When MCH Group, the company that runs two of the world's most important art fairs (Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach), bought a 60 per cent stake in Asian Art Fairs, which owns the Hong Kong International Art Fair (Art HK), last May, the news generated mixed reactions.
On one hand, the deal had made this contemporary art fair a Hong Kong success story, but on the other, some questioned whether the annual event might lose its unique Asian flavour and become just another big, faceless trade show.
With the promotion of Art HK12, which will be held between May 17 and 20, already under way, I'm curious as to how organisers will position the event and what kind of art will grace the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre this year.
But first, let's take a quick look at the list of exhibitors, which was announced last week. Returning are big overseas galleries such as L&M Arts (US), Hauser & Wirth (Switzerland), James Cohan Gallery (US) and Yvon Lambert (France). Newcomers include Marlborough Gallery (US), Maureen Paley (UK) and XL Gallery (Russia). It's always a good sign when major international players have such a strong presence; it indicates the fair is more than just hype and there is money to be made. If there is no business, why bother coming, especially as art fairs aren't cheap to participate in?
It's safe to say there is a market here for art - art investment returns have outpaced those of the stock market for a second consecutive year thanks to growth in Chinese demand - but just how big and developed is that market and is it ready for contemporary art?
Art HK says it will introduce new initiatives to 'exhibit Asian art at the heart of the fair'. I guess that's to reassure its critics that, despite MCH's large stake in the event, Art HK is still quintessentially Asian.
So we'll see the return of Asia One - a section made up of solo shows by artists from the region - but instead of physically separating it from the 'main fair', this year the 49 selected galleries will be integrated into the fair and 'set alongside other prestigious galleries from Asia and the West'.
And this dialogue/exchange between East and West is expected to last beyond the fair, as established art galleries such as White Cube (UK), Pearl Lam Galleries (China), Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin (France), Simon Lee (UK) and Platform China are all due to set up shop here in the coming months.