Hong Kong in art bonanza - but will it last?

20 May 2012

The eyes of the global art world are fixed on Hong Kong - for now.

Hong Kong's art scene has been expanding for the past few years, but this week's flurry of high profile international gallery openings alongside the city's annual art fair has brought a hype and frenzy unlike anything seen before.

But it also comes at a time when Chinese growth is slowing, raising concerns about sustainability.

Auction house Sotheby's official opening of its 15,000 square foot gallery space on Friday comes after blue-chip galleries such as London based Simon Lee, Shanghai's Pearl Lam, Parisian dealer Galerie Perrotin and Paris gallery NeC opened earlier this week.

Hong Kong's Art HK fair, now owned by international art show Art Basel, which also holds an annual show in Miami, has attracted close to 70,000 people. Sales for the fair have been strong and expectations for the next two days are solid, said dealers.

But even though art excitement appears palpable in the financial city, local gallerists and international art consultants are warning that the market feels a little frothy.

"Whilst this hype brings an air of excitement to the city's art scene, it's very telling of the possible fragility of the market and whether it's sustainable," said Natasha Whiffin, gallery manager at Saamlung in Hong Kong.

The rate at which galleries have set up shop here is almost unheard of in the recent history of world arts hubs such as London, Paris, New York, she added.

Market research firm ArtTactic said in its May 12 report that confidence in the Chinese contemporary art market is slowing down after 3 years of rapid growth.

"The biggest change from 12 months ago, is the decrease in confidence at the very high end of the market," said the London based agency.

Photo: Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

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