Hong Kong Hypes Basel Fair

HONG KONG -- Celebrities, billionaires and art moguls have descended this weekend on Hong Kong, lured by the chance to buy works by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Asia’s biggest art fair.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are visiting Asia's top art fair this weekend.

Art Basel Hong Kong, an edition of the fair that started in Switzerland, is selling as much as $3 billion worth of art displayed by 233 galleries from 37 countries, according to insurer AXA Art.

The Hong Kong version has become a major stop on the global art fair circuit of one-stop shopping malls for the mega-wealthy seeking to diversify their stock portfolios with paintings and sculptures by brand names and hot young artists.

First night sales on Friday, in a truncated VIP preview that lasted only three hours because the fair format was revamped from previous years, indicated that the economic slowdown in China hasn’t dampened sales.

It’s common for galleries to pre-sell works to preferred clients ahead of fairs, and dealers expected a flurry of purchases when the doors opened to select guests Friday at 6 p.m.

Art Basel anchors what is informally called art week in Hong Kong, a time when luxury goods companies, private banks and Michelin-starred restaurants are pulling out the stops in their pursuit of the vast amount of wealth pouring into the city as art and commerce converge in Hong Kong.

Tate Modern director Nicholas Serota, Swiss collector and auctioneer Simon de Pury and New World Development Co. scion Adrian Cheng are among the expected fair visitors.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss and Robin Thicke have been invited to browse the booths since they’re in town for a charity benefit to raise money for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, on March 14. Actress Michelle Yeoh is being honored at the fundraiser.

Fair Rebranded

The fair, which began as Art HK in 2008, was rebranded Art Basel Hong Kong two years ago after the owners of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach took over.

Mainland collectors are on the prowl for trophy works to adorn the walls of their homes in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Sydney, or to fill private museums in China.

Billionaire Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei are in town for the handover of a 15th century Tibetan embroidered thangka they purchased at Christie’s Hong Kong for $45 million in November for their private museum in Shanghai.

Wang Zhongjun, chairman of Beijing-based film company Huayi Brothers International, keeps a Vincent van Gogh still life he bought for $62 million at Sotheby’s New York last fall in his Hong Kong pied-a-terre.

Market Lacks Depth, Experience

Asia has 492 billionaires, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2015, 53 of whom live in Hong Kong.

Still, dealers said the market lacks the depth and experience of the U.S. and Europe, where collectors have amassed works for decades.

China accounted for 22.4 percent of global sales in the art and antiques market, ranking it second behind the U.S., according to an annual report published March 11 by the European Fine Art Foundation. Yet that’s a decline from 24 percent in 2013, according to the report.

Expanded Offerings

While dealers are expanding their offerings of abstract and conceptual works, blue chip contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons have a captive audience in the region.

For $6.5 million, David Zwirner Gallery is offering the polychromed wood sculpture, shown above, of Buster Keaton as realized by Jeff Koons.

London’s Victoria Miro gallery is offering $2 million pumpkin sculptures by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and $225,000 tapestry works by Britain’s Grayson Perry.

Gajah Gallery is returning to the fair with Bali, Indonesia-based American painter Ashley Bickerton’s works, which provide a contemporary take on the fascination that 20th century painters had with Southeast Asian exoticism. The most expensive, “Party Time” is priced at $270,000.

Fair partner UBS Group AG said it expects several hundred high-net-worth private banking clients to fly in from around the region, and the bank expects as many as 8,000 visitors at its fair VIP lounge that displays works from its permanent collection including David Hockney, Hong Kong ink painter Wilson Hsieh and Wayne Thiebaud.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video offers an overview of Art Basel Hong Kong. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DflW4fThT_o&sns=em