Thursday, May 8, 2014, 08:56
HK developing into impressive Asian arts hub
By Timothy Chui in Hong Kong

HK developing into impressive Asian arts hub

The Art Basel Hong Kong fair logo is seen in Hong Kong on May 22, 2013. (Photo / AFP)

The Grand Bauhinia Medal may be in order for Art Basel’s Magnus Renfrew — who has been instrumental in transforming Hong Kong from a place once dubbed by the media a “cultural wasteland” into an increasingly impressive Asian arts hub.

Next week will see the start of no less than a half dozen official art events and several other lesser-known confabs, all benefiting from efforts Renfrew helped to initiate.

The momentum increased after auction houses began attracting attention to Asian art and seven years since Renfrew started the HK Art Fair. This was bought up by Art Basel in 2012 and has now reached a fevered pace.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board has rebranded May as Hong Kong’s Arts Month — taking over Le French May’s near cultural monopoly of the month.

The Asia International Arts and Antiques Fair will also run concurrently, as well as the Chai Wan Mei Arts Festival, the Asia Contemporary Art Show’s spring edition and the Hong Kong Arts Centre Open House. At the same time, art lovers will be able to enjoy the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Fair, auction house Christie’s Spring Auctions exhibition and an Art Gallery Night open house by 40 galleries.

Even the Savannah College of Art and Design campus in Sham Shui Po is planning to encourage Art Basel revelers into visiting the school by renting buses to ferry guests.

The four-day Art Basel begins on May 15 and will draw 245 galleries from 39 territories and countries.

It is the second year the Hong Kong International Art Fair has operated under the international Art Basel umbrella. It will be the first time the Hong Kong leg has been sponsored by UBS, the Swiss bank which also supports Art Basel’s Miami Beach and Basel Switzerland shows.

More than 700 galleries signed up for the event yet only a lucky few will be showcased at the event. More than half of participating galleries are from Asia.

“There was a gap in the market for a major international art fair for Asia and there was a sense that all of the art fairs were quite similar — with offerings from mostly Western galleries,’’ Magnus Renfrew said.

“We wanted a different direction for this fair and we built the fair on our own terms,” he added.

The fairs that came before were organized by local gallery associations, rife with politics as to who was in and who was not. Renfrew envisioned something that adopted international standards in terms of selectivity.

This year’s show, arguably Asia’s most important art date, will also see a premier program of more than 30 films and video works, replicating Art Basel Miami Beach’s successful sojourn into cinema art.

Bringing all this together has taken a lot of effort from Renfrew and his dedicated team.

Art aficionados will find themselves hard-pressed to cover all Hong Kong has to offer this month, a feat requiring near omnipresence. This is a quality Renfrew has been exhibiting in organizing his show.

He is on the road 80 percent of the time in the first quarter ahead of the Hong Kong show. The rest of the year is not without endless meetings with galleries, artists, sponsors and Art Basel’s leadership.

Between his grueling schedule and the continued success of Art Basel Hong Kong, recognition of Renfrew is long overdue.