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Art Basel Hong Kong: the contemporary art fair entertains millennial collectors | Culture

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A young woman in her 30s crept up this week to the Japanese gallery Waitingroom’s stand at the Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) fair. Some time ago the presence of this potential buyer from the millennial generation would have gone unnoticed by the gallery. Today she is immediately identified as a potential buyer. “There is an incredibly powerful and growing demographic group of new and younger Asian buyers,” explains Francis Belin, President of Christie’s in Asia Pacific, the main region of origin of collectors of this new generation in the auction market, to EL PAÍS. . The presence of this renewed breed of collectors is one of the keys left by the most important contemporary art fair in the Asia-Pacific region and which closes this Saturday after the specter of the pandemic has been overcome.

Gallerists present at the fair agree that, since the start of Covid in 2019, young Asian collectors, until now only interested in antique pieces, are diversifying their collections to include contemporary art. This is also confirmed by Christie’s, which last autumn registered 20% more new buyers in Hong Kong and an increase among its millennial clientele of almost 30% compared to autumn 2022. “They are active in our auctions throughout the world and we hope that this demand grows,” says Belin.

The same generational group also participates in another of the great changes in the market: the increase in sales online. Confidence in these sales resurfaced in 2023 to reach $11.8 billion, 7% more than in 2022. Its value already represents 18% of the market’s total turnover, according to data from the report prepared by UBS for Art Basel. The same trend is seen in auction houses, where young collectors are encouraged to bid online through platforms such as Christie’s Live.

Three young people interested in art visit the Japanese gallery Nanzuka. Courtesy of Art Basel

The trend could also explain the lower attendance of the collecting public at the fairs: if before the pandemic they were present on an average of five a year, now they are present at four, according to the USB report prepared from 2,828 interviews in 11 markets in 2023. This is what experts call fair fatiguethe boredom of collectors when it comes to attending the numerous art fairs held around the world.

As a nod to this new generation of young buyers, Christie’s signing of Taiwanese singing star Jay Chou, an icon of the millennial generation with 30 million records sold, who last autumn was in charge of selecting one of their sales in Hong Kong. Or the appearance of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, a reborn pop star thanks to the film’s soundtrack Saltburnproduced by the platform streaming Netflix, at the Serpentine gallery party in this edition of ABHK.

The change in the profile of collectors comes from Asia with the change in their behavior in galleries. “We have gone from a generation of collectors with a modesty that prevented them from going in to consult the price of a work to another that not only is not afraid to ask, but does it a lot and is interested in the creative universe of artists,” says the gallerist Sabrina Amrani, based in Madrid and present at the fair since 2016. “The taste of Asian collectors in general has also changed. They have gone from buying famous names at record prices to being interested in emerging or mid-career artists and not necessarily known in the region,” she says. Record prices, in any case, have not been lacking at the fair with sales such as those of a piece by the Japanese Yayoi Kusama for more than a million dollars at the stand of the British gallery Victoria Miro.

Another trend related to digital has been confirmed in Hong Kong this week as destined for historical anecdote. That of NFTs, missing in action among the 242 galleries at the fair, has been confirmed as a passing fever in studies such as that of UBS, which indicates that the proportion of spending on digital art in 2023 represented only 3% of the total High-net-worth collectors and digital works of art accounted for 8% of their collections, up from 15% in 2022. The decline in sales of these works is seen both at fairs and on specific NFT platforms, where their sales fell in mid-2023 to its lowest level since January 2021.

Quite the contrary, the taste of new and established collectors continues to lean towards painting, as demonstrated by the almost monoculture of the galleries present at Art Basel Hong Kong, far above the attention dedicated to sculpture, photography or video. Reports distributed by the fair itself confirm that collectors spent most of their spending in 2023 on purchasing paintings (58%), followed by works on paper (13%).

The emergence of AI in art

The debate about the emergence of artificial intelligence in art and digital copies has also crept into the fair thanks to works such as Copy of Copy of Copy of Copyby Hong Kong-based artist Mak2, a striking installation at local gallery De Sarthe, created specifically for Art Basel, consisting of two stands connected by their ceiling, and exploring the concepts of duplicity and simulation.

Another debate, that of the decolonization of cultural institutions, has been confirmed as global during the fair in the talk in which directors, curators and founders of institutions from around the world participated, such as the National Gallery of Singapore or the Zeit MOCAA ( the Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, based in Cape Town, South Africa). Greater intensity, if possible, has acquired concern for sustainability in numerous artistic pieces and in programs such as Art for the oceans, which the environmental organization Parley promotes together with Art Basel to raise awareness about climate change during a fair that in 2023 received 86,000 visitors, all of them coming to Hong Kong from different parts of the world and leaving their respective carbon footprint.

Among them this year was Cem A., speaker at one of his talks and better known as freeze_magazine among the 170,000 followers of his Instagram account, dedicated to creating memes about the art world. In one of her recent memes, Cem A. parodies an alleged conversation between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s characters in Titanic. “I’m mentally ill,” she tells him. “I’m an alcoholic,” he replies. “Let’s open a gallery,” they both conclude.

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