Anyone who questions the city's reputation as an international arts hub need look no further than the art fair held in Wan Chai last week. The sensation whipped up by the first edition of the world famous Art Basel in Hong Kong was phenomenal. With good publicity, strong sales and high attendance, the exhibition-cum-fair has all the ingredients for a signature event in Asia.
Previously known as Art HK, the annual contemporary art fair was already Asia's biggest before MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) took over to make it one of the three shows under the Art Basel label, along with the original in Switzerland and one in Miami, in the United States. With 245 galleries from 35 countries from around the world, the four-day contemporary art fair did not attract as many galleries as its predecessor. But the show was not inferior. The presentation was noticeably more sophisticated and the artworks were of higher calibre. More importantly, the sales were as impressive. Some big names reportedly fetched up to US$2 million apiece.
Contributing to the success was the opening of the show to all visitors during the weekend. It was effectively broadened from a trading forum for connoisseurs to an exhibition for all art lovers. The positive feedback is strong evidence of a growing appetite for the arts in the region.
Undoubtedly, China is the real driving force of the boom in art sales and auctions. As the nation's international stature rises, more Chinese artists are making an impact on the global art landscape. The growing interest in Chinese traditional and contemporary arts means there is huge potential for Hong Kong, which has long been capitalising on its position as a gateway to China. The fast-growing wealth of mainlanders is pushing the market further, with cash-rich collectors readily paying astronomical sums for the rare and special.
Art Basel Hong Kong has successfully reinforced the city's cultural and artistic image. Any doubts about our readiness to take a bigger space on the global art map should be laid to rest.