May 16 (Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s art scene goes into overdrive this week as Asia’s billionaires descend on the city for the Hong Kong International Art Fair.
Despite a 3.2 percent drop in the Hang Seng Index today, collectors at the VIP preview snapped up works by Asian artists including Indonesia’s Nyoman Masriadi, and Liu Wei from China.
The fair, featuring 266 galleries from 39 countries, is a test of Asian demand. It opens to the public tomorrow and runs through May 20. VIPs first get first picks at works by Roy Lichtenstein, Zeng Fanzhi and Damien Hirst.
“The fact the stock market has tumbled isn’t helping but that said, it’s good, it’s upbeat,” said Jasdeep Sandhu, owner of Singapore-based Gajah Gallery, which sold two paintings by Masriadi costing several hundred thousand dollars.
Taipei-based Lin & Lin Gallery sold 12 of 15 works by Liu costing between $1 million and $4 million in the first three hours of the VIP preview today. “We had got so many inquiries we had to limit each buyer to one piece,” gallery administrator Muo Cheng said in an interview.
Launched in 2008, ART HK has become a major stop on the global art circuit for dealers looking to tap into the region’s growing wealth.
“For two or three days, Hong Kong is the place to be,” said Tim Marlow, director of exhibitions at London-based White Cube. “It’s like Venice or Basel. I’ve just come from New York and Sao Paulo.”
White Cube is selling works by Tracey Emin, sculptor Antony Gormley and German neo-expressionist Georg Baselitz.
Last year, the event drew more than 63,000 visitors and is closing in on London’s Frieze and Art Basel Miami Beach. Swiss-based Art Basel owner MCH Group AG bought a majority stake in Art HK last May.
Increasingly exhibitors are using Art HK to showcase Asian artists alongside western works. New York-based David Zwirner Gallery is featuring a portrait of Lady Gaga by Chinese painter Yan Pei-Ming that will hang alongside two paintings by the Belgian Luc Tuymans.
Gagosian Gallery is displaying works by Picasso, Hirst and Lichtenstein, along with Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami from Japan.
Galerie Karsten Greve, of Cologne, Germany, is participating in Art HK for the first time, with work by American artist Cy Twombly.
Originally started as an Asian-themed fair in 2008, Art HK Fair Director Magnus Renfrew had to struggle to attract overseas galleries. This year he had to turn away almost two-thirds of galleries who applied with about half of the exhibitors from outside Asia.
“The level of competition is much higher this year,” he said.
Organizers of other events this week have timed them to capitalize on the influx of visitors generated by the fair. Intelligence Squared Asia’s annual cultural debate features four art figures arguing the motion “Contemporary Art Excludes the 99 Percent.”
For the one percent, there is also the Private Museum Forum being held on the sidelines of the fair tomorrow.
Paris-based Galerie Perrotin opened its Hong Kong gallery yesterday with a show by the U.S. artist Kaws using the image of the Michelin Man. London-based Simon Lee Gallery opened a new space in the Pedder Building featuring New York artist Sherrie Levine.
“Hong Kong is a portal to a totally different emerging and growing market,” said Simon Lee. “It feels like the city is more galvanized around the art fair.”
Yesterday also saw the opening of the first Asian solo exhibition by German photographer Andreas Gursky at Gagosian. His series of photographs of water under a Bangkok bridge measure more than three meters (9.8 feet) and sell for several hundred thousand dollars.
White Cube, which opened its Hong Kong gallery in March, also opened a solo show by Paris-based Anselm Kiefer entitled “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom,” inspired by a journey the artist made in China in 1993.
For more budget-minded collectors, Spoon Art Fair is featuring emerging Asian artists whose works will be displayed in 40 different rooms at the Grand Hyatt Hotel from May 18-20.
The Hong Kong International Art Fair runs from May 17 to May 20 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The lead sponsor is Deutsche Bank AG. Information: http://www.hongkongartfair.com/eng/welcome/
(Frederik Balfour is a reporter at large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include: Jorg von Uthmann on Paris art, Warwick Thompson on London stage, Ryan Sutton on New York dining.
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