In time of uncertainty, people become nostalgic. That may go some way to explaining why this year's Fine Art Asia is devoting part of its showcase to Hong Kong ink paintings from the 1960s and '70s.
Luis Chan, Irene Chou (Zhou Luyun), Wucius Wong and Fang Zhaoling are some of the artists whose works will be shown at this home-grown annual art fair, now in its eighth edition. It will run from October 4-7 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
According to Andy Hei, the fair's founder and director, while demand for high-end Chinese antiquities remains solid, the market for Western antiquities,
objets d'art, Impressionist, modern (19th and 20th century) and, especially, contemporary art is less stable.
This has to do with the global economic downturn, the 44-year-old antique furniture dealer says. Besides, "at a time like this, quality works of art are scarce on the market because there is neither the urgency nor [financial] incentive to sell them … this affects collectors' appetite."
So what can collectors expect from the fair next month?
"That depends on what the exhibitors are bringing," says Hei. "But there will be some excellent ancient Chinese bronzes on offer. With Chinese antiques, the demand has always been steady because the number of collectors is much lower than that for, say, contemporary art and prices are more stable. The contemporary art market was very active for a number of years [around 2006], with many buyers and sellers and a lot of money changing hands, but that has quietened down now."
With the general art market lacking any clear direction, Hei wanted to take the opportunity to look back on a significant period in Hong Kong's art development by asking a number of local galleries to present works by local artists who were active during the New Chinese Ink Movement in the 1960s and '70s.
"I'm a Hongkonger and grew up looking at these paintings," he says. "There also seems to be new interest among galleries and auction houses in artists from this period."
Hanart TZ Gallery, a stalwart of the local art scene promoting contemporary Chinese and Hong Kong art, is teaming up with Hei to present a show of Wucius Wong's paintings. There will also be an installation by fellow contemporary ink artist Leung Kui-ting.
Based on Hanart owner Johnson Chang Tsong-zung's concept that "art must learn to capitalise on the character of the modern exhibition space", a half dozen contemporary ink paintings by Wong will be displayed together with antique furniture as a "complete picture".
"Just as in the past when traditional Chinese paintings were often placed alongside literati rocks, this arrangement is to allow the art pieces to complement each other," gallery manager Angelika Li On-ki says. Hanart has been promoting this genre for many years because "it has influenced many artists in generations to come and played an epochal role in the development of contemporary Chinese ink", she adds.
Another staunch supporter of contemporary Chinese ink is Alisan Fine Art, which will be staging an exhibition of Fang Zhaoling's works. This is the first solo exhibition of her work for sale in Hong Kong since her death in 2006.
Around 25 paintings and calligraphy pieces dating from 1978 to 1998 will be on display. "Fang's composition is firm and solid; her technique is skilful; her paintings are full of great vigour. It is amazing that these images are done by a petite woman artist," the gallery says of Fang, mother of former Hong Kong chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang.
First held in 2006, Fine Art Asia - previously also named the Hong Kong International Asian Antique and Art Fair, the Hong Kong International Contemporary Art Fair and the Hong Kong International Art and Antiques Fair - is essentially an antiques fair with a good dose of contemporary art thrown in. It weathered the global financial crisis and last year reported total sales of HK$375 million, an increase of 17 per cent from 2010.
The fair says more than 90 selected exhibitors from Asia, Europe and the US - including Robert Hall (UK), Rossi & Rossi (UK/Hong Kong) and Littleton and Hennessy Asian Art (UK/US) - will take part this year and the event will be held at the same time as Sotheby's autumn sales. Its advisory board this year includes Michael Goedhuis, Sundaram Tagore and Lo Kai-yin.
Russian billionaire and collector Alexander Ivanov is one of the expected visitors. According to Sergej Avtonoshkin, director of the Faberge Museum in Baden Baden (who is also scheduled to attend the fair), Ivanov already has some business relations with the mainland, but this is "the right time [for him] to see everything live".
This year's fair is also associated with various off-site exhibitions including a Zao Wou-ki show at Feast Project as well as a large design furniture showcase at the mall K11.
Hei foresees more Hong Kong contemporary ink on show next year. "We are returning to our roots … and recognising what is valuable to our own culture."