Artistic impressions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am


We are no strangers to risk-taking. Just look at our volatile stock market and you'll see what I mean. Yet, when it comes to the arts, this city is uncharacteristically coy.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, for instance, seldom presents shows or exhibitions that are edgy for fear of being accused of spending public money on things that only the few would enjoy; while most arts festivals and impresarios tend to shy away from anything that doesn't sell. And with a still relatively conservative arts audience, cultural presenters and programmers are likely to continue to err on the side of caution. Our arts and cultural scene is, in that sense, predictable - yes, a little dull even - with everyone just wanting to play it safe.

There are exceptions, especially in the world of commercial art. I recently found quite a risk-taker in Andy Hei, founder and organiser of the annual Fine Art Asia. First held in 2006, the event is primarily an antiques fair with some contemporary art thrown in. It began small: the inaugural fair was held at the China Resources Building in Wan Chai and had only 17 exhibitors but Lehman Brothers for sponsor. Ah yes, the same investment bank that collapsed in 2008 and triggered the global financial crisis. The economic downturn in the following years had a negative impact on the art market but Hei stuck to his guns and kept the fair going, even sustaining it with his own money.

Now it looks as if his gamble is paying off. With the West (still deep in various debt crises) now eager to do business with the mainland (where the hot money is), the art trade has never been better.

And Hong Kong is still by far the best city to facilitate that with no import or export taxes on art, plus other financial and geographical advantages. According to Fine Art Asia, this year's edition showcased more than 5,000 works, was attended by close to 20,000 visitors and achieved sales of HK$375 million, 17 per cent up on last year.

It's a matter of pride, Hei tells me when I ask him what has kept him going in times of doubt, 'and the market/demand has always been there, the current economic climate only serves as a catalyst'.