Art Basel 2016

Hong Kong Art Basel: it was way too much fun for families on public days, gallerists complain

They say parents were taking selfies in front of artworks, while some children were giving displays the rough treatment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 8:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2016, 10:31am

Galleries exhibiting at art fairs last week might be thrilled by the ­multi-million dollar sales they achieved amid a gloomy market outlook, but the Hong Kong public’s new-found enthusiasm sent shivers down their spines.

Some gallerists at Art Basel said the fair was too packed during the three public days, and they were busy guarding the pricey artworks against families and children who were too eager to get close to them.

Art Basel Hong Kong sees off fears of art market slump, to relief of galleries

Some reported damage to works as overexcited children were running around the fair, while adults were busy posing for selfies with works on show.

“It was great to see the art fairs jam-packed and Hong Kong’s usual cultural apathy nowhere in sight. I applaud the Hong Kong public taking an interest in art,” said Jehan Chu, art adviser and director of Vermillion Art Collections.

“But I think visitors still need to learn how to respect the art on display. One set of parents I saw stood idly by while their child slapped several HK$3 million paintings like bongo drums.”

Chu added he also saw visitors treating sculptures resembling human skin the same way they treat humans. “No groping please,” he remarked.

Besides Art Basel, artworks on display at non-profit free exhibitions also came under attack.

A child was spotted holding on to part of a large Yayoi Kusama sculpture on show at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

The number of visitors at Art Basel rose by 17 per cent from last year’s 60,000 to 70,000. Visitors to Art Central also went up – from 30,000 last year to 32,000 this year.

However, the crowd’s behaviour forced fair organisers to make regular announcements to remind visitors to care for the artworks. Galleries also had to rearrange their artworks on display so that delicate pieces could be saved from potential damage.

Art Basel had to stop selling tickets at the door to keep the number of visitors under control.

Art Basel sells out and Art Central jam-packed as record crowds flock to Hong Kong’s art fairs

One gallerist from Berlin who exhibited in Hong Kong at Art HK, the fair that was acquired by the mother company of Art Basel in 2011, said he was pleased to witness the public’s growing interest in contemporary art over the years, particularly after the arrival of the Swiss fair.

“But they have to learn how to behave,” said the gallerist who declined to be named. “We had great sales on the first two VIP days but the fair was way too packed on the three public days. There was no way we could do business.”

The Berlin gallerist said the Art Basel organisers should consider saving a few hours of public days strictly for VIPs so that galleries could do business.

Other than that, it was a great week for the art market, Chu said.

“Art Basel outperformed all predictions and gave a much-needed shot in the arm to the global art market,” he observed.

“Chinese collectors appeared in force, and they did not leave empty-handed. Strong showings of Korean, Japanese and Filipino collectors provided an even deeper engine of demand for Asian and Western artworks.”