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Art Basel 2016

Never a bad time to open in Hong Kong, Italian gallerist Massimo De Carlo says

Lessons learned from opening gallery’s London branch at the height of the financial crisis have readied him for his new Hong Kong venture, despite the current poor state of the art market

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 6:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 6:30pm

Massimo De Carlo, the veteran Italian gallerist, says his experience in London during the worst of the global financial crisis taught him that there is no point in waiting for a better time to open in Hong Kong.

“This is not a great time for the art market but I opened my London gallery in 2009, when things were much worse than today, and it was absolutely fine. It’s what you offer that counts. Also, Central is like Mayfair in London, where my gallery is located. The rent here is never going to really come down,” he says during the launch on Monday of his first Asian gallery, located next to Ben Brown Fine Arts in Pedder Building.

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The art market has seen growth slow over the past year because of macroeconomic concerns but De Carlo says it has not swayed his confidence in Asia’s long-term demand for art. “China is still growing much faster than most countries. In Italy, we are happy if our economy grows more than 1 per cent!”

For De Carlo, Art Basel week is an example of how Hong Kong has become the region’s most attractive art business hub. He began visiting Asia frequently six years ago to cultivate local collectors, and today they account for around 20 per cent of his regular clients. “The Hong Kong gallery is the culmination of all that I have done in the region over the last six years,” he says, adding that the local tax regime, the logistical support and the art fairs mean Hong Kong is the obvious choice for his base in Asia.

The opening show features the work of Chinese-French artist Yan Pei-ming, who has been with the gallery for 20 years. “Massimo is very low-profile but highly respected by the art world. He’s known for not shying away from provocative art. So we work well together,” Yan says.

The Milan-based gallery, founded in 1987, has changed radically in recent years to capture the increasingly globalised art market. It is set to open a second, in-town space in its home city in April, bringing the number of its galleries to four. Its staff has grown from 16 to 40 in the past three years.