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Hong Kong Art Fair aims for more than sales

Director says expectations high for gallery exchange programs and curated Art HK projects

The art industry can no longer be discussed without mentioning Hong Kong Art Fair. Also known as Art HK, the fair, inaugurated only in 2008, has rapidly grown into one of the most influential art events not just in Asia, but the world. 

Last year 260 galleries from 38 countries participated in the fair, introducing more than 1,000 artists. It attracted more than 63,500 visitors, a 38 percent increase from the previous year.

¡¡ This year, 266 galleries from 39 countries ― chosen from among some 630 applicants ― will attend the fair being held May 17-20 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. The participants list is star-studded as usual, including prestigious galleries such as White Cube, Gagosian Gallery and James Cohan Gallery. From Korea, 11 galleries including CAIS Gallery, Gana Art, Hakgojae and Gallery Hyundai will be present.

Magnus Renfrew, director of the fair, finds many reasons for the success so far including great organizers, Hong Kong’s tax-free policies, and especially the location in the heart of Asia.

“It (Hong Kong) also has a shared history with the West, and is a place where people both from the East and the West feel equally at home,” Renfrew told The Korea Herald.
Magnus Renfrew, director of the Hong Kong Art Fair, speaks to The Korea Herald on Wednesday in Seoul. Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald
Magnus Renfrew, director of the Hong Kong Art Fair, speaks to The Korea Herald on Wednesday in Seoul. Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald
The whole point of Art HK, after all, was to create something different, something that reflects reality ― which is that Asia can no longer be neglected.

“In most art fairs, Western galleries take up 80 to 90 percent. We try to maintain a balance of 50-50 (Western galleries-Asian galleries),” said Renfrew, though he added that in this case “Asia” is a broad definition, including countries as far apart as Turkey and Australia.

The Swiss exhibitions group MCH, organizers of Art Basel, bought the majority stake ― 60 percent ― of Asian Art Fairs Ltd, owner of Art HK, in July last year. It is a fascinating thing, said Renfrew.

“Art Basel is without doubt the leading art fair in the world. It is really going to help develop the audience from outside of Asia to attending the fair. We are expecting greater attendance from the U.S. and Europe. It will also be an interesting opportunity to globalize Asian art,” he said.

Refurbished, this year’s Art HK aims for something more than simply remarkable sales. It appointed Japanese curator Yuko Hasegawa as the first-ever curator for the ART HK Projects, a side program of the fair. Hasegawa will direct the display of ten large installation works, which will serve as landmarks for visitors during the fair as well as give new artistic inspiration.

“Art fair is a commercial event, but the best art fairs can also be of cultural significance,” said Renfrew.

Another interesting program to be introduced this year is an exhibition network initiative through which ART HK will link participating galleries from the West with the East and help them communicate and work with each other in the future. The program is already receiving a great response.

Art HK also hosted seminars in Miami, Florida last December to help Western galleries do business in Asia and learn about cultural differences.

“Once, an Asian buyer requested an ambitious discount, and the Western gallery got upset. We hope to educate the audience’s cultural differences, explaining what is possible and not possible, and to respond in a possible way rather than getting upset,” explained Renfrew.

Mentioning how he was struck after seeing the applications for this year, Renfrew promised the best quality fair ever, and affirmed it would mark strong sales.

“In the medium term, it will become Art Basel Hong Kong, so it will be a leading art fair. There is no doubt that the Earth is tipping this way (toward Asia) in all parts of the world, and equally in the art world,” he said. 

By Park Min-young  (
Korea Herald Youtube