If there was a statement that confirmed the growing reputation of the Hong Kong International Art Fair, it would be the world's biggest art gallery saying the event has the potential to become the Art Basel of Asia. And that is exactly what Nick Simunovic, managing director of the Gagosian Gallery's Hong Kong office, said when explaining his reasons for taking part in the fair. 'Art Basel has been going for 40 years and is considered the best art fair in the world; the quality of work and exhibitors in the inaugural Hong Kong fair showed that ART HK has the potential to become the Basel of Asia,' he said. It will be the first time the Gagosian Gallery, which is the world's biggest art gallery by sales, will show works at the fair, and its first exhibition in Asia since its Beijing show in 2004. 'We will have a beautiful installation of work on show,' Mr Simunovic said. 'We will display a cross-section of our works, from young, emerging artists - although artists are already somewhat 'emerged' with some measure of commercial success, and museum and gallery shows, before the Gagosian takes them on - to mid-career artists with a deep and established international presence on the international art scene, such as Richard Prince and Jeff Koons. Then we have classic, blue-chip artists such as [Pablo] Picasso and [Roy] Lichtenstein. We will also display pieces by Asian artists, such as Takashi Murakami.' Highlight pieces on show include a 1901 painting by Picasso, Buste de Femme Souriante (Portrait of a Smiling Woman), and a monumental Koons called Waterfall Dots (Tree Rocks) which is a photo-based painting of an idyllic landscape that serves as an aesthetic bridge between east and west. There are also 'paintings' by New York-based performance artist Aaron Young, which were created by eight street bikers/motorcyclists skidding their machines over a vast, specially-painted platform. The tyres spinning over a large 'canvas' revealed the layers of paint below, producing graceful looping scrawls that contradict the violence of their creation. The paintings were created at a show in Moscow last year. But how the works would be received was hard to predict, said Mr Simunovic, who describes the market now as experiencing an 'exhalation'. 'It was more predictable in the past couple of years when collectors were aggressively buying,' he said. 'But in 2007, the market was unhealthy. Collectors are now more considered, and are starting to converse with gallerists and artists. I would say I feel cautiously optimistic.' While the economy will surely deter some art buyers, Mr Simunovic said that it is now the best market in 20 years for collecting art. While buyers looking merely to expand their asset class might have lost interest in investing in art, those with a real interest in art, and with a discretionary income, may benefit from the downturn. And, according to Mr Simunovic, ART HK 09 is an ideal destination for Asian collectors. 'Magnus Renfrew and his team have selected outstanding galleries from [South] Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia and beyond,' he said. The Gagosian Gallery, owned by Larry Gagosian, has seven locations: three in New York, one in Beverly Hills, two in London, and one in Rome. Mr Simunovic, who opened the Hong Kong office in January last year, is now looking for a suitable space here in which to open its eighth international gallery. 'There are no galleries that originated in the west and have moved east,' he said. 'We want to bring the best of what we do in the US and Europe to Asia, and build richer and more robust relationships with collectors here.' He said that on top of low tax and good logistics, Hong Kong offered a developed art market with many top international art auctioneers having a strong presence here. A stable base in Asia will also benefit artists. 'Our artists will have increased visibility in new markets,' he said. 'Just the other day, I had a call from someone in Taiwan asking about one of our artists who isn't that famous - there is certainly interest here in western art that ranges across all price points and media.' And, while the local awareness and appreciation of art does not yet compare to that of other major markets such as London and New York, Mr Simunovic said that events, such as ART HK, developments such as the West Kowloon Cultural District project, organisations such as Asia Art Archive, and art patrons such as Sir David Tang, are all creating a groundswell of support around the importance of the cultural landscape. In 10 to 20 years, Hong Kong would have a radically different and deeper art infrastructure, Mr Simunovic said. 'For galleries wanting to make a quick buck, perhaps Hong Kong isn't the place, but if you want to build long and lasting relationships with the Asian art world, then it is obvious that Hong Kong is an important place to be.'