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Australian galleries killing it at Art Basel HK

Gina Fairley

Vernissage bought sales and sensation to the Hong Kong art fairs, with several Oz galleries catching the eye of the Asian market.
Australian galleries killing it at Art Basel HK

Asian collectors at Vernissage couldn't get enough of Sam Jinks, presented by Sullivan + Strumpf at Art Basel Hong Kong. Photo ArtsHub.

There was a strong gathering of Australian collectors, curators and art community in Hong Kong for Vernissage and Art Week with the launch of the Asia’s hottest fair, touted as the gateway to the Chinese market, Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) third edition in its current iteration, and its new edgy satellite, Art Central.

Moving it to the new March location had paid off, said fair director Marc Spiegler, adding that 20 new galleries had joined Art Basel as a result, taking the total to 233 galleries. ‘We believe this fair can only reach its full potential by taking place at a date that is optimal for the entire art world,’ Spiegler told press the new dates had attracted a more diverse clientele.

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May would have been a disastrous clash with Venice Biennale draining the collector pool. And while the new dates clash with Art Dubai, which others deem equally tragic, May works well for HK both in terms of weather, the auctions and the packaging of events. Today Art Basel reported that nearly 60,000 attended the fair, just slightly less than last year which ran for an extra day.

While there are six satellite fairs, the only one to be spoken of was the inaugural edition of Art Central, located a short way down the Harbour front and adding balance through its emerging platform. It’s being touted by organisers as HK’s ‘first international standard satellite art fair’ (a curious distinction), and with 30,000 visitors confirmed by its closing Monday evening, it clearly had an impact.

Using a proven Miami model of architecturally designed temporary structure, it had a visual signature we’ve come to recognise of Etchells' fairs, with the use of plywood signage and funky pop-up restaurant and hawker food break out area defined itself superbly alongside the bigger Art Basel, remaining in sync with its emerging artist / emerging gallery platform. 

Photo ArtsHub

It returned fair entrepreneur Tim Etchells to Hong Kong, the man (along with Sandy Angus and Will Ramsay) behind Hong Kong’s first art fair ArtHK before selling it to Art Basel, and the brainchild behind Sydney Contemporary, Australia’s next fair this coming September. Furthermore, the fair’s co-director Maree Di Pasquale was former Melbourne Art Fair Assistant Director, and had worked on the launch of Sydney Contemporary. She is joined in the role by Eve Share Banghart.

It is just another instance of the strong Australian connection to the Hong Kong fairs.

Eight Australian galleries were accepted into the competitive ABHK - Jensen, Roslyn Oxley9, Anna Schwartz, Sullivan + Strumpf, Dianne Tanzer, Tolano, Murray White and Darren Knight for their first visit in the Discoveries section - while Art Central was the choice for Chalk Horse, Conny Dietzhold, M Contemporary, Martin Brown and Metro Gallery.

Chair of Australia Council, Rupert Myer, and Art Advisor Bambi Blumberg were seen leading tours for Australia’s top drawer collecting set over Vernissage, while Sydney-based Alexie Glass-Kantor, director of Artspace, created alleyways of quirky curiosities that punctuated the exhibition halls for ABHK’s Encounters program, which one might argue has given the fair its signature this year. ‘Australians are everywhere,’ was the comment often repeated.

Mikala Dwyer was the only Australian artist in the Encounters section, making a splash with her colourful installation.

So what of the energy and sales?

High voltage is one description. Jasper Knight, co-director of Chalk Horse, captured it in his comment: 'Berocca needs to sponsor an art fair!'  

Ursula Sullivan, of Sullivan+Strump, said of the persistent swell of viewers:  'I can't even get into my booth!' The Sydney gallery did fabulously with Sam Jinks' sculptures presenting two editions of five, one sold out and the second almost also by the start of the weekend, and several days still to go. Priced at $US155,000/AUD200,000 Untitled (Standing Pieto) (pictured top), Jinks’ sculptures were photographed and highlighted by local press. His artwork had also done extremely well in Singapore for the fair earlier this year.

Sam Jinks sculptures were a big draw card - this piece a sell out - at Sullivan+Strumpf; Photo ArtsHub

Traffic flow increased over the weekend. Anna Schwartz, manning her booth on Sunday, was on heightened sensors protecting fragile works by Yin Xiuzhen and Callum Morton in particular. Intriguing work – despite its fragility – however remained a strong choice by both galleries; their persistent repeated return to Hong Kong had paid off.

Art fairs today are hardly a walk in the park; the weekends draw huge crowds (Anna Schwartz booth pictured), which can be stressful on dealers whose primary interest always remains with the care of the artwork. The same image was mirrored at Sullivan+ Strumpf where a staff member held a permanent post as protector over Jinks' sculpture.

Hiromi Tango's happy; her installation sold at Art Basel Hong Kong with Sydney dealers Sullivan+Strump; Photo ArtsHub

Hiromi Tango's large installation at Sullivan+Strumpf similarly captured the interest of Hong Kongese, selling to a private collector. While Alex Seton charmed collectors with his marble sculptures, selling smaller work on the first day and reaching a crescendo placing his sculpture Durable Solutions I with an Australian collector in HK for the fair.

Seton with dealer Joanna Strumpf with his sold work (which will return to Australia with a collector) at Art Basel Hong Kong; Photo ArtsHub.

A spokesperson at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery said they had sold fifty per cent of their booth by the Friday preview, the first viewing by VIP collectors, including pieces by Bill Henson and Daniel Boyd. The gallery was in sync with other big sales landed in the first hours.

Sydney art advisor Mark Hughes looking at a Daniel Boyd painting in Roslyn Oxley9's well positioned booth, which sold during the previews. Photo ArtsHub.

The most hyped sale of the fairs was Chris Ofili’s large canvas Dead Monkey—Sex, Money and Drugs (2000) sold by David Zwirner for $US2 million within the first hour of the Friday preview opening. Clearly, it had been pre-arranged; the elephant dung work one of his largest and the artist’s popularity on a high following his solo at the New Museum in New York. It was last traded at auction in 2010 for a below-estimate $US962,500. Does that say more about art fairs or the clout of a major survey?

Ofili was not the most expensive work at ABHK, with Brancusi’s Le Poisson (1926) at Paul Kasmin Gallery rumoured to be priced at $US3 million. Artnet reported that Zwirner also sold two Neo Rauch paintings, “Marina" (2014), for $1 million to a collector from Shanghai during the last minutes of opening day, and "Die Fremde" (2015), for $1 million to a client from mainland China.. and two Yayoi Kusama infinity net paintings, each for above $300,000.

The most hyped was Chris Ofili’s large canvas Dead Monkey—Sex, Money and Drugs (2000) sold by David Zwirner for $US2 million immediately with opening of Friday preview. Clearly, it had been pre-arranged; the elephant dung work one of his largest and the artist’s popularity on a high following his solo at the New Museum in New York. It was last traded at auction in 2010 for a below-estimate $US962,500. Does that say more about art fairs or the clout of a major survey?

Ofili was not the most expensive work at ABHK, with Brancusi’s Le Poisson (1926) at Paul Kasmin Gallery rumoured to be priced at $US3 million.

Artnet reported that Zwirner also sold two Neo Rauch paintings, Marina (2014), for $1 million to a collector from Shanghai during the last minutes of opening day, and Die Fremde (2015), for $1 million to a client from mainland China and two Yayoi Kusama infinity net paintings, each for above $300,000.

It is quite a contrast to first timer Darren Knight, whose booth looked stunning hung with paintings by Jon Campbell, all of same dimension. It was an effective choice that made their small booth shine amongst the dervish. Knight sold over the fair, however for him, it was about the connections and conversations.

Darren Knight in booth of Jon Campbell’s paintings. Photo ArtsHub

Knight along with Dianne Tanzer were the only among the Australian galleries to present a solo exhibition. Yhonnie Scarce’s glass works and installation had a powerful impact – also fragile yet strong - telling a story of Maralinga. Born in Woomera it was great to see her work in this regional context that draws curators and collectors from across the globe. By the weekend Scarce’s work was yet to be placed, but as with all art fairs it is the flow on conversations that follow that lead to opportunities.

Scarce with her work This is no fantasy presented by Dianne Tanzer gallery at Art Basel Hong Kong; Photo ArtsHub

Scarce, Seton, Tango and Tomescu were in Hong Kong and gave artist talks during the fair. Australians also had a strong presence in ABHK Convesations and Salon program, with Philip Kerr, co-founder of the Keir Foundation and Chairman of the Biennale of Sydney in conversation with major Asian collectors. We will bring you a wrap of that talk later this week.

Charles Mereweather, Aaron Seeto, Thomas J. Berghuis, and Hong Kong-based former aussie John Batten also spoke on panels, giving weight to Australian voices.

Collector and architect William Lim with Philip Keir and Alan Lau, collector and member of Tate Asia Pacific's Acquisition Committee (pictured) chatted with Anurag Khana, winner of the Forbes Young Collector 2014, at Art Basel.

Talk was also about sales over at Art Central. Chalk Horse had sold five works and landed two commissions for Andre Hemer, and they were only two days in. It was a fantastic early result for the gallery that specialises in emerging artists. Knight said Art Central was a 'good size, a good fit.' 

Jasper Knight mentioned that their ‘neighbouring booth’ has sold a work priced at $1 million and a second work in a similar range, confirming that the big sales were not just reserved for the big fair.

 

Co-founders Chalk Horse gallery James Kerr and Jasper Knight had a great fair selling well at Art Central focused on emerging artists. Photo ArtsHub.

Conny Dietzschold and M.Contemporary were both positioned well and had a constant stream of booth-dwellers, while Martin Browne was embedded deeper into the temporary halls and lacked approachability. 

 

Barry Keldoulis, Director of Art Fairs Australia with Michelle Paterson of M.Contemporary

Word on the ground was that Art Central was worth the short taxi ride, and one Malaysian dealer even mentioned that they would have preferred to be at the smaller edgier fair.

Richard Koh owner of Richard Koh Fine Art from Kuala Lumpur said: ‘We’ve seen an intelligent, sophisticated crowd come through the fair. We’ve sold almost all of our pieces and even brought more works over to the fair to cater to the demand. Art Central has exceeded our expectations and we are already looking forward to next year.’

It was reiterated by several dealers including, Fred Scholle of Gallery Du Monde, who said: ‘Art Central was far beyond what we expected. We sold out of all Li Hao’s works on the second day and brought in four additional works which also sold out immediately. We made the correct decision to go with Art Central.’

More generally, works by contemporary Chinese artists sold fast and, to extend that like-attracts-like mentality, the majority of Australian works sold went to Australian collectors. Swiss dealer Dominique Perregaux of the Hong Kong based Art Statements gallery at Art Central presented two large Dale Frank paintings, the larger priced at $AUD78,000. ‘Where are the Australian collectors?’ said Perregaux, adding that when ‘you are selling at that price range’ you are relying on that knowledge of the artist.

Dealer Dominique Perregaux with Dale Frank's work at Art Central.

There were other non-Australian galleries hoping to capitalize on the strong Australian contingent. Malaysian artist Anurendra Jegadeva, who has just returned to live in Melbourne (where he’d lived previously) presented the new installation Yesterday in a padded room with Malaysian powerhouse gallery, Weiling Gallery, its principal Weiling Lim also had studied as an artist in Australia. Like many Southeast Asian works of this scale and quality, dealers turn to the region and institutions such as the Singapore Art Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane and Art Gallery of New South Wales, to collect these important historical works to the region.

Weiling Lim with Director of Asia Adeleine Ooi, who was recently in Australia, and Anu Jegadeva. Photo ArtsHub.

ABHK reported today in their wrapping statement that Curators and Directors supported the fair well: Aaron Seeto of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art; Michael Brand and Suhanya Raffel of AGNSW, Nick Mitzevich of Art Gallery of South Australia, Ian Potter Museum of Art; joining international directors from Thomas Berghuis of Solomon R. Guggenheim New York; Hans Ulrich Obrist of Serpentine Gallery London; Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi of Sharjah Art Foundation and curator of UAE Venice Pavilion; Lee Sook-Kyung from Tate Research Centre; Gregor Muir of Institute of Contemporary Art London; Phillip Tinari of Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art Beijing; Doryun Chong M+ Hong Kong, MoMA New York; MoMA PS1 and the list continues.

One might hope they were shopping - or at very least was pointing out "desirables" to patrons no doubt in tow. If for no other reason, just to be in their eye underscores the advantage of our Australian galleries who headed to Hong Kong.

Regardless which fair one favoured, the spirit of the fairs had not been dampened by Hong Kong's recent political troubles; The Occupy Central protest camp had only been ‘officially dispersed’ mid-December and the gathering of Filipinas on maids-day-off, clustered between the urban trajectory between the two fairs was a reminder of the disparity of wealth in Hong Kong. It is a complex geographical space.

The one country-two-system scenario does cause tensions, and for the first time Hong Kong has event witnessed protest and street art, most visible its Umbrella Movement. Hong Kong is rapidly changing. It was handed back to China in 1997. The city has 7 million residents and it is investing heavily in its cultural identity and the educational aspect of the fair has become a priority. And of the 233 galleries in attendance, 26 are based in Hong Kong. It is an interesting new development.

The dates have been released for next year so plan now. Don’t rush it. This is a city to soak in and observe as it redefines itself through art.

Dates for forward editions of the Hong Kong Art Fair were released so plan now.

2016: Preview (invitation) Tuesday evening 22 March and Wednesday 23 March, with public viewings 24-26 March.

2017: Preview (invitation) Tuesday evening 21 March and Wednesday 22 March, with public viewings 23-25 March.

 

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley.

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