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Perspectives

Why Art Basel Hong Kong is the place to be

Suzanne Gyorgy

By Suzanne Gyorgy

Global Head, Art Advisory & Finance

April 25, 2019Posted InWealth Advisory

The Spring Art season is always highly anticipated by art enthusiasts the world over, and this year was no different as Art Basel Hong Kong kicked off with a jam-packed week of art fairs, exhibition openings, and auction house sale previews.

Art Basel Hong Kong has become one of the key events in collectors’ calendars. There is a real buzz in the city during the art fair – certainly a common denominator for many global fairs – but there is something unique about the art scene there. There is the established presence of key auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips  - having been open for business the city for a many years - that are now joined by a growing number of western galleries that have in the past few years opened impressive spaces. Many of these newer galleries held openings during Art Basel week adding to the exciting mix of art viewing venues.

One of the factors that makes Art Basel Hong Kong stand out is that it is held in a major city that is a hub of creativity, bringing together art, food, business, and culture. There is an energy around the city, which draws people together that was made even more palpable and magnetic with the Art Basel weeklong celebration of the arts.

It has been fascinating attending each year and watching the art fair become increasingly international. This year, I met with many of our art collecting clients who have travelled from around the world to be there, with quite a few attending to see artists represented by galleries in Asia and to explore Chinese Contemporary ink paintings. 

It is not just the attendees who have travelled from all around the world. The artwork featured has also become increasingly international as Asian collectors seek out quality works of art from different cultures and traditions.

In China, there is a deep-rooted love of art, which is integral to the culture. Children are taught about traditional calligraphy, paintings, and scrollwork from a young age and most know the master painters. However, as Art Basel Hong Kong evolves, we see fewer traditional Chinese artworks included in the fair, and a growing focus on exploring international works of art from the west.

This is the impact of Instagram on the art world. Technological advances over the past few years has allowed art to become instantly accessible wherever you are in the world. Artists, galleries, and auction houses post on popular social media platforms such as Instagram, to share artwork, insights, and increasingly to make sales. This has helped art collectors discover and acquire works of art from every corner of the world.

An incredible example of this was floating in Victoria Harbour during the fair. ‘KAWS: Holiday’ - a 115-foot long inflatable sculpture of a defaced Mickey Mouse by American graffiti and iconography artist KAWS was one of the most-talked about pieces over the three days. It was literally and figuratively an unmissable moment highlighting the vast reach of this contemporary artist.

KAWS is an Instagram sensation who has skilfully used the social media platform for much of his success. Not only is he a prolific user himself (he posted just under 80 photos in March alone), but his fans are too. KAWS has 1.9 million followers and almost 1 million Instagram posts with the hashtag #kaws.

Instagram has helped KAWS’s career propel to dizzying heights; only last year the auction record for the artist was made when Untitled (Fatal Group) sold for a record-breaking USD$2.7 million. However, in a mere few days after Art Basel Hong Kong this year, KAWS broke his own record more than five times over when his The Kaws Album painting sold for $14.7 million at an auction held by Sotheby’s in none other than Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is an incredible city to visit, but this year’s Art Basel was like no other. It is a truly global destination with so much enthusiasm for art from all over the world.  This vibrancy coupled with the quality of the art fair and galleries and exhibition spaces will keep bringing people back year after year.