Art madness descends on Hong Kong

ASIA'S biggest art fair Art Basel Hong Kong opened on Friday to its VIP clients only, and the tills were steadily ringing till closing time.

International gallery Pace reported brisk sales of Yoshitomo Nara's works. Another New York gallery Sean Kelly sold two works by Chinese artist Sun Xun for more than US$130,000 each. And Skarstedt, also a New York-based gallery, sold a George Condo painting for US$550,000 and a David Salle painting for US$250,000.

Now in its third year, Art Basel Hong Kong boasts approximately US$3billion worth of art and draws more than 65,000 visitors to each edition. In fact, it has so successfully lured wealthy international visitors to Hong Kong that a new art fair called Art Central has sprung up at the Central Harbourfront under a 10,000sqm tent.

Art Central, however, is no budget satellite fair. It boasts respected galleries like New York's Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Manila's Finale Art File and Beijing's Red Gate Gallery. With sales reported to be also brisk at Art Central, it seems there's enough room for the two fairs to co-exist. Art Basel director Marc Spiegler says that if the satellite fair succeeds, it is a "reflection of what we (at Art Basel) build here."

Art Basel Hong Kong has 233 top galleries from 37 countries. The Singapore galleries include STPI, Yavuz and Gajah Gallery. The work of veteran Singapore artist Zai Kuning is featured in the fair's Encounters section, reserved for 20 large-scale works. His 9metre-long rattan boat evokes the houseboats of the Orang Laut ("sea gypsies"), a vanishing minority of Malays who live off the sea. He has shown a similar work at Ota Fine Arts, Lasalle College of the Arts and the Esplanade.

Several Hong Kong celebrities, include Louis Koo, Sandra Ng and Edison Chen, were spotted browsing art among the well-heeled crowd. Meanwhile, celebrated artists such as Takashi Murakami, Alex Prager, Yoshitomo Nara and Zeng Fanzhi attracted their own share of swooning fans.

This year, Art Basel Hong Kong is headed by the newly-appointed Adeline Ooi, who takes over from the fair's popular predecessor Magnus Renfrew. Ooi is a Malaysia-born art veteran who has close ties with collectors across Asia and has curated important shows in the region. She was Art Basel Southeast Asia's VIP relations manager for two years before being appointed its Asia director.

*Art Basel Hong Kong opens to the general public on Sunday, March 15, at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre in Wanchai, Hong Kong. It runs till Tuesday, March 17.

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