Art as a Force For Good
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With a multitude of art events scheduled throughout Hong Kong for this year’s Art Week, the international art world naturally flocked to one of Asia’s major cities. Anchored by Art Basel’s 5th annual edition, drawing in more than 70,000 guests, the core focus was on Contemporary Art. Accounting for 73% of Fine Art auction sales, alongside Post-War Art (as indicated by Clare McAndrew in her latest Art Market Report), the 2nd consecutive year of South Island Art Day welcomed discussions of strength beyond figures.
As Asia’s only art business conference organiser, Art World Forum proudly hosted its 2nd annual Hong Kong edition in association with the South Island Cultural District. Welcoming an estimated 60 international guests from around the world including France, Switzerland, Singapore, UK and the greater Asian region, the half-day agenda welcomed guests from M+, First Names, CITCO and more.
The theme “The New Art World Dynasty” sought to explore new working relationships within the art market and address ways in which new initiatives are strengthening the cultural landscape. Coupled with the obvious questions of how, when, where and what it is to experience art, the day’s discussions welcomed corporate, auction, gallery and non-profit professionals alongside collectors and artists.
“Art as a force for good” was announced as a contextual welcome note by Veronica Neo, Co-Founder and Director of Art World Forum. “Art has been known as a commercially driven, top priority sector. We’re in a pivotal point in a shifting paradigm where it is more important for us to look at the dynamics between art and business and its related sectors. The art world is used to categories and fitting perspectives into the norm. But art as it should be should not be questioned but be welcomed.”
With an improvised keynote address by James Tong, collector, social activist and senior banker in Hong Kong, art was defined by three prominent values – commercial value, artistic value, and intrinsic value.
Identifying the latter as the core strength of any given work, the essence lay in being able to align a cause or message with the appropriate audience. Acknowledged for operating in a rather academic manner and undoubtedly paired with criticism, the art industry was summarised by “Art today is simply keeping up with appearances and with that comes the value.”
“I’ve always thought art was about inclusivity because the more it happens, the more you see the value. The more exclusivity you promote, the more likely you are to miss out on opportunities of growth and the unknown.”
Despite the multi-figure sales happening in Central, the local art scene was defined by its challenges. With new and organic initiatives such as the South Island Cultural District, currently in its 5th year of operating as a non-profit organisation, the challenge lies in strengthening audience involvement and gaining sponsor support. Overall, “there is an understanding of the activities but not of the greater ambition yet,” mentioned Dominique Perregaux, Chairman of the South Island Cultural District and Founder of Art Statements Gallery.
With an art culture that is still under development and this year already witnessing the launch of new projects including H Queens, Asia was unanimously seen as a hub for making use of industry seniority and experience to cultivate competitiveness.
“In Beijing, culture drives business whereas in Hong Kong business drives culture,” quoted Willem Molesworth, Director of de Sarthe. “It takes time.”
Dictated by the price of rent, and referring to the phrase “you’re working for the landlord”, Molesworth continued to share that Hong Kong has no major museum at the moment and gallery hopping is not customary. “Instead, the city comes to life for this one week every year which is why it is so intense. It is the one time to see some art. It’s good for the fair but not good for the public as there isn’t much you can take away from a fair in an impactful way.”
With art entering the mainstream circles within lifestyle reforms, discussions seemed to congregate towards the common theme of ‘democratisation of art for a greater cause’. With multiple assets in the art world, including the people who collect it, the focus turned to selection habits.
As a risky investment to be committed to, our collectors saw the value in other ways – cultural investment and identity. Using art as a foundation to educate audiences, as well as stigmatise memories and sense of place, the essence lay in improving corporate culture, making a memorable impact and evolving with time.
Welcoming representation as a distinguished speaker from one of the world’s most renowned hotel groups, the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, solidarity rose from its predominantly Asian corporate art collection. Modifying their spaces to accommodate for signature works, and operating within regional restrictions including hefty Chinese importation and exportation taxes, transportation specificities, customised casings impermeable to UV rays, water and ventilation requirements, the works are translated into an experience and process.
To protect their works, selected pieces are equipped with a highly sensitive security alarm which tracks visitor’s faces shared Winnie Ip, Design Manager of the Hotel group who has supervised and been actively involved in numerous projects around the world.
Similar tech-driven measures have been adopted by other collectors to make their works stand out including the dslCollection. Immersing the collection in a virtual museum, the works are transportable and appropriately represented in any setting around the world.
“The physical experience is incredibly important and it will never be replaced – purely because it was created by a human. We have more and more technologies that are evolving and developing faster than ever so in this 4th industrial revolution the key is to stay human,” shared Karen Levy.
Referring to digital tools and their benefits, social media inevitably was addressed. With so much information at hand, and its impact recognised across generations, the importance lies in “sharing with other collectors and challenging the art.”
With an ever-growing list of collaborations including LACMA with the Yuz Musuem, geographies and cross-cultural dynamics seem to be gaining more and more prominence. The key element is staying informed.
With respect to the local presence and referring to Hong Kong as a gateway to China (and its buyers accounting for 10% of art buying power according to this year’s art market report), there is greater cultural potential than mere trading power. In the words of James Tong, “We have the wealth in Hong Kong. Don’t just buy stocks and property. Buy art.”