East Asian Collectors Flock to Art15’s Third Edition

For a London art fair vaunting its global reach, it was fitting that the top sale at this year’s Art15 was claimed by an east Asian artist, with that region’s buyers putting on a solid show throughout the week.

  • Installation view of work by El Anatsui at October Gallery, Art15, Olympia, 21-23 May 2015. Photo by Gar Powell-Evans.

Sundaram Tagore, based in New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore, sold the highest value piece at the event, now in its third year. The painting, Waterfall (2012)—a black-and-white astral scene on Japanese mulberry paper—by Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju, went for $350,000. The gallery also had luck with a digital print by Kim Joon, Golden Hour-Dom Perignon (2011), selling for $30,000, a relatively modest price typical of much of the fair. 

The gallery sold nine pieces in total, amounting to $468,000. Buyers include a major bank, with 70% of private collectors hailing from east Asia, “many of whom keep homes in London,” according to the gallery’s eponymous owner. 

Art15’s organizers have marketed its worldwide content and cast the net widely to distinguish it from its bigger competitors. And as such London’s Olympia, the fair’s functional West London exhibition venue, housed pieces by more than 500 artists from 42 countries this week. The central aisle of the exhibition hall’s ground floor gallery featured everything from German artist Kęstutis Svirnelis’s towering, expanding, and contracting tower of clothes, Consume (2014), to the bottled Tears (2015) of Madagascar’s Joël Andrianomearisoa.

However, it was east Asian names that dominated. Osaka’s Tezukayama Gallery commandeered a relatively impressive run overall, selling four pieces by Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka—one of the leading artists in the radical Japanese Gutai movement—to a Chinese collector for between $155,000 and $287,000. It sold four more by Yoshiyuki Ooe, whose figurines brandish butterflies and flowers, for up to $19,000 each, taking the gallery’s total value sold to $967,000. Its biggest sales were to Asian collectors, though pieces sold locally as well.

The region’s other successes included Hong Kong’s The Cat Street Gallery, which cleared a number of paintings by Australian artist Joshua Yeldham for up to $60,000, and a $124,000 collage by Shanghai’s Liang Quan at PIFO Gallery of Beijing.

Elsewhere, the highest profile art on show included a Timespace (2014) a $1 million piece by El Anatsui—winner of a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at this year’s Venice Biennale—at the stand of London’s October Gallery, which remained unsold as of press time, as did a $1.2 million David HockneyAlmost Like Skiing (1991) at Omer Tiroche Contemporary Art.

There were some well known names from the popular culture firmament in attendance. On Saturday fashion designer Matthew Williamson was browsing the stands, and earlier in the week musician Florence Welch bought a Stella Vine portrait of Jack White from London’s Cob Gallery.

After an initial rush, footfall fluctuated. Understandably for an event which pitted dealers with artists commanding six-figure sums against start-ups selling works on paper for under $5,000, experiences varied, as did the nature of the work. While some saw Art15 as a useful opportunity to market newer artists in the context of a growing British economy, there was some unease among exhibitors towards changes in format and the fact that Art15 had to compete with the public holidays in the U.S. and UK, along with photography fair Photo London, held concurrently at Somerset House.


Taipei’s Lin & Lin Gallery had a dramatic reduction in sales from Art14, when it sold around 13 pieces during the fair. This year its major sale was Renminbi (2015), a blown-up reproduction of Chinese currency by Spanish artist José María Cano for $124,000 to an Asian private museum along with the changing hands of a piece by Taiwanese artist Liu Shih-Tung—one of collector Rob Suss’s picks of the fair for Artsy—for $59,000. Overall, interest had shifted from Taiwanese and Chinese buyers to mostly local London buyers.

With a selection of highly commercial work by Damien Hirst and Banksy, Omer Tiroche Contemporary Art had one of Art15’s prime spots, and some of the best-known artists, next to a central staircase at the end of Olympia’s National Hall. However, by late in the fair it had still enjoyed its best success at the Wednesday opening, when it sold Julian Opie’s Sara Gets Undressed, 22 (2003) for $116,000.


A predominance of local interest was an experience shared by New York’s UNIX Gallery, which sold two out of three editions reconfiguring the image of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bureau of Drug Abuse (2015) by Californian artist Desire Obtain Cherish, for an undisclosed sum. Its amusing effigy of the head of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, by the Spanish artist Eugenio Merino, Always Thatcher (2015)—refrigerated in a branded cooler, her coiffe trembling in the breeze from its internal fan—went to an unnamed buyer. The gallery also had interest from a private museum in an untitled oil and canvas impasto work by the South Korean painter KwangHo Shin.

Earlier this week Olympia hosted the formation of an international association of private museums, and ran a series of talks debating issues including female representation in the art world, and contemporary challenges in the international art market. Certainly in terms of sales, the sector’s continual obstacles, as well as its globalized opportunities, were in abundant evidence here.  


—Rob Sharp


Explore Art15 2015 on Artsy.

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