Art Basel

Top Swiss event organisers buy 60pc of HK art fair

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 May, 2011, 12:00am

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The city's thriving art market has risen to a new international level through the takeover of the young Hong Kong International Art Fair by a company that runs two of the world's most important art shows.

The organiser of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach has signed a deal to buy 60 per cent of Asian Art Fairs, organisers of the Hong Kong fair that is better known as Art HK.

Arts figures generally welcomed the news, saying it would put Hong Kong on the world art map.

But some said they hoped the fair's Asian focus would not be affected by the change of ownership.

Katie de Tilly of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, an Art HK exhibitor, said the news put an emphasis on Asia as an arena for artists and collectors.

'I appreciate overseas art galleries coming to Hong Kong, but I hope Art HK won't just bring more [Western] art galleries and can maintain the strong Asian presence, which is the driving force for the future of the fair.'

The modern and contemporary art show has become Asia's leading fair just four years after it started in 2008. Rumours of the takeover had been circulating but it was not confirmed until yesterday, when Asian Art Fairs said MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) had signed the purchase agreement on July 1. The MCH Group said it had the option of acquiring the remaining 40 per cent in 2014. The prices were not disclosed.

Art HK director Magnus Renfrew, who will stay in his job, said the acquisition would take the fair to a completely different level. 'It will only help what we've already built, increasing the cultural significance as a major fixture in the art world.'

This year, Art HK will run from May 26 to 29 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, but next year's event will be moved to February 2 to 5 to space out the three fairs: Art Basel is staged in mid-June in Switzerland and Art Basel Miami Beach in early December. In the medium term, MCH said, it hoped Art HK would be developed under the Art Basel brand.

Renfrew said he expected more participation from international galleries and the arts community. Apart from sales of artworks, he said, he hoped education would remain a major focus of Art HK.

'In Asia, things move very quickly. Education and accessibility is the core of the art fair,' Renfrew said. '[Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach] have great cultural significance and they have strong educational events. It's a real draw for top curators and museum directors.'

Art critic Oscar Ho Hing-kay said the takeover was likely to attract more visitors to the city. 'The art market in Asia is booming, with lots of collectors who are rich... And because of these credible organisers [of Art Basel], more established names will come... But there's a risk of fewer alternative works being showcased.'

Artist Chow Chun-fai said the deal showed the importance of the Hong Kong art market, but he did not expect much impact locally. 'Most of the participating galleries were not dealing with Hong Kong art, though the local arts sector's participation in non-commercial activities have increased over the years.'