Brisk start as Hong Kong art fair gears up for final sprint

The Singapore flag is flown high at the second edition of the Art Basel Hong Kong fair with participation by five home-grown galleries and works by eight Singapore artists on show. -- ST FILE PHOTO: HUANG LIJIE
The Singapore flag is flown high at the second edition of the Art Basel Hong Kong fair with participation by five home-grown galleries and works by eight Singapore artists on show. -- ST FILE PHOTO: HUANG LIJIE
Visitors checking out works by Ang Sookoon at the booth of Fost Gallery. -- ST FILE PHOTO: HUANG LIJIE
Visitors checking out works by Ang Sookoon at the booth of Fost Gallery. -- ST FILE PHOTO: HUANG LIJIE
A visitor playing table tennis on an artwork titled Ping Pong Go-Round by Singapore artist Lee Wen (in colourful shirt) during the preview of Art Basel Hong Kong. -- FILE PHOTO: IPRECIATION
A visitor playing table tennis on an artwork titled Ping Pong Go-Round by Singapore artist Lee Wen (in colourful shirt) during the preview of Art Basel Hong Kong. -- FILE PHOTO: IPRECIATION

Dutch gallery owner Nieck de Bruijn’s gamble on Art Basel in Hong Kong has paid off handsomely.

A first time participant at the prestigious modern and contemporary art fair in Asia, his gallery, Upstream, sold out all its works by hyper-realist artist David Haines on the first day.

Similarly, many of the other 244 galleries showing at the five-day fair, which held its private preview on Wednesday and opened to the public on Thursday, have enjoyed brisk sales.

Mr Sueo Mizuma, 60, owner of Mizuma Gallery in Japan and Singapore, for example, has sold 80 per cent of the works at his booth, including a large-scale painting by Japanese artist Amano Yoshitaka for US$250,000.

And the pace of buying is expected to intensify over the weekend, before the close of the fair.

Indonesian gallerist Edwin Raharojo, 61, who is selling works by Indonesian artist Jumaldi Alfi at the booth of his namesake gallery, says: “Many people who have visited us and expressed interest in the works will come back over the weekend after they have talked to their wives and families and made a decision.”

This buying pattern is common at the fair in Hong Kong, as compared with its counterparts in Basel, Switzerland and Miami in the United States.  Fair director Marc Spiegler attributes this to the international crowd of collectors visiting the fair, and the range of galleries, which show an equally wide variety of art. Half of the galleries are from the East with the rest from the West.

He says: “People may not be immediately familiar with works from a different region and will want to research the pieces before they buy. And even within a region, for example, an Indian collector may not necessarily be familiar with Japanese art.”

It is this opportunity to stumble upon the unfamiliar that draws collectors such as Mrs Sigi Lorenz, 67, from Germany to the fair.

She says: “I attend the Art Basel fairs in Basel and Miami frequently but I come to Hong Kong because I get to see a lot of art and artists that I don’t see at the other two fairs.”

For Singapore art collector Dr Colin Lim, 48, it is the energy of the fair and the density of vibrant art events and activities held at the same time that sees him returning to the fair for a second year.

Indeed, Art Basel’s reputation for staging high-quality art fairs was what drew gallerist de Bruijn to debut the gallery in Asia on the platform. “We were taking a step to go to a developing market we didn’t know but want to be a part of, so we felt it is better to be in the hands of Basel because we knew the level of quality to expect.”  

He adds: “That we sold to collectors from all over the world, Netherlands, Germany, the US and Hong Kong, is also an indication what this fair is, truly international.”