HONG KONG — The doors to the VIP viewing of Art Basel in Hong Kong opened May 22 after an early rainstorm that was followed by persistent drizzle. Amid the gloomy weather, the four-day fair started on a cautious note, with sales during the first few hours led by big-name international artists.
“Quarteto,” an oil-on-canvas by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, sold for $1.3 million at Galerie Gmurzynska from Switzerland. The painting of four musicians executed in the artist’s trademark chubby style was sold to a Malaysian collector, according to gallery director Mathias Rastorfer, who brought along 18 paintings and sculptures by Botero for the fair.
Japanese A-listers also led the charge in terms of sales. “Flame of Life — Dedicated to Tu-Fu (Du-Fu)” by Yayoi Kusuma, a large painting comprising hundreds of wriggly red tadpole shapes, went home with an Asian collector for US$2 million at the collaborative booth by Japanese gallery Ota Fine Arts and London-based gallery Victoria Miro.
Over at Galerie Perrotin, Japanese A-lister Takashi Murakami’s sculptures were also a hit. “Pom & Me,” depicting a cartoon version of the artist and his dog Pom, came in four versions: two color versions, as well as gold and silver versions. Each version cost $135,000 and comes in an edition of five. At the time of press, 15 statues were sold, gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin told ARTINFO
Lin & Lin Gallery also had a fair showing. Four abstract paintings by prominent Beijing-based multidisciplinary artist Liu Wei sold for between US$400,000 to US$500,000, all within the first hour. They were bought by collectors who were already familiar with the Taiwan-based gallery, said director David Lin.
But one had to look hard for the red stickers. If sales seemed off to a muted start, most gallerists seem to agree that this is typical of an Asian fair. “In Basel or Miami, the most important time is in the first two hours,” says Rastorfer of Galerie Gmurzynska. “You never get this feeling in Hong Kong. Sales take place throughout the fair.”
The stakes are higher this year, since the Hong Kong fair is at a turning point. Formerly known as Art HK, the event was bought out by the Art Basel franchise, which already runs high-profile art fairs in Basel and Miami, making the 2013 edition the first Asian fair to bear the Art Basel name.
Jasdeep Sandhu, owner of Gajah Gallery from Singapore, remarked that “this year's fair is a full-on exercise in branding.”
“Look at the huge signage. It says: ‘Boom! Big brother Basel is here!’,” he says. “The fair wants to raise local standards. It wants to do a Basel art fair as good as Basel Basel or Basel Miami. I think they are doing a good job, because the Hong Kong fair is more representative of what’s happening around the world. You have a decent number of Asian galleries, for a start."
Ahead of the fair opening, fair director Marc Spiegler said he expected about 7,000 people on the first day for the VIP preview and vernissage. He added that he was expecting more young collectors from Europe and the United States this year, who are still building their collections, while acknowledging that older European collectors who already have substantial collections appeared less interested in making the trip to Hong Kong.
Art Basel Hong Kong opens to the public May 23 and runs till May 26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.