In the first year of the pandemic, a sweeping new security law and clashes on the streets of Hong Kong have raised concerns among art industry insiders with ties to the city, who have predicts the end of Hong Kong as an international metropolis. The restrictions that accompanied the city’s “zero Covid” policy did not seem to alleviate this widespread perception.
And yet, galleries and auction houses continue to proliferate in the beleaguered city. According to the latest Art Basel/UBS art market report, at least 25 new auction businesses and about 30 new galleries have opened in Greater China since 2020, and at least seven new art institutions have been established. in 2021 in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Among the latest to open in Hong Kong are Double Q Gallery, established by local collector Queenie Rosita Law; Property Holdings Development Group (PHD Group), founded by former De Sarthe director Willem Molesworth and his wife, Ysabelle Cheung, former editor of ArtAsiaPacific; and Odds and Ends, launched by Fiona Ho and Nathalie Ng, formerly of David Zwirner and Gallery HZ, which closed in late 2021 (Ho also worked at the now closed gallery).
Law says growing global interest in Asia and a growing appetite among young collectors in the region prompted her to launch her gallery, which opened this month with two solo exhibitions featuring the Hungarian artist. Márton Nemes and British artist Tomo Campbell.
“During my journey from collecting to creating a contemporary art space in Budapest, I met emerging talents from Europe and America who really started to notice the growth and importance from the Asian art market and started asking me to show their work in Hong Kong,” she says.
Ho, of the Odds and Ends gallery, believes that the “multitude of misfortunes” Hong Kong has suffered in recent years has resulted in “a cultural shift” resulting in “increased circulation and commercial consumption of contemporary art due to ‘a renewed sense of urgency’. in channeling and preserving our lived experience through art”.
Charles Fong, the director of Rossi & Rossi, a must-see gallery in Hong Kong which recently returned to its old playground in the city’s Wong Chuk Hang district, agrees: “Due to the global downturn, many buyers and collectors in Hong Kong are now turning to the local art community for a fresh perspective. That’s why there are galleries opening here and why there seems to be more emphasis on local and regional.
In recent years, a slew of commercial and freelance art spaces have been launched in Hong Kong, such as Square Street Gallery in Sheung Wan, which opened in April 2021, and The Shophouse, which was established in May. 2020. In addition, local projects have emerged including A’Fair, whose inaugural edition in December was held in an empty store in Wan Chai. Rising rents remain a problem in the metropolis, which is why alternative spaces are frequently sought after.
A moment to reflect
Overall, there seems to be a consensus that the city’s turbulent times have given artists, dealers, and even collectors a moment of reflection, and that this intense reflection has led to definite action.
However, not everyone felt safe enough to stay in Hong Kong. Local artist Kacey Wong left for Taiwan in August 2021, saying it was “too dangerous to stay” as the Chinese government continued to target critics. More recently, the last remaining UK judges resigned from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, claiming that the administration had “strayed from the values of political freedom and freedom of expression”. The Chinese government’s persecution of its Uyghur population remains a hugely problematic issue, though it is often overlooked in art world circles.
Indeed, Hong Kong is still considered a leading geographic and economic gateway to mainland China with its rapidly growing contemporary art market. Hong Kong also benefits from having no taxes on art imports as well as on wealth, gifts, inheritance or capital gains, unlike neighboring cities.
As such, it continues to thrive as a hub and major players follow the money. Last year, Christie’s announced plans to move into its new Asian headquarters in Hong Kong in 2024, while rival auction house Phillips will move to its new Asian headquarters in the cultural district in the fall. of West Kowloon, next to the new M+ museum.