The line to get into H Queen’s, the new art building where galleries like Pace, David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth have opened their spaces goes around the block. It’s Monday March 26, the eve of the fair’s inauguration and the city breathes art everywhere. Collectors, artists, gallerists, other professionals in the industry and art lovers meet in Hong Kong this week to attend Art Basel, the fair that with its editions here, Basel and Miami sets the rhythm of the international art market calendar. Amidst this cultural and commercial exchange, we find a seed of Spanish and Latin-American presence that has been consolidating in the region for years.
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China was in 2017 the second art market globally in value, after the US and before the UK, according to the latest The Art Market report by economist Dr. Claire McAndrew.
“Galleries use Hong Kong as a platform to enter not only China but also the rest of Asia”, says Adriana Álvarez-Nichol. The Mexican founded Puerta Roja, the only gallery in Asia dedicated to presenting exclusively artists from Spain and Latin-America, in August 2010 when there were only ten or fifteen galleries in Hong Kong, a market that had been traditionally dominated by auction houses. Two years later she founded with another five galleries the Hong Kong Gallery Association of which she is today Co-President and that counts more than 50 members. “The key to success resides in taking the time to understand the market, know the collectors and present artists that have a discourse and program that is relevant in the region”. It’s a long-term commitment. Adriana participates in Art Central, the satellite fair that this year in its fourth edition counts 102 galleries from around the world, presenting a group of artists, among them the Spanish Cristina Moroño (Madrid, 1973), who has been living in Hong Kong for the last three years. Cristina’s work is a constant experimentation through different techniques like photography, printmaking, painting or the production of her own paper, a process to which she always returns in her work, centered in the passing of time and the ephemeral nature of our lives.
A similar experience has been that of Chilean Isabel Croxatto, who founded her eponymous gallery in Santiago in 2012 and has participated in Art Central since its first edition. After a 35 years career as a choreographer that brought her to Asia in numerous occasions Isabel knew very well that cultural and language differences were not a barrier to understanding art. She does not position herself as a Chilean gallery, but as an international one that brings a vision from the South of the world. This year she brought with her a group of collectors that are discovering Asia for the first time. The dedication and commitment she has shown to the Asian market have been rewarded and artists she represents have already entered important collections in the region, like Juana Gómez (Santiago, 1979) from whom last year The Private Museum of Singapur acquired a work. The experience of the past four years and the feedback from collectors leaves her no doubt that she will continue to come. For this edition she brought works by Juana Gómez, Francisco Uzabeaga (Santiago, 1978) and Andrea Wolf (Santiago, 1979). Andrea, based in New York, presents with Brazilian Karolina Ziulkoski Future, Past News (2016), an augmented reality installation that references the similarities between the political situation previous to WWII and current events. The work has been exhibited in New York at the New Museum, the Spring/Break Art Show in 2017 and the Smack Mellon. The connection with the Asian audience has been immediate. For Andrea the fact that the installation provides a traditional setting makes people feel connected to it and there has been a very fluid exchange of ideas.
The day after Art Central begins it’s the turn for Art Basel to open its doors. The fair, this year in its sixth edition has 195 exhibitors in the main gallery sector, among them the Mexicans Kurimanzutto, with a solo exhibition by Gabriel Orozco (Mexico City, 1962) and OMR with artists like José Dávila (Guadalajara, Mexico, 1974) and Jorge Méndez Blake (Guadalajara, México, 1974) among others. Latin-American artists that reside in and out of their countries are also represented in the fair by international galleries.
The Encounters section presents 12 projects at institutional scale, among them Untitled (2009, 2017) by Mexico resident Cuban artist Jorge Pardo (Havana, 1963), with Berlin gallery neugerriemschneider. Untitled is a project with objects that bring together architecture, design and sculpture, inspired by medieval manuscripts. New York gallery Paul Kasmin, which represents New York based Chilean artist Iván Navarro (Santiago, 1972), brings in the same section a led lights, drums and mirrors installation titled Compression (2018), that transforms the surface of the earth in a cube making it flat and defying the notion that globalization provides an equal playing field and that are all things are similar. In the section Insights Parisian gallery Mor Charpentier, which represents a large roster of Spanish and Latin-American artists, presents a sculpture and photography installation by Colombian Carlos Motta (Bogotá, 1978).
Madrid based gallery Sabrina Amrani, founded in 2011 with an international program that has a strong focus in North Africa and the Middle East, is very familiar with the Asian market and debuts this year in the main section of the fair. For Sabrina, who was the only gallery in the country with a non-Spanish or Latin-American program when she opened, Asia is a much more natural market than for example Miami, the most important hub for galleries who work with artists from that continent. She has participated in fairs in Japan, Singapore and India and in this occasion in Hong Kong she presents a solo show by Egyptian-Armenian artist Chant Avedissian (Cairo, 1951), whose work revolves around the reconstruction of Egyptian identity, battling western influences. The interest from the local audience, some of whom already have works by the artist in their collections, is very strong. “They are very visually appealing works and the public feels immediately drawn to them”. Sabrina, like Isabel, has brought a group of collectors to Hong Kong with her.
But the strong interest in Asia and its market potential is not only one way, Asia looks to Latin-America as well. Gallería Continua, established in San Giminiano in 1990 and one of the first foreign galleries to start operations in Beijing at a time of strong cultural opening in 2004, has one of the most solid trajectories in the country representing artists such as Ai Weiwei (Beijing, 1957), Subdoh Gupta (Khagaul, 1964) or Antony Gormley (London, 1950). In 2014 they opened in Havana. Mario Cristiani, one of the founders, tells us how the non-for-profit space is a cultural exchange platform that has positioned itself strategically at the moment in which Cuba is starting to go through the political, social and cultural changes that will radically and inevitably transform her, in a similar way to what was happening in Beijing when they opened. The Cuban space has just finished an exhibition by Chinese artist Chen Zhen (1955-2000) and is planning a group show of young Cuban artists in Beijing during 2019.
In a context of international art fairs saturation Art Basel, the most important brand in the commercial art world, is diversifying its activities and launched in 2017 its Art Basel Cities initiative in Buenos Aires. Diego Radivoy, General Director of Cultural and Creative Development of the city, closed the collaboration agreement for this project which will be the only one in Latin-America.
For four days last November Art Basel and Buenos Aires hosted a high-end cultural program with talks, workshops and music among others with the participation of international personalities like Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London or Jean de Loisy, President of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. But those four days where only the tip of the iceberg, because the collaboration, initially established for three years, has an activities program oriented to bringing the best practices of the world in the industry all year round. As such, the Exchange Bureau for example proposes, with the help of Art Basel’s network, industry residencies for local professionals who can work abroad for a period of time in an organization and come back to Buenos Aires with an added value that translates in long term benefit for the city and its art market. The second edition of Art Basel Cities, which will take place in September 2018, will receive the visit of an important group of Asian collectors. For Diego the potential for the local art market is very important because the work of emerging artists from the region has not yet reached global prices and it is a very attractive time to start collecting, the same way more than a decade ago Argentinian collectors started to acquire work by Asian emerging artists. Diego travels regularly to China in the frame of other collaboration projects between the two countries and finds that the similarities between the South-American and Chinese cultures make them perfectly understand each other.
The characteristics of today’s global world are not an exception in the art market. The ability to travel and communicate and the access to information, enhanced by new technologies, have tightened the network between artists, collectors and intermediaries across all geographical locations. Asia, Spain and Latin-America, regions that have a long history of cultural exchange, are living today the strengthening of the relationship between their contemporary art markets.
Art Basel was open to the public from March 29th to 31st and Art Central from March 27th to April 1st.