| HONG KONG
HONG KONG May 18 The eyes of the global art
world are fixed on Hong Kong - for now.
Hong Kong's art scene has been expanding for the past few
years, but this week's flurry of high profile international
gallery openings alongside the city's annual art fair has
brought a hype and frenzy unlike anything seen before.
But it also comes at a time when Chinese growth is slowing,
raising concerns about sustainability.
Auction house Sotheby's official opening of its
15,000 square foot gallery space on Friday comes after blue-chip
galleries such as London based Simon Lee, Shanghai's Pearl Lam,
Parisian dealer Galerie Perrotin and Paris gallery NeC opened
earlier this week.
Hong Kong's Art HK fair, now owned by international art show
Art Basel, which also holds an annual show in Miami, has
attracted close to 70,000 people. Sales for the fair have been
strong and expectations for the next two days are solid, said
But even though art excitement appears palpable in the
financial city, local gallerists and international art
consultants are warning that the market feels a little frothy.
"Whilst this hype brings an air of excitement to the city's
art scene, it's very telling of the possible fragility of the
market and whether it's sustainable," said Natasha Whiffin,
gallery manager at Saamlung in Hong Kong.
The rate at which galleries have set up shop here is almost
unheard of in the recent history of world arts hubs such as
London, Paris, New York, she added.
Market research firm ArtTactic said in its May 12 report
that confidence in the Chinese contemporary art market is
slowing down after 3 years of rapid growth.
"The biggest change from 12 months ago, is the decrease in
confidence at the very high end of the market," said the London
Simon Lee and Pearl Lam's galleries, that this week opened
in Hong Kong's historic Pedder building, joined American art
dealer Gagosian, which opened in 2011, and British gallerist Ben
Brown, who set up in the colonial etched building in 2009.
Yet dealers have warned that the flood of galleries which
have headed eastwards ought to scale back expectations that
growth will remain as robust as it has been.
"I think there will be quite a lot of disappointment. If we
expect that things will grow like hell, I don't really think
so," said Urs Meile, who represents artists including Ai Weiwei
and Li Dafang, and operates Galerie Urs Meile in Switzerland and
"If you look long term, it will be a good market, but I am
not that sure it will grow fast," said Meile, standing in front
of Ai Weiwei's "Cong" being exhibited at Art HK.
"Cong," which consists of 123 framed letters from various
Chinese government ministries regarding Ai Weiwei's
investigation of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, is among the big
name pieces being exhibited by the 266 galleries participating.
Art Basel's name has increased credibility for the Hong Kong
fair and attracted a higher caliber of international galleries
and buyers, but the domestic art market remains very small and
the city is a vastly different place when the fair closes.
"They have to rely on the Asian market to be the ones who
are buying here, and I am not sure that the Asian market is
quite yet there to absorb this kind of material," said Michael
Frahm, director of Frahm Ltd and an art adviser based in London.
While Chinese buyers make up over 40 percent of the global
auction market they have not been buying from individual
galleries, said Frahm, adding that it will take a lot of hard
work to get to know the collector base and know the scene.
For now, Hong Kong seems the place to be for art and culture
lovers with 55 pieces of Picasso's original works on show from
May 19 to July 22 at the city's heritage museum.
"There are a lot of people interested, but it's very early
stages in that people are still very insecure in terms of what
they are buying," Frahm said.