November 18, 2019
Arts

Hong Kong art market profits despite protestors pain

A graphic of protesters on a wall in Hong Kong on 20 October as tension in the city escalated by inaction of the government response to the five demands of the protesters. James Lee/EYEPRESS/SIPA/Shutterstock

What should the art market make of the unrest in Hong Kong? The protests against Chinas government have gone on for much longer, and more intensely than expected. Events including a womens tennis tournament and, more recently, the Rolling Loud hip-hop festival have been cancelled while the citys retail, tourism and property sectors are feeling the pinch. Protests aside, Hong Kongs streets are, apparently, empty.

Yet Sothebys autumn series of auctions, which coincided with the provocative 70th anniversary of Communist rule in China, were a hit. Five works sold for more than HK$100m (US$12m), including Yoshitomo Naras Knife Behind Back (2000), which went for a staggering HK$195.7m (US$24.9m). Some auctions scored higher than the equivalent, protest-free sales of last year. Christies, meanwhile, has a major work by the Chinese-French artist Sanyu coming to Hong Kong in November with a low estimate of HK$250m (US$33m).

On the evidence so far, Hong Kong looks to retain its spot as the worlds second-largest auction centre (after New York) this year. If not immune to geopolitical unrest, then perhaps, as some are saying, art is a helpful refuge for money that is struggling to find its way into other assets just now. There is enough possibility in both conclusions for interested parties to cling to. Notably Art Basel, whose organisers were quick to point out in October that there had been four months of protest but there are a full five months before its Hong Kong edition opens in March.

It may also be wishful thinking. Auctions are not the same as art fairs—they are purely transactional, so buyers dont have to be present, and in fact increasingly bid and buy over the phone or online. Art fairs, in contrast, serve the precise purpose of bringing people into one place at one time, creating a hub from which other events can radiate. But they cost a lot to do and gallerists already have enough reasons to be half-hearted. The wait-and-see game cant last much longer. Dealers dont realistically have the luxury of five months to start shipping works and booking flights, those decisions will likely happen this side of CRead More – Source

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