Director Fiona Römer said that the results point to the gallery’s long-term commitment to developing clients in China. “You have to take the region seriously,” she said, echoing dealers at March’s edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, who said trying to offload unsold works of middling quality—an early strategy many tried here—will never create a loyal client base.
Römer said the seriousness with which Hauser & Wirth is taking the region can be seen in the expansion plans the gallery laid out in September. Next spring, a two-story gallery will open in Hong Kong’s H Queens building, along with offices in Shanghai and Beijing.
The effort is being co-helmed by senior director Vanessa Guo and Lihsin Tsai, who joins Hauser & Wirth after having been a key interlocutor between the gallery and major Shanghai collector Qiao Zhibing, whose Qiao Space
is among the many private museums located just steps from the fair.
Tsai said that the gallery was spurred to build a brick and mortar presence in the region by the sheer number of new people beginning to buy art in China each year. “There are always new collectors entering this field,” she said, adding that sales on opening day included individuals who had never purchased works from them before. At this point, she said, most are discovering art through other friends who have begun to collect.
“They feel art is an important way to build up their life,” she said. “Just like food, drink, art is a very integral element in their life.”
Thomas Stauffer of the Swiss art advisory Gerber Stauffer Fine Arts, who was perusing works by Bourgeois with a young collector, said new client demand in Asia has been so strong that he recently brought on a director, Gina Quan, to help manage and further develop the region for his firm. He said most of his new clients in China are 30 to 45 years old—very young by most standards—and are mostly buying with inherited wealth.
“A lot of these people like to buy Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci—that’s the first stage, he said. “We try to open up their horizons.”
In contrast to the West, where young collectors might start off buying emerging artists for $5,000, Stauffer said that his young Chinese clients more or less exclusively transact above the $50,000 threshold and mostly for around $100,000 per work, at a volume of one to five artworks per year. Those works are almost exclusively by Western artists or very established artists from Asia who have had exposure in the West.
“These Chinese clients want to collect Western art because they see the tradition of collecting art as very much a Western thing,” he said.
This dynamic has come under scrutiny recently and reflects a broader consolidation in the art market towards mega-dealers showing brand-name artists. Just last week, Leo Xu announced that he will close his critically acclaimed Shanghai gallery
, which helped launch the careers of young Chinese artists like
, and move to Hong Kong to direct David Zwirner’s first gallery in Asia. Xu had a booth at West Bund, but said he was also taking the opportunity to introduce clients to the Zwirner team, and could be seen shuttling back and forth between the stands.