Art HK 12, the fifth edition of the East’s most prominent art event, lured 266 galleries from 38 countries to the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre. Showcasing works from 3,500 artists worldwide, the fair attracted not only collectors, but international curators, writers and thinkers – a boon for a city once considered a ‘cultural desert’.
As Western galleries jostled to participate, organisers tried to keep an even ratio of Asian to international artists. For international exhibitors, that meant showcasing Asian artists alongside their Western clients. New York-based David Zwirner featured Chinese painter Yan Peiming together with Luc Tuymans, while the Gagosian Gallery showed Picasso, Hirst, Lichtenstein and Japanese stars Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami.
This year Asia One, a platform for artists from Turkey to New Zealand, threw a spotlight on the Orient. Japan’s ArtCourt Gallery showcased Kozo Nishino’s architectural sculptures; Beijing’s Chambers Fine Art and Primo Marella Gallery brought a series of paintings by Guo Hongwei and Farhan Siki, respectively.
The Art Futures award for best emerging artist went to Lee Kit of Hong Kong for his ominous installation of household items, ‘Something in My Hands’, on view at the Aike-Dellarco stand. Equally unsettling was Ai Weiwei’s ‘Cong’, his epistolary tribute to the 5,196 students who died when their schools collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, presented by Galerie Urs Meile.
Yet Galerie Gmurzynska stole even those scenes with its booth, curated by Asia's favourite starchitect, Zaha Hadid, with a selection of her latest designs. Hadid’s stage gave necessary pomp to additional works by Joan Miró, Fernando Botero and local artist Wifredo Lam.
It may not come as a surprise that, among Asian collectors at least, homegrown artists were a priority. Taiwan’s Lin & Lin Gallery sold 12 out of 15 works by Liu Wei, billing up to £2.5 million in the first three hours of the preview. Market veterans also did well: local gallery De Sarthe sold ‘No.313’ by Chinese artist Chu Teh-Chun for nearly £2 million and Hans Hartung’s ‘T1966-H32’ for £250,000.
Not that Western art was suffering. The veteran contemporary gallery Tornabuoni Arte, from Italy, sold five works by Alighiero Boetti, including a piece from the his well-known ‘Mappa’ series for more than £800,000. American painter Robert Motherwell’s ‘Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 45’ was sold for £635,000 at Bernard Jacobson.
All this bodes well for the fair that recently confirmed its merger with the influential Art Basel franchise. Next year the May event will rebrand itself as Art Basel Hong Kong. Thus far, all this year’s exhibitors have signed up to return. That should help ensure visitor numbers break records yet again. The rest of the work will fall to China’s exploding contemporary-art market.