Art Basel Hong Kong is testament to Asia’s ever-growing appetite for contemporary art. This year the fair, now in its fifth year, ran from 23-25 March and drew nearly 80,000 visitors. Which, by art fair standards, is a lot, particularly for such a young event; the Swiss original in June averages around 100,000 visitors. ABHK is the youngest of the Art Basel triad but this edition marked it out as a grown up, and confirmed Asia’s position as an increasingly powerful force on the global art stage. Big ticket sales included that of Joan Mirò’s Femme, Oiseaux (oiseaux dans la nuit) for US$1 million at Galleria d'Arte Maggiore G.A.M and a work by Wilfredo Lam for around US$1.5 million at Galerie Gmurzynska.
Dubai gallery The Third Line's booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, dedicated to the work of Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian
ABHK Director Adeline Ooi considers this the best show yet, in terms of “Quality of the show, the gallerists, the quality of the collectors, increasing sophistication and discernment among collectors, asking the right questions and engaging in serious conversations with the gallerists." Five or six years ago, Asian collectors were a very different breed, but, she thinks “that’s one characteristic that defines Asia, acceleration.”
Numerous artists were in attendance including Christo (his first ever art fair), Mark Bradford and Luc Tuymans, who made three paintings especially for the fair, two of sold within the first hour for US$1.5 million each on David Zwirner’s booth. “We had significant sales with a strong response from Asian collectors, including those from Korea, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Japan,” said Zwirner, adding that “the fair and Hong Kong’s art scene are certainly gaining momentum.” Zwirner will open a Hong Kong gallery in early 2018 in the H Queen's building.
Lawrie Shabibi from Dubai exhibited the work of Hamra Abbas and Shahpour Pouyan within the Insights section
A handful of Middle Eastern galleries took part, including first time exhibitors The Third Line and Lawrie Shabibi from Dubai. But more artists from the region featured around the fair with international galleries, including the work of Iranian artists Ali Banisadr (Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac) and Shirazeh Houshiary (Lisson), alongside a selection of Snow Series photographs by the late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami with Rossi and Rossi as part of the new Kabinett section of small curated areas within booths.
The large Ali Banisadr painting, titled Curtain Call (2016), on Ropac’s stand was, said the gallery’s Dr Arne Ehmann, subject to some 20 offers from potential buyers. “We have had a lot of offers for the painting,” said Ehmann, “At the end of the fair we will decide who to sell it to. It’s a nice position to be in but the problem is the secondary market is quite strong so we have to find the right people who won’t resell it. We’re looking for an institution or a private museum to place it with. The asking price is $300,000, but on the secondary market it would be $600,000 or even $800,000 so we have to be quite careful.”
A work by Anila Quayyum Agha on Aicon Gallery's booth
Although buyers come from across Asia, Chinese collectors still account for the bulk of purchases at ABHK. Therefore, the tightened regulations introduced by China last year to scrutinise foreign investments and overseas transactions were of concern to some Western galleries beforehand, fearing such red tape would hinder sales to Mainland Chinese buyers. “I think if anyone is doing business, if you do your homework you will ask questions,” said Adeline Ooi on the subject following the VIP preview, “I think based on yesterday and confirmed sales, I don’t really think it is a problem. But, this is a process that will need time, so it’s quite necessary for us all to sit and wait and see what happens.”
An in-depth review of Art Basel Hong Kong will appear in the Summer edition of Harper’s Bazaar Art.