Good buzz, blue chip artworks at Art Basel Hong Kong

Several Asian galleries reported strong sales at the Friday evening private view and Saturday vernissage of Art Basel's 2015 edition in Hong Kong.

Singapore's Gajah Gallery sold four works priced between US$39,000 and US$59,000 (S$54,319-S$82,175). Three were by Indonesian artist Yunizar and the fourth by contemporary Chinese artist Li Jin, who is known for his unconventional ink works.

Germany's Galerie Michael Janssen, which has a space in Gillman Barracks in Singapore, sold four works by Japanese artist Yukinori Yanagi for an undisclosed amount.

There was early interest also in print works brought in by Singapore's STPI as well as Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak's sculptures presented by Singapore gallery Yavuz Fine Art.

Pakistan's Gandhara Art sold four works priced between US$3,500 and US$50,000 by Pakistani artists such as Khadim Ali and Adeel uz Zafar, who has had successful outings at Art Stage Singapore too. Zafar is known for his unique scratching techniques executed largely on black vinyl sheets. His art often features gauzed toys, which evoke mixed feelings of amusement and fear.

Gallerist Amna Naqvi from Gandhara told The Straits Times: "I love the fair. It allows us to reach international collectors. We even get the attention of museum curators who do their rounds here."

Prominent regional gallerist Pearl Lam called the energy "exceptional and exciting".

While visitor numbers were not in by press time, the private view for collectors held for just three hours on Friday evening was packed, as was the vernissage, a by-invite only affair for the larger international arts community. The private view, a staple of key international art fairs, is meant to give collectors a first look at the works.

The prestigious art fair with roots in Basel, Switzerland has a new director for Asia, Malaysian Adeline Ooi, and for the first time the Hong Kong fair is being held in March, not May.

On the change in dates, Art Basel's director Marc Spiegler said it is something they have been trying to do since they started the Hong Kong fair, now into its third edition.

He said: "May would have been a disaster this year in light of the Venice Biennale, which has attention of the international art world."

While moving the fair to March was seen as a good move, there were concerns about other aspects of its scheduling. It only opens to the public on Sunday and ends on Tuesday. Several gallerists Life! spoke to felt three hours for the private view on Friday was too short, compared to a vernissage which is generally five to six hours long.

Ms Ursula Sullivan of Sydney's Sullivan+Strumpf gallery which presented one of the most popular works at the fair, life-like sculptures by Australian artist Sam Jinks, said: "I know the dates at the Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Centre were hard to get this year but a three-hour private view on Friday seems a bit off. We will have to wait and see how it goes on Monday and Tuesday as most people will be back at work."

There was much to discover in the form of a curated Encounters section which has many large-scale pieces including Singapore artist Zai Kuning's mixed media installation titled Dapunta Hyang or Transmission Of Knowledge, 2014-2015. The large hanging boat made of rattan is driven by the artist's "lifelong interest in discovering my own history as a Malay", he said.

Complementing this is an excellent series of talks and dialogues with artists, museum directors and curators. Several of these are being held on Monday and Tuesday.

In total, there are 233 galleries from 37 countries participating in this modern and contemporary art fair, roughly half of which come from countries in the East and the rest from the West.

At the fair's private preview on Friday and earlier on Saturday, several leading collectors were seen, including art couples David and Serenella Ciclitira - who established the Global Eye Programme which organises major exhibitions and the Prudential Eye Awards for greater Asia - as well as France's Dominique and Sylvain Levy.

Several Singapore collectors including Jackson See were seen doing the rounds of the fair too.

Singapore-based Brazilian art collector Jonathan Milo Brand called it "a good fair".

He pointed out that several of the art works on show were representative of the current economic climate.

"I did not expect to see extremely edgy stuff. The fact that we are seeing Picassos, Boteros and Anish Kapoors shows collectors feel safer investing in blue chips."

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