Monday, January 21, 2013


Art Basel Hong Kong embraces Asian identity
Organisers announce the roll call for the first edition under new ownership

By Melanie Gerlis. Web only
Published online: 15 January 2013

Art Basel Hong Kong has announced the dealers who will be showing in what is officially its first edition (23-26 May). This is, in reality, a continuation of five years of growth of what was ArtHK, in which Art Basel acquired a controlling share nearly two years ago.

There are signs of some influence of the new parent company: the number of exhibitors is being “tightened”, says the Asian fair’s director, Magnus Renfrew (down from a total of 266 in 2012 to 245 this year), partly because dealers want larger booths in which to show their wares. There is also more emphasis on older works—in keeping with both the market’s trend away from contemporary art and Art Basel’s more historic presentation—but with a distinctly Asian feel. For example, says Renfrew, one newcomer this year is Tina Keng gallery, from Taiwan, a specialist in Asian modern masters; another is the Delhi Art Gallery, which will show work by modern Indian artists. Post-war Japanese work will be on view at the Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe and New York’s McCaffrey Fine Art (both showing in the Hong Kong fair for the third year running). “There is a different aesthetic that can be difficult to understand, having more historical work should address that,” says Renfrew.

Organisers are keen to emphasise just how Asian this fair is; it had previously been criticised for neglecting its regional roots before its collector base was ready for the gloss (and prices) of the international art market. This year, organisers say that over 50% of galleries are from Asia and the Asia Pacific region—although this includes Western galleries that have set up shop in Asia, such as Gagosian and White Cube, both of whom recently opened in Hong Kong. The numbers are further swelled by the fair’s subsection Insights, which is dedicated to 47 galleries from Asia and the Asia Pacific region (including Turkey and the Middle East). But of the 171 galleries in the main section (and still using the criteria as above), the percentage of Asian galleries is still up, from 40% last year to 43% in 2013, considerably higher than at other international fairs.

Western newcomers this year include New York’s 303 and Peter Blum galleries, and Wentrup and Johnen Galerie from Berlin. Those not coming back include London’s Maureen Paley and New York’s Eleven Rivington, who both only exhibited at the fair last year, as well as art fair stalwart Cheim & Read (which has shown at the fair for the past two years and whose staff had Mandarin lessons prior to ArtHK’s 2011 edition). A spokesman for the gallery says they have decided to “take a year off”. 

The fair also announced that its 2014 edition will be held 15-18 May, so there will be little relief from the jam-packed May-to-June art fair calendar (although there will be four weeks between the Hong Kong and Basel editions in 2014, rather than the two weeks—with the Venice Biennale squeezed in between—this year). “It’s not a simple topic; if it were, it would have been solved a while ago,” says Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s director.

A full list of exhibitors is due to be on today

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