Hong Kong's Art Scene Sprouts More Buds

A Ming dynasty porcelain vase sold for HK$167.8 million ($21.6 million) including buyer's premium, at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong.
A Ming dynasty porcelain vase sold for HK$167.8 million ($21.6 million) including buyer's premium, at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong.

Beijing and Shanghai have long had significant art scenes, and been home to a number of notable artists, such as Beijing’s high-profile Ai Weiwei (who recently sold his “Sunflower Seeds 2010” to the Tate Modern for an undisclosed amount). 

Yet, it is Hong Kong that has fast become a contender in the art world; known for its trade and finance the city is poised to become Asia’s art capital. 

Beginning in 2007, the former British territory has held the position of world's third largest art auction market, after New York and London. As of 2008, Hong Kong has hosted a successful contemporary art fair; the inaugural edition drew 19,000 visitors, and representatives from 100 galleries, numbers that have more than doubled.

Hong Kong's artist community, however, is still small and the expense of living in the city means that artists must often work day jobs to support themselves.  Finding open studio space is also tricky.

Also lacking was a significant museum, but now plans are underway for a contemporary art museum, which would open to the public in 2018.  An international competition for the building design will be held this year and plans include 20,000 square meters of exhibition space.  The ambitious project aims to rival with New York’s Museum of Modern Art and London’s Tate Modern.

On an earnings conference call Feb. 29, Sotheby's CEO William Ruprecht and CFO William Sheridan said China was an "underpenetrated" market. With consolidated sales of $1 billion, the company plans to open new premises in Hong Kong which will have competition in strong mainland auction houses such as Beijing Poly International and China Guardian Auctions.

Hong Kong has already attracted a number of well-known art galleries, including London's White Cube, which accommodates the area's newly wealthy collectors. Graham Steele, the gallery's Asia director, said to the BBC, “The energy of the city is very seductive for dealers and artists. It's a scene that's about to blossom and in a really great way."

Whether the nascent gallery scene expands will depend on whether China can continually produce the buyers and sustain its economic upward trajectory. MarketWatch points out that, according to the World Bank, almost all of China’s growth since 2008 has come from “government influenced expenditure”.

(Report: Christine Bolli for ARTFIXdaily)

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