Marc Spiegler on Art Basel Hong Kong's Ambitions to Dominate the Asian Scene

Marc Spiegler on Art Basel Hong Kong's Ambitions to Dominate the Asian Scene
Installation view of Choi Jeong’s work at AANDO Fine Art at Hong Kong International Art Fair (ART HK) 2012.
(Photo by Kitmin Lee)

HONG KONG — Though Art Basel Hong Kong is still a few months off, the city is already basking in the effects of its glamour. On Tuesday, the fair announced the gallery lineup for its first Hong Kong edition and, with 245 exhibitors, promises to meet the Miami Beach edition in size, significance, and glitz.

How well the four-day fair succeeds will reflect the maturity of the Asia art market, and may potentially cement Hong Kong’s position as the art hub for the region. 

But Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel, warns Hong Kong against congratulating itself too much too early. “The history of cities who have grown culturally complacent is never a good one,” he says.

But, he adds, “I don’t think there can be any complacency in the art world, because the art world is too dynamic. I don’t even believe Art Basel can be complacent in Basel. As much as it’s globalized, as much as it’s more international, the art world is a relatively small group of people and it can still move very quickly from one place to another.” 

So how can Hong Kong — already the world’s third-largest art market by auction sales — continue to prove itself the center of Asia’s art world during the fair? It's already won some points for drumming up enthusiasm. More than 600 galleries applied, including a number of younger exhibitors, with slightly less than half accepted in order to keep the experience at a high quality. The final total is close to the 257 that attended Art Basel Miami Beach last December, if slightly less than the number at the final iteration of ART HK last year (266).

Regardless, it already dwarfs the region’s other top fairs, such as Art Stage Singapore’s 130 exhibitors and Shanghai Contemporary’s 90.

The fair will also have a Hong Kong personality. With more than 50 percent of the galleries coming from Asia Pacific, the region itself is well-represented. But only 28 exhibitors have actual art galleries in the city, meaning that the event will create a high level of global exposure. Its mix of regional representation is intended to reflect a meeting of East and West.

Hong Kong’s political climate also puts it at an advantage. Spiegler notes that Art Basel chose Hong Kong over Singapore and Shanghai because both cities “have a history of censoring artists and galleries. For Art Basel to be in an area where there is a high risk of censorship would be unacceptable.” 

But what some of us really want to know is, will Hong Kong be able to put on as great a party as Miami Beach?

“That’s setting a very high bar,” says Spiegler.“We’re not a party-throwing organization. Glamour is not our core business; art is our core business.”

But, he adds, “Hong Kong is also a city that never sleeps. There are some cities where you come off a long flight and you feel like you’re still running a marathon. It’s very stimulating. It’s like the air is caffeinated.”