HONG KONG -- Art Basel Hong Kong ended its inaugural run with solid sales, a swell of last-minute visitors, and the beginnings of a unique identity: less crazy than sister fair Art Basel Miami Beach and less stuffy than Art Basel Switzerland, with a decided (and unsurprising) Asian bent.
A closing rush pushed attendance at the five-day fair to more than 60,000visitors, slightly below figures for the Florida and Switzerland shows but in line with expectations — a decided success for the first-year fair. And though some galleries reported mixed sales results, they said they hoped to return next year.
Prior to the last-day jostling, the tone in Hong Kong’s convention center was unusually calm, polite and attentive — fitting for a fair that functioned as a getting-to-know-you mixer between international gallerists and Asian buyers, many of whom are new to the contemporary art market.
“It’s very sane,” said Rhona Hoffmann, whose eponymous Chicago gallery is a Miami mainstay.
Sane, but not sleepy. In the final reckoning, Basel operator MCH Group largely delivered on the experience promised when it bought Hong Kong’s existing fair, Art HK, two years ago with an eye toward capturing the growing Asian art market. Here were dozens of the same international galleries found in Art Basel’s Miami Beach and Switzerland incarnations. Here were VIP collectors’ lounges stocked with champagne and cigars. And yes, private dinners and nightclub afterparties where millionaire collectors could compare notes after full days of shopping.
Here, too, were big sales. They came in a steady stream, if not a rushing torrent. The splashiest deals included Wang Huaiqing’s Chinese Emperor painting, which sold from Taipei’s Tina Keng Gallery for $2.6 million, and Fernando Botero’s Quarteto, which a Malaysian collector picked up for $1.3 million from Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska.
The art offered was on the safer side as exhibitors avoided the edgy booth displays that give the Miami Beach fair its verve. Western galleries in particular opted for familiar mixes of their most representative artists, the better to introduce themselves to new Asian customers.
“Galleries tried to establish their brand — that was more important in Hong Kong than in Miami,” said Christie’s contemporary art chief Amy Cappellazzo, who as director of Florida’s Rubell Family Collection helped to launch Art Basel Miami Beach 12 years ago.
That earlier spinoff had all the ingredients for instant success: an enthusiastic Miami collecting community, buzzy beachside party venues, and — most importantly — a mature North American contemporary art market. Hong Kong’s fair, by contrast, is a work in progress because Asian buyers are newer to the scene.
“It’s hard to know who the collectors are,” said Patricia Ortiz Monasterio of Mexico City’s Galeria OMR. But despite mixed results, she saw her gallery returning to Hong Kong fair as part of a long-term commitment to expanding in Asia. “If you only do an art fair for one year — put in all this time, all this money — what’s the point?”
Western galleries that have already established roots in the East had an upper hand in wooing collectors. For instance, fine art dealer De Sarthe Gallery, which moved from the U.S. to Hong Kong in 2011, reaped $4 million in first-day sales thanks to early outreach to its network of collectors.