Art Basel Hong Kong is trying to create the same buzz for Asia’s burgeoning collector scene as its parent fair, Art Basel, does in Europe. MAGNUS RENFREW, director of Asia for Art Basel, explains the challenges involved in a fluctuating Asian art market
Over the past six or seven years, the Asian art market has developed considerably. Historically, the market had been quite auction driven, particularly between 2006 and 2008 when there was a sudden big increase in interest for Chinese art. There had also been a lack of curatorial and critical frameworks, which the market had moved to replace. The perception was that an expensive work must be important, which is somewhat back to front.
However, in the last few years, things have changed. The turning point came after 2009 when the prices dropped for some of the artists that had been doing well at auctions. Those artists had adopted the attitude of “make hay while the sun shines” and worked with many different galleries, sometimes consigning works directly to auction.
Artists and collectors have grown to appreciate the importance of the gallery system and its role in promoting the practice of artists, not just selling objects. The galleries we are interested in build the career of the artist for the long term, not just to make a quick buck. They have an agency role to protect the interest of artists for the long term, ensuring there are not too many works going out into the market, that the quality of the work is consistent, try to help put their work in major institutions and institutional shows like biennales and finally try to sell the work to genuine collectors, not speculators.
I think that the art market is far more sophisticated now. It isn’t just about buying a big name artist, but the right period, the right subject matter and purchasing an artist that is growing in critical and curatorial stature. Asia is a very dynamic environment and it is an audience that learns extraordinarily quickly. There is a new generation of collectors who really want to collect from galleries and are passionate about collecting, rather than investing.