Impressive mix for inaugural event

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2008, 12:00am

It can take a while to generate momentum behind any inaugural international event, but Art HK 08, Hong Kong's first contemporary art fair, already has an impressive lineup. There are works by household names such as Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon, along with Chinese greats such as Zhang Xiaogang and Xu Bing. The artists are backed by 102 exhibiting galleries including some of the biggest names in Asia, the United States and Europe.

'We are bringing a mix of western and Asian artists to demonstrate that a high-calibre collection can incorporate both,' said Max Lang, of his eponymous New York gallery.

In addition to one of Andy Warhol's Campbell soup can paintings from 1985; Lang will be bringing works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, a portrait of Bruce Lee by Yan Pei Ming and works by Liu Wei, Zhang Huan and Liu Ding. The art ranges in value from less than US$10,000 to several million dollars and underlines the seriousness of Lang's goal 'to establish a strong presence in the Asian market'.

It's no wonder. Each major contemporary art sale held by the big auction houses here seems to set a new record. Last month, for example, Liu Xiaodong's Battlefield Realism fetched US$7 million at its Sotheby's auction. Mainland artists have taken the world by storm and the cost of work by artists such as Cai Guoqiang and Liu Xiaodong has skyrocketed.

Hong Kong is perfectly positioned geographically and culturally to take advantage of the love affair with mainland artists and it's clear why sellers and collectors feel comfortable doing business here. Hong Kong is now the third largest art market by auction sales in the world, after New York and London, has no tax on the import and export of art - unlike the mainland - and is an established business centre with an international heritage.

'We have been waiting for this fair to happen for a long time,' said Manuel Ludorff, assistant to the directors for the Marlborough Fine Art Gallery in London.

One of the world's leading galleries, Marlborough Fine Art is bringing works by Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and Henry Moore, and pieces by established mainland artists Chu Teh-chun, Feng Shuo and Chen Yifei and those newer to the international market, Zhang Qikai and the '3Ws' (Wei Rong, Wu Erlu and Wang Hao).

'Hong Kong has always been a very attractive location for high-net-worth individuals and hosts some of the most prestigious collections of modern and contemporary art in the world,' Ludorff said. 'Hong Kong's collectors are very knowledgeable about their own history of art, but they are equally open-minded about new and established art from diverse cultural backgrounds.'

Amelia Johnson who founded Amelia Johnson Contemporary in 2004 to promote artists from Hong Kong and overseas, has worked in galleries here since 1997. Over the period she said she had seen a phenomenal change in the stature of Asian artists as collectors became hungrier for their work.

'Asian contemporary art has, in many respects, come of age. Numerous Asian artists are producing work that can hold its own at an international level and this warrants a platform in Asia, a platform such as ART HK 08.'

Still, because you have to be in the realms of the super rich to afford the works of Zhang Xiaogang, (who has outsold Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons) and Yue Minjun, Brian Wallace, founder of the Red Gate gallery in Beijing, expects an adjustment in the market to take account of the spiralling prices and the wash of 'smiling faces' copyists who have taken some of the intellectual rigour and creativity from the market.

'On one hand China collectors are looking for new work from established artists, though their work will be pricier, but collectors are also seeking out the younger, cheaper ones who have a lot of potential,' he said. 'In whichever area, they are taking a more cautious approach - more level headed than the gold rush of 2005 to 2007.

'The older work of more established artists will continue to sell very well, but the lesser quality work (in terms of execution and topic) by younger artists will be the first casualty in a maturing market.'

The galleries promise that Art HK 08 will be a good chance for collectors to get a taste of emerging artists both from the mainland and elsewhere as they are all showing young talent that they feel deserves to be seen outside their home markets.

Gallery PKM, which has a presence in Beijing and Seoul, is bringing a mix of mainland, Korean and European artists to showcase its eclectic mix and the interest among collectors for newer forms of art.

'We are bringing the new digital paintings of Nie Mu,' said Henri Benaim, director of the PKM Gallery in Beijing, which opened in 2006.

'These are done on the computer but are still all hand drawn. It's an interesting approach. They can be printed large or small and often come in two to three sizes.'

PKM is also showing the work of Korean artist Moon Beom whose work straddles abstract art and traditional landscape painting, and the quiet black and white shots of Swedish photographer Jonas Dahlberg.

While Indian artists have nothing like the status of their counterparts in China, there is an increasing interest in the country's contemporary artists. Indian auction house Saffronart said that public auction sales of Indian art had grown from US$4.5 million in 2003 to US$150 million in 2006. Shalini H. Sawhney of The Guild Gallery in Mumbai, one of six Indian galleries exhibiting at HK Art 08, will be showing sculptures and photomontages from Navjot Altaf, sculpture from Sumedh Rajendran and the work of young emerging artist Sathyanand Mohan.

'There's an increased interest in Asian art from Europe,' said the gallery's director who pointed to Riyas Komu, Sumedh Rajendran and Sudershan Shetty as hot artists.