As the city gears up for several big-money art events at the end of March, we ask our experts if the momentum is here to stay – and what that means for local artists

 

Jeremy Kasler, CEO, Art Futures Group, which helps people invest in Chinese art;
Louis Nixon, Director, Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University

ILLUSTRATION: ANDREW DELOSO IMAGES: COURTESY OF ART BASEL

+852: When did Hong Kong’s commercial art industry kick off?

Jeremy Kasler (JK) There was a huge spike in the commercial art scene around 2011. Looking back to 2005, the two major art powerhouses were the UK and US. But with China’s burgeoning middle classes and rising number of billionaires, its art scene flourished as well. Now, Hong Kong is considered a major art hub, alongside the US and UK.

Louis Nixon (LN) I agree. Now people from all over want to move here to be in the industry – there is this tangible energy that extends beyond Hong Kong. As an artist, one of the things that drew me here is the increasing investment in the hardware. There’s the West Kowloon Cultural District, Art Basel, Tai Kwun… Hong Kong seems to be the centre of attention in the art world right now.

+852: Does the commercial market run the risk of saturation? 

JK No, I don’t believe so. As an investment broker for art, I take a bullish attitude to the market for obvious reasons. We’ve seen some world-class galleries open up in Hong Kong in the last year or so – and I believe there’s room for even more.

LN I’m an optimist, but there is a cyclical side to this. Thinking back, I was an artist in London in the ’90s, and most of my contemporaries eventually moved to Berlin because they could no longer afford to live and work as artists in London. What’s your view on how long the good times will last?

JK Like you say, it goes in cycles. We might see a little ebb and flow, but the overarching international trend is positive, as middle classes around the world grow and buy art. I think Hong Kong is perfectly positioned as a place where anyone in the world would be happy to do business, which is essential to its longevity.

+852: How much of the interest in Hong Kong extends to local artists?

JK Well, to be totally honest, Hong Kong art isn’t huge internationally. So much art gets traded here, but it’s not necessarily local art.

LN Our art students work across performance, installation, sculpture… I don’t know how the ecology in Hong Kong is going to support a generation of local artists. We’re lacking a sort of intermediary between art education and the high-end gallery world. In terms of Art Futures and the work that you’re selling, does it revolve around paintings?

JK We tend to focus on oil paintings that have had track records at well-
accredited auction houses. Sculptures, too. But the one area that will definitely be of interest in coming years in Hong Kong is photography.

+852: Do international events like Art Basel benefit local artists?

JK Definitely, no question. Even though 95% of the people involved will return home a week later, Hong Kong is all over the headlines as an international arts hub. That can only have a positive effect for those involved in the business locally. And as people look at the auction prices for imported talent, they will start to look at developing local artists.

LN It does trickle down. Art Basel has actually included the Academy of Visual Arts in the programme. They’re bringing people from the event to our gallery space, where we’ve curated a show of emerging Hong Kong artists. The organisers are definitely working to ensure that the success of Art Basel will have a long-term impact here.

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+852: Is the Hong Kong commercial art market sustainable? 

JK It’s one of the few places where both the mega-rich Western and Chinese communities are comfortable doing business. People trust Hong Kong as a safe place to buy art, where the provenance and authenticity are guaranteed. And I think that’s why it’s sustainable, because there’s trust.

LN Yes, but there’s work to do in terms of the appreciation of art at a public level – not just the high-level investments. There’s been anxiety around big projects like the West Kowloon Cultural District. Who are they for? Who’s going to go to them? Perhaps the model will be similar to London’s Central St Martins’, where an art school helps develop the ecology needed to sustain the art districts. But right now, it’s not clear.

+852: What’s missing in the Hong Kong art ecosystem? 

LN Artist-led spaces. There are spaces in London where artists curate other artists – they develop networks and relationships and generate excitement. Here, you have the high level of investment and an education system for emerging artists, but where do the artists have this kind of milieu with each other? That’s where you develop unpredictable but often highly successful results.

JK When we’re talking about art, we are also talking about the creative industries in general. It’s about finding some way to connect art, design, architecture, film, music… I think that will be what makes a healthy and exciting city.