The Influential Trio Of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, And Guangzhou Roar To Life For Events Like The Guangzhou Triennial
Art collectors and lovers are looking to Hong Kong to become Greater China’s devoted art epicenter. The region’s already-enacted duty law reforms, smooth business culture, and unique blend of Asian and Western culture have made it, and continue to make it, the world’s meeting ground. In the arts, this is no exception. Taking place in the heart of China’s wealth factory, the Pearl River Delta of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou — where the Mainland’s first experiments with capitalism took place in the late 1970s — annual events like the Guangzhou Biennial and the upcoming Hong Kong Art Fair (ART HK 09) are big draws for China’s emerging art consumer, the wealthy, investment-savvy “New Chinese Collector.”
As the Financial Times writes about the three vibrant, culture-rich cities that make up the Pearl River Delta’s economic powerhouse, these cities are no longer content with simply being the economic factory of China. They want to be the cultural epicenter as well:
Unesco has recently designated Shenzhen, China’s wealthiest city, as one of the world’s 16 “Creative Cities”; and Hong Kong has raised its cultural game with various high-profile festivals and initiatives.
Last year, the Hong Kong government approved a HK$21.6bn (US$2.7bn) budget to develop 40 hectares of wasteland at West Kowloon as a cultural district, including a museum, exhibition space and performing arts venues. If the powers that be get it right, the project has the potential to place Hong Kong firmly on the global art market.
Another significant development of last year was the staging of the first truly international modern and contemporary art fair in Hong Kong, ART HK 08. This unexpectedly polished affair attracted some 20,000 visitors and grossed $20m in sales. Most importantly, it has proved a catalyst for a critical mass of auctions, gallery shows and debate that has sprung up around this year’s event. Six of the region’s auction-houses – from Japan, Singapore, Seoul and Taipei – are staging sales to coincide with the fair, some in Hong Kong for the first time.
While last year’s fair seemed very much a Hong Kong rather than a Chinese event, this year that emphasis is set to change. “We wanted to raise awareness of the fair on the mainland and target that market,” explains director Magnus Renfrew. “We have done this through media partnerships and working with private collectors and institutions.” More mainland galleries are also taking a bow, including international players such as Galleria Continua, Galerie Urs Meile, Boers-Li Gallery and ShanghART.
It is not so much the still relatively few contemporary art collectors that are drawing dealers from east and west but the latent potential in the whole region’s still growing wealth. The Asia-Pacific region is home to around 20 per cent of the world’s high net worth individuals, and the numbers of its middle class are rising fast. This middle income group is expected to include at least 600m people in China alone by 2020. It has already brought a striking increase in demand for cultural experiences and art and design objects.
The government has expressed its desire to encourage this cultural economy and stimulate creativity, not least to further its stated ambition to turn itself into an innovation-orientated country by 2020. Made in China is to be supplanted by Created in China. According to Magnus Renfrew: “Asia will be playing a much more important role in all our lives. The art trade has recognised this and is taking a long-term view, but developing a strong contemporary art market here will take time and education.”
All eyes, in the East and the West, will be on this biennial. As the region’s clout in the arts continues to grow — and Hong Kong’s already-mature market continues to flourish — it looks like the Beijings and Shanghais of China had better watch out. Their time as the art capitals of the country may be limited.