With Art Basel Hong Kong having come to a close, Asia seems to be climbing to the top, reaching Western dominance. Time to investigate its current state with what to buy and who to watch out for.
Art Market in Asia
Asia has attracted much attention toward its art scene in terms of its growing base of collectors and its influential modern and contemporary artists. According to the Art Market Blog, owing to Art Basel Hong Kong’s success, the Asia contemporary art scene may become stronger and vibrant enough to rival against the Western art scene. Galleries in Asia have definitely rose to the challenge as Marc Spiegler noticed their improved level of presentation in terms of contextualising the works of their artists during Art Basel Hong Kong. Consequently, there were a stronger caliber of works presented at the fair, along with a balanced proportion of Western and Asian works. This led to a cross-cultural exchange in sales as Western buyers bought Asian works and vice versa. Geographical boundaries are thus becoming less prominent according to Nick Forrester from Art Market blog. In addition, once foreign collectors start to collect Asian art seriously, the marker will fly and Southeast Asian contemporary art may finally hit the seven-to-eight-figure category.
In regard to Alex Errera, the founder of Artshare, in the last decade or so, art collectors from both West and East have turned away from traditional European and contemporary American art towards Asian art. They are finally taking note of the vibrancy, colours and cultural nuances depicted by Asian artists and so buying emerging art masterpieces in Asia. Yet, he states the perceptions of Chinese contemporary art is still largely based on the work of artists who came of age in the 1980s. He believes we must try to bring in a whole new generation of artists that grew up in an intellectual and cosmopolitan China. China will take a more important place in the global art world, not only through auction results, but via its private museums and the ambitions of its collectors.
What is more, another indicator of the current state of today’s art market is the increase of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) in Asia-Pacific aiding the rise in sales. As stated in the European Fine Art Foundation’s annual report, by 2015, HNWI in the Asia-Pacific region are forecast to hold US$15,9 trillion in assets, beating America and Europe. Not only will this prove Art Basel Hong Kong’s success in Asia, but also help boost the Asian art market, if we consider Asian art buyer’s propensity to invest in art and take risks by diversifying into art. With the rise of collectors, the demand will soon outpace supply, which will soon turn the low millions estimate into the double-digit range in auctions.
Art Basel’s Effect on Hong Kong
With Art Basel Hong Kong having come to a close, Hong Kong is increasingly perceived as a vibrant cultural hub, gaining in international significance. According to Marc Spiegler, there is a sense of confidence and belonging emerging from the fair owing to the diversity and quality of works present, thus rendering Art Basel as a “more mature and established identity”. He added:
“that will contribute significantly to Magnus Renfrew’s goal of establishing Art Basel Hong Kong as an internationally significant event.”
Pace Gallery and Axel Vervoodt’s move to Hong Kong verifies this international significance. These two Western art dealers will be both moving into the Entertainment Building in Hong Kong, Central, just two minutes away from Hong Kong’s gallery building “Pedder Building”, home to Gagosian gallery, Pearl Lam and Simon Lee, and more. However, they are not the only ones. Marc Spiegler announced ten other galleries opened during Art Basel week, thus reflecting Asia’s art market exciting development. Mr Glimcher, the chairman of Pace gallery, announced they will be taking a different approach compared to their counterparts. They will be moving into a much smaller space of 7000 square feet; small for gallery standards. Mr Glimcher believes “there is no point getting into a huge space and represent international art. They only come for the opening and never for the actual exhibition.” He goes on to say that international art is not searched for in Asia, as Asians realise that they have something special emerging, which they are buying. This small space will give them “a conversation starter”.
Trends emerging in the Asian art market
The spectacle aspect still remains with the large-scale installations spread out during the fair such as Gu Wenda’s “United Nations”: threaded flags made of human hair collected from around the world. This and along with light effect work, kinetic sculptures and multifaceted installations; still popular with buyers and visitors, as many stop and stare and take pictures. Some were even tempted to touch the artworks, which was a problem for gallerists. Platform China had to keep a constant eye on their Wang Ningde work called “Visible Light”, which presented light coloured reflected photograph film. Repetitive motifs subverting the gaze were another highlighted trend , using different methods of visual magic and trickery.
However, photography is “the medium of the moment in Asia” according to the New York Times. Works such as Chen Wei, exhibited at the Ben Brown Fine Arts booth at the fair, is part of a new generation of Chinese photographers evoking, without overt political comment, the rapid pace of change in the country.
Furthermore, Katie de Tilly, director of 10 Chancery Lane, shared that the scene in Asia has changed. Younger artists are creating works that are more introspective, less sociopolitical and not as loud.
Looking back at auction results, Chinese ink, Chinese photography and oil paintings by established Chinese artists are still the biggest sellers, along with Japanese artists who have dark and innocent styles such as Yoshimoto Nara or Masaru Shichinohe. When looking for undervalued Chinese art as an investment, it is best to start with ink and brush paintings made by artists born after the 1970s, according to Errera. Contemporary ink is also considered a good buy due to their affordability. Traditionally calligraphy is still highly valued; estimated around US$10,000 to US$1million. Finally, Chinese video and photography both offer only a few good contemporary artists but have the potential to grow in value and in interest.
Asian contemporary artists to watch out for
The four important Chinese artists are Cheng Ran, Chen Wei, Guo Hongwei, Zhang Jungang and Li Jie. Chinese painters worth remembering and who are on the path to global top-tier prices are Zao Wou-Ki, Liu Ye, Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun, according to Errera.
Nonetheless, there is good news coming towards the Southeast Asian art market, especially artists from this region Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam are starting to build up a reputation. For instance, the popular Indonesian artist Nyoman Masriadi’s “Space” sold during the VIP preview at Art Basel for US$ 350,000. Additionally, artist Yunizar practically sold out of his sculptures from Singaporean gallery Gajah gallery at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014. Their prices are still reasonably affordable along with Chinese ink and drawing, Chinese photography and Japanese works. Owing to the growth of collectors along with the increase in demand, these artists and works will not only augment in price but also in value.
Asian Art Collectors
Chinese buyers and collectors are becoming the dominant players in the art world. Collectors in mainland China were particularly active at Art Basel Hong Kong and accounted for a considerable percentage of the sales. This indicates the development and the opening up of mainland China’s art scene and art market, according to the Art Market blog. Moreover, collectors in China are rising as newly wealthy individuals; becoming more educated in art, taking more pragmatic approaches when it comes to auction buys, regard Chinese art as an asset class, and finally pushing prices during auctions mostly in the jewellery and Chinese antiques, classical and contemporary auctions.
It is known Chinese collectors, mainly older Asian collectors, usually prefer blue chip works, as demonstrated during Sotheby’s sale auction on May 7th in New York. Wealthiest Asian collectors, with a few exceptions, feel more comfortable with the trusted names of Modernism. Asian bidders from the Sotheby’s auction bought works by Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and Henri Matisse for USD13million to USD19,2million each. Yet, Asian billionaires feel less confident about spending such an amount, especially on more contemporary Western works such as Jeff Koons or Christopher Wool. Furthermore, China’s nascent middle-class collectors prefer buying their own antiques and modern art, rather than 21st century Western conceptualism. Nonetheless, a second generation of art collectors who have studied in the West and who talk the same language as of the rest of the art world are springing across China. An growth which lead to more cross-cultural sales which have taken place at Art Basel Hong Kong.