A crowd of people jostle for a closer look at the naked woman crouching on her knees. Phones held aloft, the group shamelessly take pictures of her bare back and bottom — safe in the knowledge she won’t be waking up anytime soon.
The remarkably life-like nude sculpture, created by Australian artist Sam Jinks, was by far the most photographed work at this year’s Art Basel in Hong Kong, a three-day art fair that has attracted tens of thousands of visitors since it first launched nearly three years ago.
A powerhouse brand in the art fair industry, Art Basel bought-out the homegrown Hong Kong International Art Fair in 2011, and quickly cemented the city’s position in the multi-billion dollar global art market.
This year’s fair brought together 233 galleries from 37 countries and territories. Half of the galleries are from the Asian region, including Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” is how Art Basel in Hong Kong director, Asia Adeline Ooi, describes the blockbuster show.
“We have the best of Asia and the best of the rest of the world in the room.”
Just across from Jink’s hyper-real nude model is Japanese art superstar Takashi Murakami’s Kaikai KiKi booth, filled with statement works from the anime-inspired Superflat movement.
Along with the hugely popular nude model, Jinks also created this sculpture from silicone, resin and human hair.
Nearby is the booth for Hong Kong-based French dealer, Edouard Malingue, who shows established European names such as Laurent Grasso, alongside local up-and-comers — most notably João Vasco Paiva, who displayed a nearly six-meter-tall sculpture resembling Styrofoam boxes typically found on the streets of Hong Kong.
The emphasis on regional representation is what makes the fair stand out from its two counterparts, Art Basel in Basel, and Art Basel in Miami, and from the 180 other major international art fairs that take place throughout the year.
While people from all walks of life come to ogle the art, and flocks of excitable school children are herded through, nattily dressed gallerists are quietly sealing million-dollar deals. A Chris Ofili painting titled “Dead Monkey – Sex, Money and Drugs,” was sold for $2 million at David Zwirner’s booth within the first hour of the fair’s VIP preview on March 13.
Art Basel in Hong Kong moved from its original May dates to March 15-17 this year, coinciding with the Hong Kong Arts Festival and the International Film Festival. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has dubbed March the “Hong Kong Arts Month.”
Art fervor has spilled beyond the art sector and even the city’s shopping malls are filled with grand installations to coincide with the fair. It is also the first year of satellite art fair, Art Central, created by the same founders of the original Hong Kong International Art Fair and meant to complement Art Basel in Hong Kong.
Chinese artist, Xu Longshen’s painting, “Beholding the Mountain with Awe No.1,” was presented by Hanart TZ Gallery.
Collectors have been flooding into the city for the past week, including American actress Susan Sarandon, Swiss businessman Ulli Sigg, Britain’s Tate galleries director Nicholas Serota, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
“People are taking Hong Kong very seriously now. Some people say we’ve finally arrived,” says Ooi.
As Hong Kong matures as an art market hub and the hype over art fairs swell, more questions will be raised as to the future for local artists and the healthy growth of regional art producers.
Sales made at global art fairs accounted for 40% of all dealer sales in 2014, or an estimated $10 billion, the second largest sales channel after in-gallery transactions, according to the European Fine Art Foundation.
Briton Peter Liversidge’s artwork, “Always,” featured 447 light bulbs.
“In a week like this past week, the art world has its eye on Hong Kong and it’s great, but the real game change will be M+,” says Hong Kong-based art consultant Alex Errera referring to the museum of modern and contemporary art and visual culture that is currently being constructed at the West Kowloon Cultural District.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of having so many things happening in one week — everybody already knows that Hong Kong is a great place for business, it’s more important that the attraction to the region can be sustained.”