Art Basel

Swiss art fair a big draw for Asian buyers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am


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The world's biggest modern and contemporary art show is attracting growing numbers of Asian galleries and collectors as it prepares for its first Asian edition in Hong Kong next year.

Some 40 collectors from the mainland were seen at Art Basel after it opened to VIPs last week, and collectors from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia are reported to have bought works from both Asian and Western dealers, despite the gloomy economic climate.

Art Basel declined to provide statistics on the increase in VIPs from Asia, but co-director Marc Spiegler confirmed that Asian collectors' visits to the Swiss fair had been on the rise.

'The majority of the collectors still come from Europe and America, but collectors from new markets like Asia and Russia are contributing quite a lot compared to the past,' he said.

The number of Asian galleries exhibiting has also risen, from 12 in 2007 to 22 this year, including mainland galleries Long March Space, Boers-Li Gallery, Vitamin Creative Space and ShanghART.

Notable mainland collectors spotted at the fair - which opened in the Messe Basel fairground last Tuesday and ended on Sunday - included Qiao Zhibing and Yang Bin, while top painter Zeng Fanzhi and his entourage were also seen.

Asian or Asia-based collectors included Budi Tek and Deddy Kusuma from Indonesia, Rudy Tseng from Taiwan, Swiss-born, Hong Kong-based Monique Burger and Richard Chang.

German gallery Aurel Scheibler said it sold American artist Alice Neel's portrait of Elsie Rubin from 1960 and a drawing circa 1938 to a mainland collector for more than US$500,000.

Swiss gallery Urs Meile, which also has a branch in Beijing, sold works by mainland artists Wang Xingwei and Ai Weiwei to Taiwanese collectors for up to Euro200,000 (HK$1.97 million).

Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery, based in Salzburg and Paris, sold Western works to both mainland and Korean collectors.

The sales included Georg Baselitz paintings going to a mainland and a Korean collector for Euro400,000 and Euro450,000 respectively. An Anselm Kiefer painting was sold to a Korean collector for Euro400,000, and an Erwin Wurm sculpture was acquired by a mainland collector for Euro120,000.

On the fringes of the show, Hong Kong gallery 2P Contemporary Art - exhibiting in the Swiss city for the first time - helped Hong Kong artists to gain attention.

Pui Pui To of the gallery said that Wendy Tai's installation at the Liste 17 satellite fair had been selected for a yet-to-be announced museum exhibition in the Netherlands, while established Western galleries had expressed interest in including Hong Kong artists in their future shows. Works had also been sold to collectors from the United States and Europe, To said.

To added that showing the gallery's work in Basel cost HK$180,000, and she has discovered that some galleries from other countries exhibiting at the fair had received government aid in order to do so. Countries such as Australia provided subsidies for commercial galleries to exhibit overseas, To said.

Pi Li, who will leave the Boers-Li Gallery at the end of the month to join M+ as senior curator in July, said engagement by collectors and galleries from Asia in Art Basel had 'changed dramatically' in the four years the gallery had participated.

'In 2000, ShanghART was the first gallery from China, but now there are more than 20 from across Asia,' he said.

Spiegler would not commit himself on whether the new Hong Kong fair would bring more Asian collectors to Basel, but said 'historically that's what we have seen'.

The fair's Miami Beach edition, launched in 2002, brought more Latin American and American collectors to Basel over time, he said.

Founded by Basel gallerists Trudl Bruckner, Balz Hilt and Ernst Beyeler in 1970, Art Basel features more than 300 galleries from around the world. It also serves as a meeting point for international artists, curators and museum directors.

Last year, Art Basel's parent company MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) acquired 60 per cent of Asian Art Fairs, organisers of ART HK, which will be relaunched as Art Basel in Hong Kong next May.


The number of galleries from around the world that featured their works at this year's Art Basel exhibition