Undeterred by torrential rain, over 4,000 collectors poured into Art Central’s twin tents on Monday evening for a first glimpse of the fair’s second edition. Of the more than 100 galleries gathered, many reported strong sales—a testament to the fact that the Hong Kong fair has defiantly come of age, staking its claim in the city’s complex commercial scene.
Art Central, 2016. Courtesy of the fair.
Despite the fair’s close proximity to concurrent Art Basel in Hong Kong, even sharing co-founders by way of the latter’s former incarnation ART HK—Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus—Art Central has confidently carved a niche in the region’s increasingly dynamic art calendar. With prices starting at $1,000, most works are pitched at a palpably lower price point than its contemporary—without scrimping on quality. Treading a path between an “affordable fair” and full-on blue-chip glitz, this year sees 75% of participating galleries from Asia, up 10% from last year’s debut.
“We don’t give our selection committee a quota in terms of geographical region,” explained fair director Maree Di Pasquale, “but we’ve been pleasantly surprised that this year has seen increased representation from the Greater Asia region. The makeup of galleries has helped define Art Central as a fair with a truly Asian aesthetic.”
From entry-level to sky’s the limit, works span a range of prices and media, with household names most commonly represented in more accessible print editions. At London gallery Human Reproduction, Marc Quinn’s embossed print Frozen Wave (2015) is on sale for £2,060 (in an edition of 25), while fellow UK gallery Other Criteria is using Art Central to launch kitschy and glittery new editions of gallery founder Damien Hirst’s saccharine “Mickey” and “Minnie” paintings (priced at £11,020 per pair, including framing). “It’s a good market for our price points,” said a gallery representative from Other Criteria, praising the fair’s diversity and reach. “My impression is that it’s very good to have two fairs in Hong Kong at the same time.”
Amongst this year’s noteworthy newcomers is Galerie Forsblom. The Helsinki gallery is showing works by Spanish artist Manolo Valdés, informed by Velázquez and including bronze duo Infanta Margarita and Reina Mariana (both 2015). Nearby and back for the fair’s second edition, Gazelli Art House was drawing crowds for some of this year’s most standout works—part of James Ostrer’s 2016 series, “The Ego System.” Priced at £6,000 each, the grotesque photographic caricatures (of the likes of Donald Trump, Miley Cyrus, and Harry Styles) are certainly piquing the interest of fairgoers—as is the artist’s alter ego, Guru Jimmy, currently in residence at the fair’s Absolut Art Bar.
A particularly strong suit of this year’s fair is the selection of works on paper. At London’s Christine Park Gallery, participating in the fair’s Rise section for galleries less than six years old, the hands-down highlight is a durational, drawn performance piece by artist Ting-Tong Chang. Throughout much of the fair, the artist is ensconced inside a site-specific installation, The Colosseum (in the shape of Rome’s Colosseum) where he is live-drawing responses to sketches of what’s on show, provided by a collaborating artist. Chang was announced on Tuesday as the winner of this year’s Rise award for early career artists, and his works are faring well at the booth, with two drawings sold on opening night. Meanwhile, a series of 16 drawings created as part of 2015 performance work Spodoptera Litura (commissioned by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum), priced at £5,000, is generating much interest.
Rise Award winner Ting-Tong Chang in The Colosseum at Art Central, 2016. Photo courtesy of Christine Park Gallery.
At Hong Kong’s gallery Puerta Roja, Spanish artist María García-Ibáñez’s series of pencil studies Cestos (Baskets) (2016)—priced at HK$9,000 per drawing—are attracting crowds, while a geometric print created as part of her and Javier León Pérez’s recent collaboration for the gallery’s current exhibition sold on opening night for HK$6,000. A gallery representative reported considerable interest from collectors seeking to commission new works by the pair, both of whom are present at the fair.
Also of note at this year’s fair, an identifiable trend isn’t just works on paper, but works of paper, too. Case in point: Peter Adsett at New Zealand gallery PAULNACHE, whose large-scale installation in the Projects section stands opposite his solo presentation. With not-so-humble wallpaper as his medium, Adsett’s work creates illusions of depth, with one of his smaller collages selling to a local—and first time—collector for $5,000 on opening night. Gallery director Matthew Nache credits Art Central’s organizers, who he describes as being “very supportive,” also noting a knowledgeable collector crowd “clearly having done their homework.”
Installation view of Peter Adsett’s work at PAULNACHE’s booth, Art Central, 2016. Photo courtesy of PAULNACHE.
In a similar vein, Indonesia-based artist Nadiah Bamadhaj’s exquisite sculptural paper collages at Kuala Lumpur’s Richard Koh Fine Art have had collectors swooning, with all three works snapped up on opening night. Over at Contemporary by Angela Li, Li Hongbo’s concertina sculptures are made from layer upon layer of paper and at Marc Straus, Chris Jones’s intricate, three-dimensional collages of found magazine images create a kind of dollhouse apartment block.
Several galleries showed works created especially for the fair, many which referenced the fair’s home city—and to great success. At John Martin Gallery, more than half of Andrew Gifford’s paintings of Hong Kong’s neon-clad streets sold on opening night, according to a gallery representative. Of the city-specific trend, Di Pasquale noted, “It shows that our international galleries are really trying to connect with Hong Kong and the region.”
Similarly reflective of the city itself is Nobuyoshi Araki’s “Hong Kong Kiss” series, documenting a 1997 Hong Kong on the cusp of its historic handover, on display at amanasalto and inside the fair’s VIP lounge. Capturing the city’s more recent history is local photographer Almond Chu at La Galerie Paris 1839, in the fair’s Rise section, particularly with Parade No. 15 (2015). Depicting a crowd comprising duplications of the artist himself, yellow umbrellas held aloft, the work is on sale for HK$65,000 and references the city’s pro-democracy movement of 2014.
Monday night’s substantial collector crowd and reports of strong sales would seem to belie any concerns surrounding neighboring mainland China’s ongoing economic uncertainty. “For where we are now in the early part of the week, sales are on par with this time last year. I think that’s pretty indicative,” explained a seemingly unconcerned Di Pasquale. “I also think that as we’ve seen in other recent times [of uncertainty], collectors are still collecting good work. Good work is still selling, and what we have developed in Hong Kong and the region—definitely China—are passionate connoisseur collectors who don’t just buy because of market trends; they buy because they genuinely like the work. So at the moment, no, [Art Central] hasn’t been affected—but I do think buying has been more considered, there’re fewer rash decisions perhaps. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing [particularly] for the long-term market.”
Certainly, Art Central continues to go from strength to strength, proudly emerging not just as Art Basel in Hong Kong’s younger peer, but a fair confidently asserting its expertise, community, and curatorship.