Abstract Western art gains firmer following among Chinese

Works at Sam Francis exhibition draw keen interest and reflect a growing regional market

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 11:29pm

Among those taking in the serene swirls of late American artist Sam Francis yesterday was an octogenarian in a cowboy hat.

“In the past five years, Chinese people have become more attracted to abstract art,” said 81-year-old artist and expert Robert Chen Cheng-hsiung, who flew in from his native Taiwan for the first solo exhibition of Francis’ works in Hong Kong.

“The Chinese are getting richer and their minds are getting more open,” he added, arguing that with a sense of freedom comes a stronger appreciation of contemporary Western art.

The vibrant works of one of the leading abstract painters of a ­generation will hang at the Pearl Lam Galleries at the Pedder Building, Pedder Street, through ­September and October, as the appetite for such art grows.

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“We didn’t feel it was the right time until now to bring this highly important artist to Hong Kong,” said gallery owner Lam, explaining how Eastern influences in Francis’ work made him particularly ­relevant to the Chinese ­market.

The Chinese are getting richer and their minds are getting more open
Robert Chen Cheng-hsiung

Francis, who died in 1994, maintained studios across continents in a career that spanned five decades and was influenced by Eastern aesthetics, the French ­Impressionists and San Francisco Bay Modernists.

With a fondness for the meditative qualities of negative space, cloudlike atmospherics, Chinese literature and philosophy, Francis is a strong example of how ­abstract art has disparate international origins, and resonance across Asia.

“A lot more people [in China] have become very interested in Western art, and in the past two to three years it has become a ­growing market,” said Lam at the opening of Colour In Space: Sam Francis 1923-1994.

“The Chinese are starting to collect Western art.”

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With branches in Shanghai and Singapore, Pearl Lam Galleries has had a finger on the pulse of the regional art scene for the past two decades, and has introduced leading international artists to markets in the region.

Its Hong Kong branch will be moving to HQ, a new art hub, which is due to open at 80 Queen’s Road Central in March 2018.

The 24-storey Henderson Land development has signed up several galleries scrambling to find suitable space amid a growing art scene that is attracting ­Chinese investors looking for blue-chip works to offset volatility in the stock markets.

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Top US art dealer David Zwirner announced earlier this year that he was seeking to open his first Asian gallery in Hong Kong.

He was reported to be drawn to the region by the rising demand for works from Chinese buyers.

Mainland auction houses are also taking note of the rising interest in Western art buoyed in part by its stronger presence since Art Basel came to Hong Kong in 2013.

More than half those exhibiting at the contemporary art fair this year, at which a Sam Francis piece sold for US$475,000, were Asian. Lam believes this mix ­enablesa cross-pollination of ­artistic sensibilities.

“Art is not about having a passport,” she said.

The Sam Francis exhibition runs until October 31.