In Hong Kong, Inaugural Art Central Makes Waves with Focus on Emerging Art

Step into an art fair and suddenly you could be anywhere in the world. There is an unsettling déjà vu—from New York to Miami to London—of meandering through the same carpeted aisles, past the same white-walled gallery booths, sometimes even brushing past the same art world denizens. Art Central, Hong Kong’s new satellite fair, is determined to change all that.

  • Art Central Hong Kong 2015. Photo: Courtesy Art Central.

    Art Central Hong Kong 2015. Photo: Courtesy Art Central.

Its first edition, which closed on Monday, housed 77 galleries—almost two-thirds of them from the wider Asia-Pacific region—in a 10,000-square-meter tent on Hong Kong’s newly developed Central Harbourfront. The fair set itself a double goal: be uniquely relevant to Hong Kong—in ways, the organizers claim, that bigger fairs cannot—while offering the region’s increasingly daring collectors a place to discover the unexpected.

Unlike the reclaimed land on which it stands, the fair did not just spring out of nowhere. Masterminded by Tim Etchells, the man behind ART HK—born in 2008 and which Art Basel acquired to create Art Basel in Hong Kong (ABHK) in 2013—Art Central was the fruit of careful market observation. “The market need,” explained co-director Maree Di Pasquale, “came when ART HK and then ABHK became big enough. There was a thirst to do more during Art Week. In New York, Miami, London, there is a range of other activities around a major fair. Art Central responds to that thirst.”

While quenching the need to see new kinds of art is high on Art Central’s list of differentiating features, the fair was also careful to balance the young with big name dealers in order to draw in regional collectors in droves. The inaugural edition saw venerable dealers like the 45-year-old Seoul-based Gallery Hyundai rub shoulders with relative youngsters like Hong Kong native YALLAY GALLERY, founded in 2013. Even within a single booth, established artists sat alongside an up-and-coming generation. SCHUEBBE INC.’s stand was a case in point: a 1978 Martin Kippenberger painting faced a wall of formally experimental works by emerging artists Emmanuel Le Cerf and Bruno Albizzati. A Katharina Fritsch day-glo-yellow Madonna sculpture looms nearby—unannounced by a wall label—like some knowing nod to the initiated.

  • Art Central Hong Kong 2015. Photo: Courtesy Art Central.

    Art Central Hong Kong 2015. Photo: Courtesy Art Central.

Mixing emerging gumption with old-school reliability may not be anything new for an art fair, but Art Central tries hard to stay in sync with what organizers see as a specifically Hong Kong vibe. “We want to keep a distinct local flavor,” insists Di Pasquale, referencing both the monumental “contemporary ink” scrolls by Lan Zhenghui as part of the Projects installations, and the curated spattering of trendy “street food” from beloved local eateries, including a pop-up restaurant by The Continental. “It’s very Hong Kong,” she adds.

Overall, gallerists seemed convinced by the Art Central formula. “They certainly know how to do fairs,” confided Valerie Dillon of New York’s Dillon Gallery, speaking to the Art Central team’s international roster of shows, including Art13 London, co-founded by Etchells in 2013 whose third edition, Art15 London will take place in May; Sydney Contemporary; and Istanbul’s ArtInternational. Like many other gallerists, Dillon said the market had supported Art Central’s bet, noting interest from Hong Kong’s forthcoming M+ museum in one of her artists, photographer Cristina De Middel.

  • Art Central Hong Kong 2015. Photo: Courtesy Art Central.

    Art Central Hong Kong 2015. Photo: Courtesy Art Central.

What exactly, though, was the fair's pitch to galleries from the onset? “It was very much about market access,” reveals Di Pasquale, “about being exposed not just to the local and regional collectors but to the Europeans who come to town as well.” With price points ranging from $1,000 for works by emerging artists in young galleries’ stands to $3 million at Gallery Hyundai for a Dansaekhwa master, the fair targets the gamut of collectors and tastes. It’s a sign of a market that is steadily moving towards maturity—and a fair that is ready to capitalize on it.

—Kevin Jones

Explore Art Central 2015 on Artsy.