Art dealers pinning hopes on fairs to boost sales
As local exhibitions open, overseas experts say the days of high street galleries are over - and cities like Hong Kong are crucial for the future
A sluggish primary art market has made art fairs a safer bet in the business, with some overseas dealers holding high hopes for the two homegrown art fairs opening to the public today.
Fine art fair Masterpiece London makes its Hong Kong debut at Fine Art Asia, featuring 100 galleries showing more than 6,500 high-end artworks at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
In June, Fine Art Asia brought a Hong Kong pavilion showcasing local art dealers to the London fair. The London fair has made a reciprocal move this time, bringing a pavilion to Hong Kong. The Masterpiece London pavilion showcases an array of fine art objects by some 20 exhibitors from the London fair, ranging from paintings to antique furniture as well as a HK$2 million minimalistic Greek marble torso sculpture from circa 2,500BC.
Thomas Woodham-Smith, creative director at Masterpiece London, said that despite the appearance of a comeback during the fair in June, the primary art market - artworks sold by dealers in private as opposed to public auctions - remained fragile.
"People don't go to shops [galleries] in the interim," said Woodham-Smith. "The high street is finished for art dealing. There's no need to have a shop to sell a painting."
Woodham-Smith said that fairs had become more important than gallery spaces, especially for decorative arts and old Masters.
He said it was the first time that Masterpiece London had made an appearance on behalf of its exhibitors in Hong Kong at Fine Art Asia and he was eager to see the result.
"The Asia market is important," he said.
The London-based Albemarle Gallery returns with a bigger booth showing a range of contemporary artists including French-Canadian Louis Boudreault, who painted a portrait of young Mao Zedong .
The gallery's sales manager Alessandro Lorenzetti admitted that the market had become increasingly difficult. He said stories in the news only focused on auction results. The art gallery market was a different story, he said. "Fairs are important because they help to expand the collectors' base," he said.
Hong Kong art has a notable presence at Fine Art Asia.
Local player The A-Lift Gallery is making its debut at the fair, while veteran Alisan Fine Arts is putting on a solo exhibition of Hong Kong contemporary ink artist Lui Shou-kwan.
Daphne King from Alisan Fine Arts said that Lui's abstract works - which revolutionised Chinese contemporary ink art - had been previously underexposed.
But since the prices had been good, some works had climbed to more than HK$200,000. Several had been sold already.
There was a similar vibe across town at the JW Marriott, Asia Contemporary Art Show featuring 75 galleries from 15 countries.
The show's director Mark Saunderson said art fairs had become a revenue income stream for galleries.
Bree Delian, of Retrospect Galleries from Australia, said emerging artists with works at affordable prices did well.
"But the market has become harder. Mid-career artists suffer," said Delian.
Asia Contemporary Art Show runs until Sunday and Fine Art Asia runs until Monday.