Art Basel buys Hong Kong fair
Dates in 2012 moved to February; deal impacts Art Stage Singapore
By Melanie Gerlis and Alexandra Seno. Web only
Published online: 06 May 2011
LONDON/HONG KONG. MCH Group, the owners of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, today confirmed that it has bought a 60% stake in Asian Art Fairs, the owner of the Hong Kong fair ArtHK (which opens its fourth edition in three weeks on 26 May), for an undisclosed price. Rumours of a collaboration have been circulating since February, as initially reported by our editor-at-large Georgina Adam in the Financial Times.
The 2012 fair will move from its May slot to 2-5 February, fitting in better with the group's other events (Art Basel this year is 15-19 June, less than three weeks after the Hong Kong fair; Art Basel Miami Beach is in early December).
ArtHK director Magnus Renfrew remains in his post for the 2012 edition and said: “It will be business as usual. There is a lot to discuss, like structure under the new owners, but we will do that in the summer.” His current priority is the 2011 event, he said. The fair's name will remain the same for 2012.
For their part, the Art Basel directors were impressed by “what ArtHK had become in a very short time,” said co-director Annette Schönholzer. In response to questions about why they hadn't opened up solo in Hong Kong, as they did in Miami in 2002, she added: “We know what it takes to launch an art fair. It took us about four years to get Miami started.”
The Hong Kong fair has rapidly developed a roster of galleries that are familiar to those on the major art fair circuit. However, Art Basel co-director Marc Spiegler was keen to reiterate that all three of the MCH Group art fairs will retain their local flavour. “We have no desire to do the same show three times a year. There will be certain qualities that are the same but the shows will naturally reflect their environment. We don't want ‘Groundhog Day’,” he said, referring to the 1993 Bill Murray film in which the same day is repeated over and over again. Renfrew agrees: “In the past, there has been art fair fatigue, with the same galleries showing the same art. In Hong Kong, we want to create a fair that shows the different cultural influences. Geographic diversity has been one of our core values from the outset.”
Dealers are hoping this remains the case. Isa Lorenzo, director of Philippines gallery Silverlens which exhibits at ArtHK, said: “As an Asian exhibitor, I hope it means they will give more floor space to Asian galleries. This is our main fair.” The London and Hong Kong dealer Ben Brown, said: “I hope that with all the efficiency of Swiss management, the new fair retains both its excellent director Magnus as well as its distinctly Asian flavour.”
ArtHK's new slot in February will be only a few weeks after Art Stage Singapore (12-15 January 2012). It was launched this year by Lorenzo Rudolf, who directed Art Basel from 1991 to 2000: the proximity of dates may force visitors and exhibitors to choose between the two. “We were thinking of joining Art Stage Singapore next year, but with this news that ArtHK will now be just two weeks later, it might not make sense to be in Singapore because everyone will fly to Hong Kong anyway,” said Lorenzo.
Rudolf feels this move by Art Basel does “attack [Art Stage] Singapore in an unfriendly way”, but said it was a “logical” decision for the Swiss fair's own survival: “They needed to move Hong Kong away from so close to them in May, otherwise they'd be shooting themselves in the foot.” He said that he doesn't want to make any snap decision about moving his own fair's dates and was pleased to note that the acquisition of ArtHK shows that “the market is shifting in an incredibly strong way towards Asia”.
Asian Art Fairs is co-owned by three individuals, led by the entrepreneur Tim Etchells, and the proportional ownership currently remains the same, according to Renfrew. As part of the deal, MCH Group has an option to buy the remaining 40% of Asian Art Fairs by 2014.
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