AS thousands of visitors streamed through a Hong Kong exhibition hall and deals were struck for works by Picasso and Yayoi Kusama, art collectors celebrated the Asian financial hub’s return to its bustling heyday.
The scenes at Hong Kong’s Art Basel fair last week had not been seen since 2019, with a crackdown on pro-democracy protests and an assortment of pandemic restrictions in the intervening years radically transforming the city.
More than 86,000 visitors poured through the halls of the fair, reflecting a return to pre-pandemic numbers, with reported sales of more than US$98mil (RM433mil), double those of 2019, according to organisers.
Among the biggest deals were a 1964 Picasso sold for US$5.5mil (RM24.3mil), as well as works by Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga for US$5 million (RM22.1mil) and a strikingly surreal “pumpkin” by Kusama for US$3.5mil (RM15.5mil), according to reported sales figures released by the fair.
The energy at Art Basel reflected the increasing importance of the Asian art market, said organisers, who said that their work was not impacted by the city’s national security law.
“Asia has been the fastest developing art market in the world,” said Angelle Siyang-Le, director of Art Basel Hong Kong.
Foreign artists said they were happy to take advantage of Hong Kong’s market.
“It’s an opportunity to get more (exposure),” said M. Pravat, a New Delhi-based artist who was exhibiting at Art Basel.
Years of harsh pandemic restrictions in Hong Kong have seen other Asian cities, including Seoul and Singapore, vie to supplant it on the international art scene.
Thierry Ehrmann, head of market analysis firm Artprice, said Hong Kong remained well-placed to compete.
“Hong Kong retains the advantage of a well-structured market, with the presence of the major international players... which translates into a considerable lead in terms of sales revenue,” he added.
One of Hong Kong’s main advantages for collectors is its lack of customs duties, value- added taxes or inheritance taxes on works of art.
China is the world’s second-largest art market, after the United States, with sales set to recover from a dip related to pandemic controls that have now been lifted, according to Artprice. — AFP