Fairs Analysis Market China

Asian collectors reach for the play button

The new film section of the fair highlights the crossover between cinema and video art in the region

Appreciating Nam June Paik’s Reclining Buddha, 1994, at James Cohan Gallery

China, which is the world’s second largest film market after the US, has built thousands of cinemas in the past decade. Now, the worlds of film and Asian contemporary art are crossing over. The Beijing-based artist Ran Huang, whose installation Mute, 2014, was sold by Simon Lee Gallery (1D38) to a high-profile Asian collector for $30,000 by the second day of the fair, is among the contenders for a prize at the Cannes Film Festival this week. His film “The Administration of Glory” is a nominee for the Short Film Palme d’Or.

This year, Art Basel has added a film section to its Hong Kong edition. “There were more applications here than in the other cities,” says Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel, referring to Basel and Miami Beach. During this week’s fair, 49 works by 41 artists are being shown nearby, in the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s Agnès B cinema.

Most of the works are by emerging Asian artists, such as Sookoon Ang (Fost Gallery, 1C14), Kwan Sheung Chi (Gallery Exit, 1B20) and Youki Hirakawa (Standing Pine, 3D10). Older works include Talk Mr Bard, 1961, by the late British artist John Latham (Lisson Gallery, 1C01). Other international names include Tameka Norris (Lombard Freid Gallery, 1D41) and Roman Signer (Hauser & Wirth, 1D01).

Li Zhenhua, the Beijing- and Zurich-based artist and curator who organised the film section, says there is “a lot of crossover between art and film” in Asia. Zhang Yuan, for example, is a pioneering member of China’s “sixth generation” of film-makers; the Venice Film Festival award-winner had a solo show at Platform China in 2007, Li says. Asian artists are also straddling the worlds of art and cinema, just as Steve McQueen is doing in the West. For example, Wuershan, a rising star of Chinese film-making, trained as an artist.

Shift in attitudes

The market for video art in Asia is limited. Li says: “It’s hard to change the minds of people who think of art as an object-based form. In China, major institutions and collectors are still focused on painting and sculpture.” There is also something of a niche market in Europe and the US. Nick Baker of Simon Lee Gallery says: “We really focus on institutional collections for video and digital media. You can still count the number of collectors with a real focus on video on two hands.”

Attitudes are starting to change, however. “At first, people were scared of video, thinking it’s reproducible and impossible to own. Now, at least a third of my clients have bought videos,” says Leo Xu of the Shanghai-based gallery Leo Xu Projects (1D51). Its stand includes a video by Cheng Ran—Simply Wild, 2014. Four of the work’s six editions, priced at $9,500 each, sold in the first three hours of the fair’s VIP opening on Wednesday to mainland- and Hong Kong-based collectors and institutions. “The new generation of collectors sees video as the art of our time,” he says.

M+ collects

Curators from Hong Kong’s M+ museum, which is due to open in West Kowloon in late 2017, were also spotted at Leo Xu Projects. The museum has a strong focus on collecting the moving image. Recent acquisitions include Yang Fudong’s five-part film installation Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, 2003-07.

Lars Nittve, the head of M+, says that the new museum will have more than one cinema as well as a video lounge, and time-based pieces will be integrated across its galleries. Tobias Berger, a curator at M+, has told The Art Newspaper that there are also plans to install an 80m-high LED screen on the outside of the building to show works. A dedicated curator of the moving image is due to be announced next month, Nittve said on Thursday at the fair.

Visitors to Art Basel in Hong Kong can see three works by the late Nam June Paik, the Korean-born pioneer of video art. James Cohan Gallery (1D23) is presenting TV Bed, 1972-91, priced at “just under $1m”, James Cohan says, and Reclining Buddha, 1994, priced at $200,000. Galerie Hans Mayer (3E04), is offering Diamond Sat, 1998, for €325,250.

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