Neutral Territory

October 27, 2014

Hong Kong’s art scene now includes several prominent international figures who have recently expanded both their business and worldview. Gagosian, Simon Lee, Lehmann Maupin and Perrotin are just a few of the major players who have rapidly embraced this vibrant and welcoming city. Not only they are partly responsible for the presence of Art Basel Hong Kong, they are also developing, together with people and institutions already established there, a solid infrastructure and bridge to the rest of the art world. Flash Art asked some questions about the motivations behind these rapid developments and how they will challenge the status quo.


A view of HKCEC, venue of Art | Basel | Hong Kong
A view of HKCEC, venue of Art | Basel | Hong Kong.

1. What makes Hong Kong an important epicenter for contemporary art?
2. What factors have lead to this development?
3. How is the global financial crisis affecting Hong Kong as a global art center?
4. What are the emerging art centers in Asia, and how will Hong Kong fit into that bigger picture?

Adrian Wong
Artist, Hong Kong

1. I think that there are a number of very serendipitous factors that have led to Hong Kong’s present status: a favorable economic climate, the coming to fruition of the West Kowloon Cultural District, the establishment of the Hong Kong Art Fair (now Art | Basel | Hong Kong) and a steady influx of incredibly dedicated and innovative arts professionals over the past ten years.
2. A number of local art institutions led the charge, from the founding of the Asia Art Archive in 2000 to the progressive programs initiated by Para Site that lured Tobias Berger and Cosmin Costinas to Hong Kong. They deserve a lot of credit for laying the groundwork for the exponential growth of the city’s creative sector.
4. I’ve seen exciting developments in Bangkok, Singapore and Manila in the past few years, but I believe that Hong Kong is really leading the charge in the region.

Dr. Melissa Chiu
Director, Asia Society Museum, New York, and Senior Vice President for Global Arts and Cultural Programs for the Society’s eleven centers and affiliates in the United States and Asia

1Hong Kong has always been an important market portal whether it was for Chinese antiquities in the ’70s and ’80s or more recently the auctions, where the first record-breaking auction of Asian contemporary art took place in 2005, and more recently the art fair, as well as galleries opening up. Now with Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, which opened last year in a beautiful series of restored heritage buildings, we also see museums added to this mix. This growing ecology allows us to consider Hong Kong in a new way — not just as a financial center but now also as a cultural center.
2. The growing international recognition of contemporary artists in Asia, which first happened through museum exhibitions such as Asia Society’s “Inside Out: New Chinese Art,” which toured from New York to Hong Kong, was the first stage of this new development.
3. I don’t think it has affected the city in this arena in any substantial way.
4. Hong Kong remains an important market center, but with the development of more museums it will take its place as a major player within the region. Other more established art centers in the region include Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. Singapore, and its plan for expansive museums, is certainly on the rise too.

Magnus Renfrew
Director Asia, Art | Basel, Basel/Miami/Hong Kong

1. A number of factors combine to make Hong Kong a key destination for modern and contemporary art. These factors include the city’s increasingly vibrant gallery scene, with a number of well-established local galleries being joined by an increasing list of international galleries such as White Cube and Lehmann Maupin. The cultural infrastructure of the city is developing: the building of M+, Hong Kong’s future museum for visual culture, is well under way, and other institutions, including Asia Art Archive, the Asia Society, Para Site and Spring Workshop are presenting strong programs throughout the year. Geographically positioned at the heart of Asia, Hong Kong is also very convenient for travel from the world over, and a fantastic city in terms of restaurants and hotels. It is also a financial hub and has no tax on the import and export of art, which makes it a very attractive place for galleries to do business. It is an exciting moment to be in Hong Kong, and we hope to contribute to the growth of the art scene.
3. There is a growing collector base within Hong Kong, which exists alongside an increasing appreciation of art amongst the local population, as it becomes an increasing part of the urban fabric in Hong Kong. However, a fair like Art | Basel cannot be sustained purely by the art scenes of Hong Kong and Mainland China, but by the art markets across Asia, spanning from Turkey, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, across Asia and encompassing Australia and New Zealand.
4. The Asia Pacific region accounts for sixty percent of the world’s population. There are many different cultures and aesthetic backgrounds in this diverse region. Hong Kong is exceptionally well placed both geographically and in terms of its perceived status of “neutral territory.” There is probably nowhere in the world where visitors from different places feel so equally at home. Hong Kong has one of the widest catchment areas of anywhere in the world. As such it is uniquely well placed to become a major art hub for the new multi-polar art world.

Courtney Plummer
Hong Kong Director, Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

1. Hong Kong has a long tradition of collecting, and there is an infrastructure of galleries, fairs, auction houses, museums and services that support that endeavor. It is easy to do business here no matter where you are from, but more importantly people here are curious about contemporary art and want to learn more. More and more people are moving here rather than leaving, so there is a great mix of cultures, values, expertise and taste that make Hong Kong the perfect audience for contemporary art — local, Asian or Western.
2. My business partners and I have been traveling to Asia on a regular, almost monthly, basis for years now. Our program is quite international with artists living and exhibiting all over the world. We found that we were spending more time in Asia in general, but doing more things in Hong Kong specifically. David Maupin, Rachel Lehmann and myself also personally love Hong Kong, so there was a bit of an emotional factor in deciding to move here and establish a gallery.
3. To be honest, we largely ignore things like that. The economy ebbs and flows and there are always dips, but we don’t view our business as selling financial products, necessarily. Collectors are the same everywhere — obsessed with beautifully compelling work. I find that if someone really wants to add a work to his or her collection, they will eventually find a way, despite economic factors.
4. I think it is important to realize that there is nothing emerging about art in Asia — it’s just a question of how well you know it. Seoul has a thriving art scene — financial and critical — and it’s no secret that Beijing is a haven for artists and other creative types. I have been excited to learn more about Indonesia in the last few years as an art and collecting world and we hear more and more about the Philippines. And Taiwan has amazing supporters of contemporary art! I think Hong Kong will become both a depot and destination for all of this exciting activity. More and more galleries and exhibition centers are popping up here, Art | Basel will bring even more collectors to the city and M+ will do for Hong Kong what MoMA did for New York and Tate Modern did for London.

MAP OFFICE (Valerie Portefaix and Laurent Gutierrez), Back Home with Baudelaire No. 5 (2005)
MAP OFFICE (Valerie Portefaix and Laurent Gutierrez), “Back Home with Baudelaire No. 5” (2005).

Laurie Ann Farrell
Executive Director of Exhibitions, SCAD, Savannah/Atlanta/Hong Kong/Lacoste (FR)

1. 2. 3. 4. In recent years, the Hong Kong art scene has experienced stratospheric growth and magnified visibility, now ranking third behind New York and London in art auction markets. Many speculate that this boom is enabled in part by the region’s favorable tax structures, and by increased economic prosperity throughout Hong Kong and Mainland China. If the global financial crisis is affecting Hong Kong, you’d certainly never know it by attending Art | Basel | Hong Kong, or reviewing plans for the much-anticipated M+ museum which endeavors to implement a global vision from a distinctly local perspective. Since SCAD (Savannah School of Art and Design) opened our location in Hong Kong in 2010 the increased interest in the local art scene — both from within Hong Kong and from audiences around the world — has been palpable. Programming and collaboration among arts organizations have diversified offerings for art patrons and audiences while raising the profile for artists exhibiting in Hong Kong. While art world trends are forever in flux, at the moment, Hong Kong is the “it” place for art in Asia.

Emmanuel Perrotin
Owner, Perrotin, Paris/Hong Kong

1. The Asian market is growing, particularly in Hong Kong, with Christie’s, Ravenel, Poly and Sotheby’s, as well as all the galleries based in the city, but also with the M+ museum to open in Kowloon and the central police station to be transformed in a contemporary art center. It is a very stimulating context.
2. Hong Kong is absolutely a city with vibrant artistic talents and an important and internationally renowned art trade hub where collectors, connoisseurs, dealers and art lovers from around the world congregate, particularly during the fair. Hong Kong is the gateway and nexus to Greater China, a base to reach out to the neighboring markets such as Southeast Asia, which is growing. My gallery also has long-term relationships and collaborations with Asian artists such as Takashi Murakami (since 1993) and the Kaikai Kiki artists in particular. Some gallery artists, like Sophie Calle, Wim Delvoye, KAWS, Xavier Veilhan and Jean-Michel Othoniel already have strong links with Asia.
3The financial crisis doesn’t seem to have much affect on Hong Kong as a global art center.
4. Japan and Korea have been the pioneers in showing and supporting contemporary art; recently, of course, Mainland China but also Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines are becoming some of the essential sites and landmarks in the art world.

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