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From long-lost portrait by Gustav Klimt to a painting by the ‘Persian Picasso’: our pick of the April sales
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As the 11th edition of Art Basel Hong Kong opened its doors earlier this week, a steady stream of eager collectors descended on the fair, which this year includes 242 galleries from 40 countries and territories. In the queue waiting to enter were two young Asian collectors including Youngho Kuk, a fashion designer from South Korea, who told The Art Newspaper that, armed with a budget of between $30,000 and $70,000, he was keen to buy some “art installations”.

Other young Asian art buyers were also lining up for the VIP preview, including Ruby Huang, a Hong Kong collector who works in finance. Huang was eyeing up a work by the Cuban painter Michel Pérez Pollo, available with Mai 36 Galerie, adding that she has a “good relationship with many galleries at Art Basel Hong Kong”.

These younger collectors reflect a growing market trend in Asia. According to the eighth annual Global Art Market Report, published by UBS/Art Basel earlier this month, “significant numbers of new, young and ambitious collectors are entering the market, particularly in China, with events like art fairs forming a pipeline of business for dealers and gallerists”.

Dinh Q. Lê’s print The Two Widows (2024), featuring Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, sold for €65,000 at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery

This influx of new collectors is bolstering the Asian scene, with China—including mainland China and Hong Kong—unseating the UK as the second-largest art market (19%

compared with 17%) even amid an overall economic slowdown. “Activity surged as post-lockdown buyers snapped up backlogged auction inventories and as Hong Kong’s major fairs and exhibitions returned to full-scale programming. Sales in China increased by an astonishing 9% to an estimated $12.2bn for the year,” noted the report, which is authored by Clare McAndrew.

The Hong Kong- and Shanghai-based gallerist Pearl Lam tells The Art Newspaper: “Buying art is so fashionable in China now. Once everyone here played golf; now they buy art. We have to transform this fashion into a passion [for such collectors]. It is true that the younger crowd of collectors in China has more disposable income, which means they could also influence what their parents buy.” The gallery sold several paintings by artists including Maggi Hambling, Jana Benitez and Antony Micallef, with prices ranging from $25,000 to $180,000.

Other galleries are also hoping to connect with new buyers. YveYANG gallery from New York is showing a series of works by the Brooklyn-based artist Huidi Xiang, all of which are priced at under $10,000. “We are looking forward to reuniting with our existing clients from Asia, as we have been active and participated in major art fairs in the region for the past seven years,” a gallery spokesperson says. “We also hope to connect with new collectors seeking younger and distinctive artists, and welcome emerging collectors who resonate with Millennial artists like Huidi, whose works speak to contemporary values that are so relevant to current society.”

New York’s YveYANG gallery, which is showing works by the Brooklyn-based artist Huidi Xiang that are priced below $10,000, is hoping to attract new collectors

Meanwhile, Joan Zhang, a Shanghai collector and the founder of the ASE Foundation, also stressed that Art Basel Hong Kong is an essential stop on the fair calendar. “I go to Art Basel [in June] but can find younger artists here,” she says.

China’s collectors born after 1980 are largely buying works priced between US$50,000 and $1m, and “without particular attention to the age, nationality or background of the artist,” says Shana Wu, an art adviser who researches the Chinese art market. “They are also very open to all mediums and formats—installations as much as sculpture and two-dimensional works.”

These young Chinese collectors often work in finance and technology, compared with previous generations whose professions centred more on real estate and medicine, Wu says, adding: “Some of these young collectors are also opening private museums, but at a more ‘economical’ scale.”

Participating dealers are keen to point out that the fair is a key gateway to the wider Asian market. “Art Basel is a great brand. We come here as we know lots of Asian collectors; it’s a great way to tell them we’re here,” says Anne-Claudie Coric of Galerie Templon in Paris. “We bring works with lower price points than at Art Basel. Art fairs are not about making sales on the spot but building relationships and showing our programme.”

By the end of the VIP preview, Coric’s gallery had sold three works by the Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota (€80,000-€110,000), a work by the US artist Jules Olitski ($85,000) and two works by the Indian artist Jitish Kallat (€15,000-€45,000).

Speaking during the opening hours of the fair, several dealers said they were experiencing “moderate sales” but, given the tepid economic climate, they were still better than expected. “The market feels strong, feels vibrant, but people are being more selective and taking more time to make decisions,” said Mathieu Borysevicz, the founder of the Shanghai gallery BANK.

The real estate sector, which has long been a mainstay of the mainland Chinese economy, has been declining for the past three years, correcting earlier bubbles while also reflecting a demographic downturn and severe oversupply. China’s draconian zero-Covid policies further battered the domestic economy, which screeched almost to a halt in 2022. Last year’s rebound proved somewhat muted, growing by 3% in 2022, down from 8.4% in 2021, according to official statistics.

However, big-ticket sales were still being made at the fair by major blue-chip galleries such as Hauser & Wirth, which sold Mark Bradford’s mixed-media piece May the Lord be the first one in the car…and the last out (2023) for $3.5m and Ed Clark’s painting Homage to the Sands of Springtime (2009), which was acquired by a foundation in mainland China for $1.1m. The gallery’s sale of a Philip Guston work to a private collection in Asia for $8.5m (The Desire, 1978) also reflects broadening tastes in the region. A work by Willem de Kooning (Untitled III, 1986) also sold for an eye-watering $9m.

There is also clearly still an appetite for art by Yayoi Kusama; London’s Victoria Miro gallery sold three of the Japanese artist’s works for $11m in total including one of her famous Infinity Mirror Rooms (Where the Lights in My Heart Go, 2016) along with the piece Infinity-Nets OPXAA (2010).

Lehmann Maupin gallery reported a run of sales to Asian buyers, selling several works by the Korean artist Kim Yun Shin to different collectors in South Korea. “We’ve seen particularly strong demand for works by Asian artists in our programme, with strong sales of works by Kim Yun Shin, Do Ho Suh, Lee Bul and Mandy El-Sayegh. After all, China continues to be the second biggest art market in the world, and this week is an indication that it’s not slowing down any time soon,” says David Maupin, the gallery’s co-founder. Other gallery sales included Lee Bul’s Perdu CXCIV (2024, $190,000) and David Salle’s painting Tree of Life, Split (2024, $124,000).

Regional and local galleries also reported brisk early sales. Hong Kong’s 10 Chancery Lane Gallery sold a print by the Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê, The Two Widows (2024), depicting Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis alongside Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, Vietnam’s outspoken de facto first lady of the same period, for €65,000.

At Shanghai’s Linseed Gallery, a fair newcomer, the British Singaporean artist Kara Chin’s central miniature depicting a post-apocalyptic cinema sold to a Chinese institution for $20,000. Prices for the series, which also includes a number of ceramic tile works, range from $4,000 to $25,000.

Katie de Tilly, the director of 10 Chancery Lane, says: “I am confident that Hong Kong will bounce back with robustness as it has done in the past. It attracts regional and international settlers in so many sectors, and I believe that will continue as markets improve.”

UPDATE (29 March): Other notable sales made at Art Basel Hong Kong include Lynne Drexler’s painting Plumed Bloom (1967, $1.2m, and Christine Ay Tjoe’s work 3->2 #05 (2010), $750,000, both at White Cube; at Marianne Boesky gallery, the work If we carry on we will fall (2024) by Michaela Yearwood-Dan sold for $250,000.

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