Hong Kong is no slouch when it comes to the buying and selling of art. Given its famously friendly import-export laws, which impose no duty on goods brought in or out of Hong Kong, buying art here is a tantalisingly affordable prospect.
With Hong Kong now arguably one of the world’s top three art hubs, it’s little wonder that the Korea-based organisers of the Asia Top Gallery Hotel Art Fair have chosen the “special administrative region” as the venue for the fifth edition of their show, which opens today.
This is not your average marquee market fair, though, and the “hotel” in the fair name is a reference to the fact that it uniquely takes place in the high-end suites of the Mandarin Oriental.
With 72 galleries participating, including 10 from Hong Kong, the fair will present works from established artists like Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst, as well as leading Asian contemporary artists such as Kusama Yayoi, Lee Lee Nam, Bae Jun-sung and Tadao Ando. The aim, says Hwang Dal-seung, co-founder and chairman of the fair operations committee, is to present works in a natural setting with each gallery taking a suite to display their artists’ work as they see fit.
It’s not just for the comfort of the visitors though – it’s a unique business model intended to maximise sales. By placing objects in hotel rooms, buyers are afforded a chance to see how the pieces would look in their own homes, including novel use of the hotel suites’ bathroom space.
“Traditionally, galleries have been known as white cubes,” says Hwang. “Presenting artwork in a hotel room brings it closer to [the buyers'] real life.”
The organisers’ choice of venue also cashes in on the Mandarin Oriental’s history of facilitating exhibitions and lifestyle-related events, with Christie’s, wine auctioneers Zachys and estate agent group Savills all holding events here in the past.
“The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong is one of the most elegant hotels in Hong Kong,” Hwang says. “It is well-aligned with the concept of ‘top gallery, top hotel and top customer’.”
The fair also features several special exhibitions, including a Chinese calligraphy show by renowned Sinologist – and one of Hong Kong’s native artists – Jao Tsung-I. Kozo Hishino, meanwhile, delves into the boundary between art and architecture with his large-scale kinetic sculptures in titanium, stainless steel and aluminium. And the young emerging Chinese artist Wang Zi-won’s dream of a world where humans and cyborgs can get along is represented in his Mechanical Nirvana sculpture exhibit.
“AHAF HK 2011 offers viewers a new, unconventional platform to interact with works of art,” Hwang says. “Through the fair, we aim to bolster the Asian art market, promote cooperation among galleries throughout Asia and foster emerging artists from the Asia region.”