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Billionaires rush to buy at Art Basel HK

2014-05-16 14:13 chinadaily.com.cn Web Editor: Si Huan

Billionaires beckon for $10,000 passports and works by emerging painters at Art Basel Hong Kong.

Inside Art Basel Hong Kong at the city's convention center there's a booth where guests can apply for instant citizenship to the Republic of Jing Bang.

For $10,000 you can obtain a passport, an aluminum "Citizenship Box" briefcase and national flag from Jing Bang, an ephemeral state created for the fair by Chinese artist Sun Xun, whose installation is a satirical comment on art, commerce and nationhood.

The art world elite, including billionaire Indonesian collector Budi Tek, New World Group scion Adrian Cheng and Canyon Capital Advisors co-chairman Mitchell Julis, won't need any fictional travel documents to converge on Hong Kong, where more than $1 billion worth of art is for sale, according to fair insurer AXA ART.

Wealthy collectors can snap up a $10,000 painting by emerging Chinese artist Yuan Yuan or pay $75,500 for a fish in formaldehyde work by Damien Hirst.

Anchoring what is informally known as Hong Kong art week, Art Basel opened to the public on Thursday. VIPs got a chance to preview the 245 galleries from 39 countries exhibiting on Wednesday, featuring primarily contemporary art.

Every year at this time Hong Kong's social life goes into overdrive with a whirlwind of more than 25 gallery openings, charity art auctions, debates and champagne-fueled parties held on warehouse rooftops, at poolsides and parking garages.

"It's like the Rugby Sevens for the Hong Kong arts and cultural set," says Alice Mong, executive director of Asia Society Hong Kong, which hosted a gala dinner for 400 people on Monday night honoring Asian artists Zhang Xiaogang, Bharti Kher, Takashi Murakami and Liu Guosong.

Launched as Art HK in 2008, the fair was re-branded Art Basel Hong Kong last year after the owners of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach purchased a majority stake in 2012 and it is now a major stop on the international art circuit. About half the exhibitors have space in Asia and the Asia-Pacific, a deliberate decision to keep the fair's original regional flavor.

Returning to Hong Kong for the fifth year, New York-based Paul Kasmin gallery is featuring both Western and Asian works to take advantage of buyers' increasing willingness to stray outside their comfort zones.

"Art Basel has brought more Europeans and Americans to Hong Kong, and Asian collectors are becoming more interested in purchasing Western art," says gallery director Nicholas Olney.

The works of Ashley Bickerton, who quit New York after 12 years to move to Bali in 1993, provide a contemporary twist on Gauguin's exoticism. A painting of two topless women with silver bodies astride a scooter, garlands in their dreadlocks, is selling for $190,000 by Singapore-based Gajah Gallery.

David Zwirner is bringing oil-on-canvas works by 28-year-old Oscar Murillo, an emerging artist who catapulted from relative obscurity three years ago to New York's latest wunderkind. The Colombia-born artist, best-known for his abstract works, has seen his auction prices surge as much as 5,600 percent in two years as a result of frenzied art flipping.

Citizenship to Sun's Jing Bang: A Country Based on Whale is limited to 100 people, though visas can be purchased for $30 each at the fair.

Describing his one-party state (administered by the Magician's Party), which has a planned life span of just six weeks, Sun writes: "If history is a big lie, then the Republic of Jing Bang uses one lie to intercept another lie". The project is jointly presented by the Singapore Tyler Print Institute and ShanghArt gallery.

Collectors on more modest budgets can head over to the Conrad Hotel for the Asia Contemporary Art Show where five floors of guest rooms are transformed into temporary gallery spaces featuring emerging artists from 18 countries from May 16 to 18. VIPs got an advance preview on May 15.

UBS AG, which also sponsors Art Basel and Art Basel Miami, has added the Hong Kong fair for the first time this year. "Our private banking clients include people interested in fine art, so it's a natural fit," says Chi-Won Yoon, CEO of UBS Group Asia Pacific.

Local galleries are taking advantage of the influx of deep-pocketed visitors this week to launch new shows.

Blindspot Gallery, located in the burgeoning art district of Wong Chuk Hang overlooking the city's Aberdeen harbor, is showing London-based photographer Nadav Kander's latest works that feature nudes of sitters covered in marble dust that evoke Michelangelo and Lucien Freud.

Pace Gallery opens its Hong Kong space with oil-on-paper works by Zhang Xiaogang in the heart of downtown on the 15th floor of the Entertainment Building. Next door Antwerp, Belgium-based Axel Vervoordt Gallery is also having its inaugural show with Ghanian artist El Anatsui, who employs youths to weave work with discarded liquor caps and fastenings to create tapestries selling for $1 million a piece.

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