Hong Kong: welcome to the epicentre for the arts trade

Mar 28, 2019

Spring is a time of plans and projects. Especially for art dealers, collectors and gallery owners who gather in Hong Kong every March for its two annual flagship art fairs, Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central Hong Kong, which form part of the city's great history of dealing in art and precious antiques dating back 100 years.

Strong public interest in arts, in addition to the city’s economic prosperity, has seen Hong Kong’s art market become the world’s third largest in less than a decade, snapping at the heels of New York and London. Yet, its great history of trading in artworks and precious antiques stretches back a century and is closely associated with Hollywood Road, in Central – one of the first roads built in the city as the British first stepped ashore in 1841. In the mid-20th century, the road became an internationally acclaimed hub for art and antiques trading for merchants and art lovers from East Asia and beyond.

Today the lively thoroughfare and its surrounding precinct, in both Sheung Wan and Central, continues to be the top destination for international galleries and arts-related ventures that wish to establish themselves in Asia. In 2017, Hong Kong was ranked amongst the 10 major art cities, according to a report by the Swiss bank UBS and Art Basel. The dynamic art scene that people enjoy in this part of Hong Kong today would be non-existent without the area’s deep-rooted heritage.

The city of choice

Since two of the world’s leading auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie’s, hosted their first Asian auctions in Hong Kong, in 1973 and 1986, respectively, the city has been the primary choice for trading in art. The introduction of the major annual art fairs, Art Basel, in 2013 and its satellite, Art Central, launched three years’ later, cemented the Hong Kong’s international profile as a centre for the art industry and a significant contributor to the city’s economy. Growing interest in all things to do with the arts and culture, and the exposure that the fairs have brought – and continue to bring – to international blue-chip and local galleries has helped to buoy the number of permanent art galleries in the city.

The Swiss-based Lévy Gorvy gallery, which opens in Central in March 2019, is just one of many notable independent galleries to have chosen to have Asian outposts in Hong Kong. Its arrival follows that of La Galerie, Massimo De Carlo, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian and White Cube. All of these galleries give art enthusiasts the opportunity to view and buy art all-year round. In addition to regular sales through established galleries, a number of notable sales have taken place at the city’s fairs and independent auctions in recent years.

Art Basel & Art Central

Exhibitors and buyers are attracted to Hong Kong’s advantageous tax laws, combined with the ease of dealing with the necessary legal and logistical requirements of transporting art offshore. It is no exaggeration to say that the annual presence of the prestigious Art Basel, and its first satellite fair, Art Central, have cemented Hong Kong place as Asia’s most important arts hub.

This year's Art Basel and Art Central in Hong Kong are expected to see more than 240 galleries and 100 galleries, respectively, taking part from over 35 countries – more than the total number of galleries expected to participate in this year's other key art trade events in the region.

Art Basel Hong Kong continues to attract art collectors, art lovers and the just plain curious in the tens of thousands – numbers that are not too far shy of those at last year’s much longer established Art Basel Miami, with 85,000 visitors, and Art Basel in Switzerland, with about 95,000 attendees.

Art Basel

While the art fairs draw over 75,000 visitors each year, the art scene has also helped to bolster visitor numbers to the city during what is widely considered “low season”. Arts tourists visiting the city towards the end of March now report having trouble securing accommodation in the city’s centre.

Locally, the public interest in the arts and culture has also increased. The annual number of cultural activities and exhibitions held in the city rises more than 25 per cent to more than 8,000 within five years. This extra exposure for artworks has also nurtured more local and regional collectors, in addition to those visiting the annual fairs from mainland China and other parts of Asia.

The evolving history of Hollywood Road

Hong Kong’s home-grown and street art was already well established in Hollywood Road, located in Hong Kong Island’s Western District, and the nearby areas of Sheung Wan and Central before the arrival of the art fairs and galleries. Here we look back on Hollywood Road’s past 100 years.

Click over the years to see more information

1920sUpper Lascar Row emerges 1970sCollectors emerge at the end of the Cultural Revolution 1980sAntique stores number 300 and rising 2012 & 2013The market on an up

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