From Christie’s Big Bet on Hong Kong to Hobby Lobby’s Looted Dream Tablet: The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week

Guarding America’s Pastime – Cleveland’s baseball team has rebranded itself as the Guardians, paying tribute to beloved sculptures that line the bridge leading to the stadium.

Space Jam Kicks Sell for Stratospheric Sum  A pair of Nikes made for Michael Jordan sold for over $176,000 at Sotheby’s.

Pompidou Names New Director  France’s Centre Pompidou named 39-year-old Xavier Rey to lead the museum as it closes for a three-year renovation.

Marian Goodman Cements Succession Plan  The veteran art dealer named five new partners, while she will take on the role of CEO.

Australia Returns Looted Indian Artifacts  The National Gallery of Australia returned 13 works bought from disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is now in prison.

Christie’s Bets Big in Hong Kong  The auction house announced plans to quadruple its sales room and increase auctions three fold in the city.

Viva Venice!  We’re still months and possible mask mandates away from the so-called “art world Olympics,” but here’s an updated list of all confirmed artists headed to the Venice Biennale in 2022.

LA Art Dealer Slapped With Embezzlement Charges  Founder of Ace gallery Douglas Chrismas was arrested on federal charges alleging he stole more than $260,000 from his gallery.

Holocaust Memorial Approved, Despite Criticism  Starchitect David Adjaye’s plans for the London-based memorial got the green light, despite protests that it overstates Britain’s role in saving Jewish people.

Art Dealer Sentenced for Fraud  Former socialite art dealer Angela Gulbenkian was sentenced to three years in prison for her bad business practices.

Hirst Takes a Hatchet to Studio Jobs  The For the Love of God artist reportedly laid off 63 employees, despite taking advantage of a $21 million pandemic bailout.

Authorities to Return Gilgamesh Tablet  The United States is restituting some 17,000 objects including the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet once owned by collector Steve Green to Iraq.

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Hong Kong Collectors Finally Started Paying Attention to Local Artists During Lockdown. But Will It Last?

One of the most talked-about installations during Hong Kong’s recent art week was a colorful changing room inspired by artist Chan Wai Lap’s regular visits to shut-down public swimming pools last year. Fairgoers scoped out Chan’s paintings on the walls while a performer, a young man, changed his clothes and brushed his teeth as if there were no one around. 

Most encouraging to gallerist Angela Li, who presented the ambitious site-specific project at the Art Central fair, was the fact that visitors weren’t just coming by to look. They were also there to buy. Li sold the majority of the works on view at her stand, 80 percent of which were by Hong Kong artists. 

Chan Wai Lap, The Lonesome Changing Room at Art Central. Courtesy of the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li

Chan Wai Lap, The Lonesome Changing Room at Art Central. Courtesy of the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li

This represents a notable shift. Despite Hong Kong’s role as a global financial hub and one of the world’s most important art markets, the city has not historically produced art that collectors consider highly valuable. Few Hong Kong artists have international gallery representation and international dealers rarely show work by local artists at their Hong Kong branches. 

But after a year of lockdown—during which time collectors refocused their energy locally rather than flying around the world to see art—that seems to be changing. While blue-chip galleries such as Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, and Lévy Gorvy have achieved multimillion-dollar sales at Art Basel, work by Hong Kong artists was also moving quickly. 

“Most who bought my work are new clients,” the 32-year-old artist Chan Wai Lap told Midnight Publishing Group News. “They are based in Hong Kong but come from all over the world.” Many of these buyers are young and specifically looking for work by local artists, Chan’s dealer said. 

47 Canal’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. Photo: © Art Basel

The reduced presence of international players at two of the city’s most important contemporary art fairs, Art Basel and Art Central, meant more exposure for local players. Even regional galleries from outside of Hong Kong, such as Vitamin Creative Space and TKG+, were presenting Hong Kong artists at Art Basel. Many dealers were pleasantly surprised to have sold to new Hong Kong-based clients. 

“Maybe this is a start; maybe the ecosystem already exists,” says Angela Li, owner of the gallery Contemporary by Angela Li. “Regardless, it feels like this is finally happening.”

Over the past year, buyers set new auction records for work by Firenze Lai, Chris Huen, and the late Matthew Wong, who was born in Toronto but grew up and studied in Hong Kong. At Christie’s Hong Kong evening sale on May 24, works by Huen and Wong handily exceeded presale estimates, fetching HK$1.4 million ($177,130) and HK$30.2 million ($3.9 million) respectively. The sale, however, set a new record for Hong Kong painter Yeung Tong Lung, whose painting Staircase (2011) sold for HK$625,000 ($80,514), nearly 3.5 times its high estimate.

Chris Huen Sin Kan, Haze, Doodood and Mui Mui in Shek O (2014). Courtesy of Christie's.

Chris Huen Sin Kan, Haze, Doodood and Mui Mui in Shek O (2014). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Artists and other creatives have historically struggled to maintain a presence in the city due to steep rents, but high-profile institutions such as the forthcoming M+ museum, the Tai Kwun Center, and the revamped Hong Kong Museum of Art—as well as new independent spaces and galleries—offer a growing number exhibition opportunities.

Meanwhile, the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District and art fairs from ART HK to Art Basel and Art Central have helped shift the narrative for private collectors. Hong Kong architect William Lim and his wife Lavina recently donated their Living Collection, which traces the development of Hong Kong art since the 2000s, to M+. Patrick Sun, whose Sunpride Foundation houses an LGBTQ+-themed collection, has been acquiring more work by Hong Kong artists ahead of a focused exhibition in 2022. 

“There have been many outstanding exhibitions on Hong Kong contemporary art in the past two years,” Sun said, citing last year’s “Next Act: Contemporary Art from Hong Kong” at Asia Society Hong Kong Center and “Luke Ching: Glitch in the Matrix” at independent space Para Site. “Perhaps this phenomenon is due to [travel] restrictions, or maybe it is a reflection of the under-representation of local art for a long time. I’m happy to see this burgeoning art scene of Hong Kong talents in all its manifestations.”

The new price points may encourage those who never looked at Hong Kong art to finally pay attention, said collector Alan Lau, chair of local independent art space Para Site and co-chair of Tate’s Asia-Pacific Acquisitions Committee. But for him, the value of Hong Kong contemporary art lies well beyond the market. “Collectors buy works that they can connect with, regardless of where they come from,” he said. “They live here. They love the city, and they have this sensibility.” 

Patrick Sun. Photo courtesy of Patrick Sun.

For the many expats who live in Hong Kong, local art provides a tool to better understand their adopted home. Jacobo Garcia Gil, who is originally from Colombia but moved to Hong Kong 13 years ago, acquired a work by Mak Ying Tung 2 from de Sarthe at Art Basel on Sunday. 

Garcia Gil, who began collecting local art in 2014 when he established his Divide by Zero Collection, says the category now comprises one-third of his holdings. “The artistic expressions seen in Hong Kong art are coming from very deep places in people’s psyches,” Garcia Gil told Midnight Publishing Group News. “There is a strong sense of identity shift and people exploring this transition. There’s an intellectual affluence in Hong Kong.”  

Yuri van der Leest, a Canadian-born collector who has been living in the city for more than a decade, has  also been focusing on Hong Kong art—including work by Andrew Luk, Stephen Wong Chun Hei and Luke Ching Chin Wai—since 2016. “The issues Hong Kongers grapple with are reflected back to me in the art on my walls,” Van der Leest said. “This helps me better understand my home and compatriots.”

Jacobo Garcia Gil at de Sarthe's booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. Photo: © Art Basel

Jacobo Garcia Gil at de Sarthe’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. Photo: © Art Basel

Hong Kong artists are facing new scrutiny both at home and abroad as anxiety over the implementation of last year’s national security law remains high—and demands renewed creativity. “Local artists are under a spotlight at the moment and this has positive and potentially challenging implications,” Van der Leest said. “We are getting new and exciting and engaging art that we might never have expected or encountered previously.”

Looking ahead, longtime supporters of Hong Kong art hope that the resumption of travel will serve to spread the gospel even further rather than accelerate a return to the status quo. “Ideally, Hong Kong artists should be internationally recognized,” Lau said. “The market may be just one stepping stone and offer them greater exposure and exhibition opportunities.”

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A 1982 Basquiat Is Expected to Fetch Over $30 Million at Christie’s Hong Kong, Setting a Record for a Western Artist in Asia

As auction houses prepare to enter another season with most of the world in lockdown, they are seeking ways to make sure their sales still feel like events. To that end, Christie’s is holding a single-lot sale in Hong Kong dedicated to a pricey painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat on March 23. 

The painting, titled Warrior, is from 1982, Basquiat’s most coveted year, and is estimated to fetch between HK$240 million and HK$320 million ($31 million to $41 million). Christie’s co-head of postwar and contemporary art, Cristian Albu, tells Midnight Publishing Group News that the work, which carries a third-party guarantee, is expected to become the most expensive by a Western artist ever to be sold in Asia. 

The Asian market’s appetite for Western art has been steadily increasing in recent years, and Albu says the auction house was particularly encouraged by last year’s results, which saw a wide net of Asian buyers bidding on work spanning the 20th century, as well as a new world record set for George Condo in Hong Kong in July. 

“Collectors are increasingly making links between traditional artists and Western art history,” Albu says. “I think it’s so important to broaden that idea of building the collection and understanding that Sanyu also gets inspired by Matisse, or that Zao Wou-Ki gets inspired by Soulages and the artists in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Warrior depicts a full-length figure, sword in hand. It last sold at Sotheby’s London in 2012 for $8.7 million and has been in the same collection ever since. Before that, it had an active decade on the market, having traded hands three times in seven years. During that time, its price climbed some 450 percent. 

The single-lot sale in Hong Kong will kick off for a five-hour marathon day of sales that continues in London with Christie’s 20th-century art evening sale and surrealist art evening sale.

The live auctions will be digitally streamed from salesrooms in Hong Kong, London, and New York, a continuation of the global strategy Christie’s began experimenting with in July 2020 with its four-location relay sale, “ONE.”

The sale will begin at 2 p.m. London time (10 p.m. in Hong Kong, 9 a.m. in New York), an unusually early start for an “evening” sale, in an effort to tempt Asian buyers to stay awake and active throughout the evening while still being late enough for US bidders to have had time for a quick espresso.

It certainly doesn’t hurt matters that Hong Kong’s market seems to be recovering from the impact of the pandemic more quickly than Europe and the US. At Christie’s December 2 sale in Hong Kong and New York, some 17 records were broken for modern and contemporary artists from around the world, including Dana Schutz and Amoako Boafo; it marked the house’s best result in Asia yet.

Hong Kong sales tend to draw a whole gamut of Asian collectors, according to Albu. “I was on the ground for that sale, and the whole web of collectors goes from Taiwan to China, to Hong Kong, to South Korea, to Japan, to Malaysia, Indonesia, to Singapore,” he says.

Basquiat’s Warrior will be on view at Christie’s showroom at Rockefeller Center in New York beginning next week, before it is flown to Hong Kong to be shown at Alexandra House until the sale.

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For Dealers Unable to Travel Internationally, Art Basel Hong Kong Has an Intriguing Option: The Ghost Booth

These days, it seems like every missive from art-fair organizers confidently predicting a set of firm dates is invariably followed by news of yet another postponement. But organizers of the Art Basel Hong Kong fair, due to take place from May 21 to 23, have dreamed up a new approach to remain on schedule: offering exhibitors the opportunity to participate in the fair even if travel restrictions make their physical attendance impossible.

Enter: the ghost booth.

According to a letter sent to exhibitors today from director Adeline Ooi, dealers now have the option to amend their proposals to present “a small curated exhibition within a standalone booth.” They can choose between a booth measuring either 15 by 20 square meters or 20 by 25 square meters that will be staffed by assistants appointed by Art Basel.

“We hope that this satellite option allows exhibitors to continue their onsite presence without physically attending the show,” the letter states.

Since the pivot to purely virtual editions largely been deemed a failure by collectors and participants alike, this option—call it the ghost booth—just might be a viable stopgap as vaccines are distributed and lockdowns begin to lift piecemeal.

The smaller size ghost booth will have a flat rate of $9,500; the larger option is priced at $11,500. Art Basel said each size would be fully equipped and include an assistant to “facilitate connection between visitors and the gallery.” Depending on the number of galleries that take them up on the option, the booths might be either grouped together or sprinkled across the show.

There is, however, one catch: “Exhibitors must ensure that a gallery sales representative remains on-call at all times throughout the opening hours of the show.” (The only thing better than traveling to Hong Kong is being available on Hong Kong hours during East Coast time, right?)

Interested exhibitors must submit amended proposals—which may “deviate significantly” from their original applications—by March 4.

Organizers also reminded exhibitors of an existing “joint-booth option” within the main galleries sector, where two or more exhibitors can participate in a single booth of any size.

Art Basel Hong Kong is currently scheduled to take place at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre from May 21–May 23, 2021.

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