslie Law, of Affinity For Art gallery, said Art Central provides a lower threshold for local galleries than does Art Basel, and is more accessible for visitors, since Art Basel tends to feature more conceptual art.
Mimi Chun, founder of Blindspot Gallery, said that before Art Basel, “only expats bought photographic artworks, most of my clients were overseas or local expats. I think this scene has changed a lot. Local Chinese people started to buy photographic work as well which is a transformation.”
Hong Kong’s art scene faces very real challenges: There is no museum dedicated to contemporary art, (M+ is slated for completion in 2019); funding for artists is hard to come by, from both the market and government; and audience-building initiatives are lacking. Art Basel, and the subsequent development of Hong Kong’s art scene, have made a significant impact.
“Art Basel has served as an invaluable aspirational role for young artists in Hong Kong, providing a view of the potential for a sustainable career in the arts. It’s definitely made things better,” said Adrian Wong, a Los Angeles and Hong Kong-based visual artist. He said more local people have gone out to see the art than they did before, and that the local population has come to realise that a career in art and the cultural industries is actually feasible.
Cover photo: A close-up of Han Ishu’s work Colouring on show at URANO gallery. Discovery sector, Art Basel. PHOTO: CJC