Hope Runs High at the New Art SG Fair. But Slow Early Sales Cast Doubt on Whether Singapore Can Lead the Region’s Market

The long-awaited opening of Singapore’s ART SG fair, which finally took place this week at the Marina Bay Sands, is significant for many reasons. The first is that as one of the early fairs in an already busy art calendar, its results can set the tone for the year. Second, as those in the art world are keen to explore new markets, the fair’s debut is a test to see if this city-state in Southeast Asia can bounce back from the dramatic cancellation of Art Stage in 2019 and become a key market hub in the region alongside Hong Kong and Seoul.

The first two days of the fair, which opened to VIPs on Wednesday, showed some promising signs. Excitement was palpable in the (hot and humid) air this week, especially since the event’s debut had been postponed four times before. A notable crowd traveled to Singapore for the event, helped by the recent relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in the region as even China had dropped its zero-Covid policy (albeit very abruptly), with Hong Kong following suit and opening its borders.

Art lovers journeyed not just from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, but also from South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, and Japan, as well as from Europe and beyond. While in town, many indulged in local delicacies like pepper crab and chicken rice and partied until almost dawn at the local nightclub Marquee. Collectors seen on the ground include: Swiss mega collector Uli Sigg; Patrick Sun and Alan Lo from Hong Kong; Alain Servais from Belgium; Noh JaeMyung from South Korea; Singapore-based Linda Neo and Albert Lim and Nathaniel Gunawan; and the controversial collector and museum founder Michael Xufu Huang from China.

Art lovers taking snap shots at Sullivan+Strumpf's booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Art lovers taking snapshots at Sullivan+Strumpf’s booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

“Southeast Asian collectors are excited about the fair, one that is finally happening in our neighboring country Singapore, which is a hub for the region,” said Manila-based Timothy Tan, one of the collectors who flew in to attend the fair. “Some of the international galleries exhibiting are new to collectors from the region and they are interesting.”

Tan pointed out that buyers from the region tend to focus more on art originating locally, but this is beginning to change. “More are open to collecting works from other places. [ART SG] is a nice gateway to meet the galleries,” he noted.

But perhaps more importantly for an art fair, some galleries were reporting sales, albeit they were less robust than those typically seen at major contemporary art fairs in the West, Hong Kong, or even Seoul. The art market outlook for 2023 may not be as grim as some industry insiders in the West had predicted—or at least not in Asia. It seems Southeast Asia—a region largely overlooked by the West but where deep-pocketed collectors have quietly bought art for a long time—may be a conducive market after all, especially now that Singapore is experiencing an influx of Chinese money.

Rich elites reportedly have been fleeing mainland China and Hong Kong amid the increasingly unpredictable socio-political and geopolitical environment. The number of family offices in the city-state has gone from 400 in 2020 to 700 today. “ART SG has arrived at a perfect time,” said Leo Xu, a senior director at David Zwirner in Hong Kong.

Tomio Koyama Gallery. Courtesy of ART SG.

Tomio Koyama Gallery. Courtesy of ART SG.

Of the 160 galleries from 30 countries and regions featured in the inaugural edition of ART SG, nearly half have shops outside the Asia-Pacific region. The rest have locations across the region, from Japan and South Korea to mainland China and Hong Kong. Around 20 operate in Singapore, and less than 10 in Jakarta, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. Prices of works on show were diverse, ranging from a few thousand to over a million dollars—a very high price point for the region.

Exhibitors spanning two floors of the exhibition center were assigned to categories similar to most major art fairs. There was a main galleries sector; a “Focus” section for presentations of solo or duo artists or thematic exhibitions; “Futures” area to showcase galleries under six years old; and “Reframe,” which focuses on digital and crypto art.

Some collectors commented that the basement floor, which was where most of the big galleries were located, reminded them of Art Basel Hong Kong. The Art Assembly, the team behind ART SG, is the very same crew that launched ART HK in 2008, which was then sold to Art Basel’s parent company MCH, becoming Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013.

International blue-chip galleries all reported sales during the first two days. White Cube, for example, said it sold 17 works on the opening day alone, totaling around $3 million. Notable sales from the gallery include: Anselm Kiefer’s 1981 canvas  Dein Goldenes Haar Margarete, which sold to a collector in Indonesia for €1.2 million ($1.3 million); Antony Gormley’s cast iron sculpture Nerve (2020), priced at £450,000 ($549,144); a David Altmejd sculpture ($60,000, sold to an Australian); two editions of Tracey Emin’s bronze Belligerence (2014), which went to European and Asia collectors for £95,000 each ($115,930); Christine Ay Tjoe’s paintings Soluble Integrants ($165,000, sold to a buyer in China) and Docile Black 3 ($260,000, sold to a Hong Kong collector); and a work by Marguerite Humeau (£65,000/$79,320, sold to a buyer in Taiwan).

Jaume Plensa sculptures on show at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

Jaume Plensa sculptures on show at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

The Museum MACAN in Jakarta bought two works by the late artist Ashley Bickerton for an undisclosed sum from Gagosian. Pace sold several pieces, including those by James Turrell ($950,000), Keith Haring ($250,000), Lee Ufan ($150,000), and Louise Nevelson ($105,000). More than half the works on David Zwirner’s booth found buyers, including pieces by Neo Rauch, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Wolfgang Tillmans, totaling more than $2.5 million.

Lehmann Maupin, which just appointed former deputy director of the Asia Society Museum in New York Ken Tan as its Singapore-based director, placed works in local collections. Tammy Nguyen’s Our Ministry (2022) sold for $90,000 to a private collection in Singapore, while four new works by Mandy El-Sayegh, priced at a combined total of $335,000, went to different collections across Singapore and the region.

The U.K. gallery Unit London, which amassed a strong following in Asia during the pandemic through its social media channels, made its fair debut in Asia, selling out its two-artist booth of works by Hong Kong’s Stephen Wong Chun Hei and Seth Armstrong from Los Angeles, priced between $10,000 and $30,500. One of Wong’s paintings went to a Malaysian private collector, who is a trustee of several institutions across the world.

“It is our first time here in Singapore… Many local collectors were already aware of our program as they’ve engaged with the gallery online for the last few years. But we have been delighted to meet lots of new collectors that really span all age groups—from very active budding collectors in their late 20s through to the more senior collectors who are interested in diversifying their collections of Southeast Asian artists,” Unit London’s co-founder, Joe Kennedy, told Midnight Publishing Group News.

Works by Hong Kong artist Mak2 on show at de Sarthe's booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Works by Hong Kong artist Mak2 on show at De Sarthe’s booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Regional galleries also reported sales. Whitestone, which recently opened a new space in Singapore, sold out all its pieces by the hot young Japanese painter Etsu Egami, priced at $10,000 to $30,000. WOAW Gallery, which also just inaugurated an outpost in the area, sold works by James Goss, Jon Burgerman, and Charlie Roberts for prices ranging from $9,000 to $22,800. Hong Kong’s De Sarthe gallery, which opened a space in Arizona last year, sold works by Mak2 and a painting by Zhong Wei, for prices ranging between $10,000 and $30,000. Artworks by young Singaporean artists Faris Heizer, Aisha Rosli, and Khairulddin Wahab, priced between $5,800 to $9,500, found buyers at Singapore’s Cuturi Gallery.

“The Southeast Asian market has been too rooted in their own local culture, but change is happening. Collectors have the desire to embrace what’s happening on the global stage and in international art,” noted dealer Pascal de Sarthe.

However, some regional dealers reported that sales have been slower than expected, Midnight Publishing Group News has learned. They still made sales, but to existing clients in the region rather than to new ones. While the VIP day and vernissage were packed with visitors, the aisles felt much more spacious on the second and third days. Some collectors took more time to make their purchases, especially those contemplating works by Southeast Asian artists new to them.

neugerriemschneider's booth at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

Neugerriemschneider’s booth at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

This led some to question, despite the amount of wealth in the city-state and the region’s potential growth, if the collector pool in the region was big enough to sustain a fair of this size and a growing art market.

Many dealers, however, chose not to speculate as they wanted to see the fair and its co-founder Magnus Renfrew—a highly respected figure in Asia’s art scene—succeed.

“For a first-year fair, I think it’s got off to a very good start. The sales have been okay. My feeling is that there’s going to be activity right up until 5 pm on Sunday,” Renfrew told Midnight Publishing Group News. “We are really expecting things to be happening throughout the upcoming days. The energy has been positive. People feel welcomed by the city, and that there’s a sense of the potential for the future. This is really just the first step.”

While sales have traditionally been an important benchmark for an art fair’s success, a new barometer is needed for fairs in Asia, especially for young fairs in young markets, Zwirner’s Xu pointed out.

“For example, established, active collectors may know about us, but not the younger ones. That’s why we want to do the fair—we want to reach out to those who buy cars, shoes, Street art, and NFTs, and introduce them to other kinds of art and other galleries. This is a conversion process,” Xu noted.

ART SG runs through Sunday, January 15, 2023.


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As Summer Sales Wane, Italian Dealers Are Chasing Collectors All the Way to the Beach With a Pop-Up in Procida

A consortium of Italian galleries has announced it is opening a decentralized art exhibition on the small Italian island of Procida. The event takes place over the three-day weekend of September 2–5 and will see 45 works of art peppered across 20 sites on the striking yet lesser-known island, just off the coast of Naples.

“Panorama” is the first event to be organized by Italics, a group of 63 galleries that banded together in 2020, and will present pieces ranging from Old Masters to the ultra-contemporary. “The founding principle behind Italics is to connect art of all times with the rich and diverse Italian landscape, offering a unique opportunity to explore both through a special perspective,” said Lorenzo Fiaschi, president of Italics and co-founder of Galleria Continua, and Pepi Marchetti Franchi, vice president of Italics and founding director of Gagosian Rome, in a joint statement sent to Midnight Publishing Group News.

The destination pop-up—set against vistas familiar from such films as Cleopatra and The Talented Mr. Ripley—is one of the more unusually located and ephemeral exhibitions during a year that saw galleries and auction houses decamp to various locations around the world, opening outposts in places like West Palm Beach and Menorca. A group of dealers curated a group show in Puglia earlier this summer.

Lucio Fontana's <i>Fine di Dio</i> (1963). Courtesy Tornabuoni Art.

Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale. La fine di Dio (1963). Courtesy Tornabuoni Art.

The organizers say the primary aim of “Panorama” is community-based, not commercial, although the works will all be for sale. “We don’t see this project as antithetical to anything already in place, but rather an additional opportunity highlighting the role of galleries as centers of cultural production,” said the duo. “Italics was born in a moment of high challenge at the start of the pandemic last year, when Italy was hit particularly hard. We started having intense conversations about how to create synergies addressing the hard road ahead.” Even if Italics was conceived in response to a specific moment, when it comes to future iterations, they added, “the possibilities for long-term collaboration projects are almost endless.”

The works and their respective settings were overseen by Vincenzo de Bellis, curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, who led the selection and installation in consultation with participating Italics members. Sites across the island, named Italy’s cultural capital for 2022, include various public and private buildings, churches, historical palazzos, and piazzas. One example of the cross-century pairings features one of Lucio Fontana’s iconic Concetto spaziale. La fine di Dio works, courtesy of Tornabuoni Art. Translating to “Spatial concept. The End of God,” the punctured green canvas from 1963 will be dramatically presented in the chapel of Santa Maria della Purità, which dates to 1530. The Fontana will be paired with Filippo Tagliolini’s paintings Berenice and Democrito o/or Aristotele, both from around 1790, which arrive via Alessandra Di Castro, an antiques dealer from Rome.

Tomás Saraceno's <i>GJ 1132 c/M+M</i> (2018). Courtesy the artist and pinksummer.

Tomás Saraceno’s GJ 1132 c/M+M (2018). Courtesy of the artist and pinksummer.

A spokesperson from Tornabuoni tells Midnight Publishing Group News that the Fontana, an “example of Italian excellence from the postwar avant-garde,” has been read in different ways, either as a “negation of transcendence or, sometimes, the rediscovery of spirituality.” Though the gallery would not communicate a specific price, it hinted that the work is one of the most expensive pieces of Italian art to ever come to market, aside from the €158 million Modigliani sold at Sotheby’s in 2015. According to Midnight Publishing Group’s Price Database, an iteration of Concetto spaziale. Fine di Dio sold at Christie’s for $29.1 million in 2015; that same year, Sotheby’s sold another version for $24.6 million.

The Tornabuoni spokesperson added that salespeople will be on site during the weekend to welcome collectors. “Our gallery strongly believes that this kind of event is set to be reproduced and developed, as it answers a need to see art leaving the sometimes hermetic walls of a physical gallery to come into contact with a wider or different audience,” they told Midnight Publishing Group News. “The originality and strength of this project is also born from the unexpected locations of the island of Procida, which becomes a theater where art and architecture feed one another.”

Additional highlights include a monumental sculpture by revered Chinese installation artist Chen Zhen. The art trail will snake around the island, leading up to the fortified city of Terra Murata and its dramatic clifftop prison, where Giuseppe Penone will install a bronze tree sculpture that morphs into a human figure on the terrace. Other participating artists include Daniel Buren, Ibrahim Mahama, and Tomás Saraceno; Robert Barry, Elisabetta Benassi, Igor Grubić, Marcello Maloberti, and Adrian Paci will contribute performances.

Panorama” takes place September 2–5 on Procida, Italy.

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Decorative Art Sales Accounted for a Whopping $825 Million at Auction Last Month. What’s Driving the Boom?

By now, you’ve probably heard enough about how the marquee fine-art sales last month stacked up to pre-pandemic totals. But you may not be aware that there’s an even faster growing segment of the auction market: decorative art and design. 

Decorative art sales generated a total of $825 million at auction last month, up roughly 26 percent from the equivalent total in May 2019. (For comparison, fine-art sales shrunk 1.8 percent over the same two-year period.)

Sotheby’s May design sales in New York and Paris both eclipsed their high estimates, and now Christie’s is doubling down, launching a joint pop-up in the Hamptons with tony design dealer Carpenters Workshop Gallery. And just yesterday, a Phillips design sale in London generated $16.2 million, the highest total for a design auction in company history. 

Maybe there really was something to all that talk about wealthy people paying more attention to their homes after being stuck inside for over a year… . Read on for more about what exactly is driving the trend. 

© Artnet Price Database and Artnet Analytics 2021.

© Midnight Publishing Group Price Database and Midnight Publishing Group Analytics 2021.

So what’s going on in the decorative arts market?

First, let’s clarify what we mean by “decorative arts.” The category is an umbrella term for a number of related but distinct markets, including fine jewelry, watches, design, ceramics, handbags, books and manuscripts, and even snuff boxes. 

Snuff boxes! OK, got it. Why should I care about what’s going on in this umbrella market?

The decorative art auction market is historically much smaller than the fine art auction market. In 2019—the last year things were remotely normal (remember that?)—the former was worth $4.9 billion, according to the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database. By comparison, the fine art market generated $13.2 billion that same year. So here’s why you should care: the decorative art market is ballooning at a rapid pace

How fast are we talking? 

To put things into context, the decorative art market had been stalling for years. The $4.9 billion total in 2019 was up slightly from the year before, but still behind the highs reached in 2014 and 2015. Things started to turn around as the world emerged from lockdown, however—and now, the sector is on track for a banner year.

In the first five months of 2021, decorative art auction sales generated a combined $1.8 billion, 27 percent more than in the equivalent period in 2019. In May 2020, the biggest month of the year to date for decorative art sales, the average price of a lot in the sector sold jumped 49 percent from May 2019. 

Wow! What’s driving this growth?

Sales in every price bracket have risen so far this year compared to the equivalent period in 2019, but—like in the art market—growth is particularly concentrated at the top.

Sales of objects priced at over $10 million grew a gargantuan 122 percent in the first five months of this year, largely due to major sales of jewelry. In May, a pink diamond ring known as the Sakura diamond sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $28.7 million

So there are more rich people willing to shell out for diamonds? 

In a way, yes, it is that simple. The pandemic has further concentrated wealth at the very top, with ever-wealthier people who would otherwise have spent money on luxurious vacations funneling that extra cash into jewelry and design objects. (Demand for diamonds more broadly has also swelled: Signet Jewelers Ltd., for example, reported a 7.8 percent jump in holiday sales in North America, per Bloomberg.)

Is this some kind of honeymoon period with decorative art?

It’s too soon to say. The trajectory is continuing upward, though spending habits may change as more and more people return to their regular rhythms. Diamonds are forever, but diamond auction-sale bonanzas may not be.

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We Analyzed May Auction Sales Around the Globe to See How They Compared to Their Pre-Lockdown Equivalents. Here’s the Breakdown

You might have found yourself recently looking around a subway platform or buzzy restaurant, marveling at the fact that, even for a moment, it somehow feels as if we haven’t just been through an epochal, 18-month upheaval that will be memorialized in history books for centuries. You may get a similar feeling looking at the global auction results from May 2021. 

It’s as if nothing happened. 

A total of $2.9 billion worth of fine art sold at auction around the globe last month, a period that included successful major evening sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in both New York and Hong Kong. The month’s total is down just 1.8 percent from that of May 2019, before we had ever even heard of the concept of social distancing. It also represents a whopping 1,581.7 percent rebound from May 2020, when the pandemic shredded the traditional auction schedule to smithereens. 

So what has returned to the status quo since May 2019, and what has changed? Read on for answers. 

Data © Midnight Publishing Group Price Database.

Are you really telling me the market is in essentially the same position as it was in May 2019?

–On the surface, basically. The total global fine-art sales figures are neck and neck: $2.94 billion in May 2019 and $2.89 billion in May 2020. 

–Part of this year’s slight decline may be attributed to a simple schedule change: Phillips is holding its New York evening sale (which made nearly $100 million in 2019) on June 23 instead of on its traditional May date. 


Any other similarities?

–In fact, the very top end of the market has also been relatively consistent across the mega-sale months of May 2019 and 2021. Both saw auction lots priced at over $10 million bring in a combined $1.1 billion. (In 2019, that huge figure included Monet’s Haystacks and Jeff Koons’s Rabbit; in 2021, it was led by Picasso’s portrait of Marie-Thérèse and a couple major Basquiats.) 

–Sidenote: For those of you keeping track at home, May 2020 saw exactly zero sales of works priced over $10 million at auction.

–In addition to the consistency on the very high end between May 2019 and May 2021, there is also consistency on the very low end. The $10,000-and-under category pulled in just under $80 million in both months, two years apart. 


OK, the low end and the high end are similar. So what’s different this time around?

–A few things. First, the one slice of the market that has lost steam is the $1 million-to-$10 million price bracket, which shrunk nearly 18 percent between May 2019 and May 2020. 

–What happened? The energy (and dollars) that had been going into high-end but not ultra-high-end work seems to have been distributed across lower priced sectors of the market.

–In May 2021, sales for lots in the $10,000-to-just under $100,000 bracket and the $100,000-to-just under $1 million bracket both showed modest increases (13.5 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively) over May 2019. 


What does all this tell me about the state of the market?

–The consistency on the ultra-high-end tells us that collectors are just as confident about consigning top-flight works now as they were before the pandemic hit. (In fact, they might be even more confident: While the total amount of sales generated by works over $10 million was roughly the same between May 2019 and May 2021, the number of works sold grew from 39 in 2019 to 45 in 2021.)

–Meanwhile, the shifts taking place in the middle of the market confirm a trend we’ve witnessed anecdotally—that a new crop of buyers is increasingly interested in gambling on slightly lower priced work and less interested in the consistent blue-chip examples that would sell in the $1 million-to-$10 million range. 

–In other words, the market is becoming increasingly bifurcated between trophy buyers and bargain hunters (or speculators). At least last month, there were fewer of those boring in-betweeners who just want “regular” expensive art. 

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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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