Crowds swarm Art Basel Hong Kong as galleries report sales bonanza

HONG KONG, March 23 (Reuters) - Thousands of people thronged on Thursday into Art Basel Hong Kong, one of Asia's largest contemporary art fairs, to view large-scale installations from hanging money trees to a pumpkin 8 feet (2.4 m) tall.

Participating galleries reported bumper sales.

The annual fair, which also has editions in Basel, Paris, and Miami Beach, will run from March 23 to 25. The 2023 event is the first in four years to be held in full, after 2020's was cancelled and the next two mostly put on line.

Large queues of people, most not wearing masks, were seen entering the venue. Art Basel Hong Kong is one of the first big events the city has held since dropping its COVID-19 mask mandate this month.

Many galleries at the fair said the reopening of the border with mainland China in January had helped boost business after three years of COVID closures.

Aimee Man, a sales director at Peres Projects, said 70% of that gallery's art pieces had been sold in the pre-selling session before the fair.

"We are just really excited to be back after almost four years. And this year is really different, because the borders are reopening."

City authorities are welcoming the art fair as they try to reinvigorate the economy and promote Hong Kong as a vibrant cultural hub.

The city is also hosting two financial summits this week, followed next month by the Rugby Sevens three-day tournament and music festival Creamfields.

Li Danqing, senior international partner at LGDR gallery, said things were returning to normal. People were more informed about the artwork but still a bit cautious, because of the strife in the banking industry, she said.

"Everyone is more cautious but making wiser and better decision in terms of buying," she said.

Popular artworks include Yayoi Kusama's "Pumpkin" - a yellow and black polka-dotted sculpture - and a hanging installation made up of 13 twisted plants known as money trees. The latter aimed at alluding to peoples' communal experience of lockdown during COVID.

Teresa Choi, a visitor from Macau, said Hong Kong was much busier than during COVID times.

"Hong Kong has always been the international financial hub for Asia ... Travellers are regaining their confidence about Hong Kong and the economy and want to come."

Reporting by Joyce Zhou, Rhea Saxena and Deniz Ayhan; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Bradley Perrett

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