Millionaires are leaving Hong Kong, but its art scene is booming

by Pelican Press
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Millionaires are leaving Hong Kong, but its art scene is booming

The following is a transcript of the video.

Narration: Home to a host of financial institutions, Hong Kong is one of the world’s wealthiest cities.

However, over the past decade, the number of millionaires here has fallen by 4%.

Despite this, one sector in this ‘special administrative region’ is showing great promise – art.

The Hong Kong Art Gallery Association recorded a 27% increase in member galleries between 2021 and 2023.

And the world’s largest auction houses are upsizing to meet demand – Christies, and Sotheby’s which has been operating here since the 1970s.

I met Chairman for Asia, Nicolas Chow.

Nicolas Chow: 50 years ago, when we came to Asia, actually were the first ones here, we brought Chinese art.

This is what we’re our auctions were centered around.

And today we’ve sort of really opened the market to all sorts of new experiences and new material, from dinosaurs to cars to contemporary art, from all around the world. NFTs, sneakers, you name it, we have it for you.

Emily Tan: What has social media done to the art world and the auction world? are the buyers younger now?

Nicolas Chow: The buyers are increasingly younger, what we’ve seen actually in 2023, to really shift now the Gen X is the most important buy – base actually over a million dollars, they dominate the market. And that’s for the first time. And now we see of course, millennials taking on contemporary art. And the market now, over 40% of the buyers in that category.

Our social media presence is very strong now on Instagram, what we see is a huge engagement of buyers really responding to these posts and buying material that they’ve seen they’ve engaged with.

Emily Tan: It’s not only modern and contemporary art for sale here.

Nicolas Chow: Chinese art and ancient Chinese art is really at the genesis of Sotheby’s Hong Kong when we came here. And the value of these historical works of art has really gone up since the Chinese entered this market dramatically 25 years ago.

Emily Tan: Tell us a little bit about the piece here.

Nicolas Chow: So this is an object that really telegraphs the power of the emperors. This is a seal, massive white jade seal that has been carved for Emperor Chen long in the 1730s. This is a seal it says Chen long ubi, which means in His Majesty the gentle Emperor’s brush. So the emperor would have actually impressed this seal on his own calligraphies.

Emily Tan: How did Sotheby’s get this?

Nicolas Chow: We originally sold this in October of 2008, for about 8 million US dollars. And it’s been with a collector since. And we’re really excited to reoffer it now. These things are sort of really appreciated in a sort of generational way.

Emily Tan: And what is the price tag on that?

Nicolas Chow: The price tag is about 9 million, 9 to 12 million US dollars.

Emily Tan: What is your expectation? How much could that fetch,

Nicolas Chow: I think could fetch 20 million US dollars in today’s market. This is really an object of the greatest historical importance.

Emily Tan: Not everything will sell for prices in that region – in fact, for some artists, learning how to monetize their work at all can be a challenge

Mak2: In 2019, I was struggling because I couldn’t make a living as an artist. So I give myself a task to make a painting. But how, I’m not a painter. I’m a conceptual artist.

Emily Tan: This is Mak 2 – a Hong Kong-based artist, who’ll be showing at the city’s largest art fair, Art Basel.

Mak2: If I have a good idea, I’ll use all kinds of medium to execute my idea, for example, I make installation, video, sometimes I make Instagram videos as well.

In 2017, I made an inflatable snow globe called: ‘You better watch out.’

So inside there are QR codes floating around. So when the audience come in, and then they will scan your QR code. After the scan, it will bring you to the video. Actually, the video is the CCTV behind you. So you’re not just watching the snow globe. You will also be inside the snow globe being watched.

In 2019, I want to give up being an Artist. But then I receive an invitation by this art gallery are asking me to do a solo show in their space in Hong Kong. 

Emily Tan: As she’s not a painter herself. Mak2 had to work out how to create a collection – without putting paint to canvas.

Mak2 is signed to the De Sarthe gallery in Hong Kong’s southern district.

Allison Cheung: We work with a very small group of artists, and one of the reasons for that is so that each of them can get our time and attention.

A lot of the artists that we represent are still very young and so they’re still in their exploration kind of developmental stage. And so it’s always helpful to have a sounding board, someone they can talk to and that’s often our role.

As a gallery, we actually try not to prioritize the market, we try to help the artists develop their own unique practices, their own unique styles. It’s important not to kind of compromise to the demand of the market.

Mak2: When I was young, I always have to fear that people might think I’m too commercial. But now I do not have this fear anymore. value is created based on how well know your work is right. So if I want my work to be valuable, I have to let people know. And I think Art Basel are perfect platform for me, for me to get my work for people to know.

Emily Tan: Named after the Swiss city in which the fair was founded in 1970, Art Basel has become a global institution, running annual events in Basel, Miami, Paris and since 2013, here in Hong Kong.

For some visitors, it’s a chance to enjoy the art – but for many, this event is about big business.

Angelle Siyang-Le: We firmly believe that Hong Kong is the best place to do art business in Asia, Hong Kong is a natural melting. Melting Pot. Hong Kong is a natural melting pot of cultures. Hong Kong has always been welcoming of new cultures, new elements.

As an art fair being in the center of the art ecosystem, we feel that each of the roles in the ecosystem has always been very dynamic. And we are able to bring together these different parts of the ecosystem together onto our platform. At the same time, Hong Kong has always been, you know, convenient for art businesses geographically.

We’ve seen, collectors, visitors, art lovers coming from US, Australia, and as well as Switzerland, France, Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan’s like basically pretty much all over the world.

Emily Tan: The fair runs a VIP program, which grants seasoned collectors early access to the galleries before the crowds.

Angelle Siyang-Le: So we actually listen to the guidance from the galleries, we have all sorts of VIP cultivation programs, we make sure that we actually have a firsthand engagement with the VIPs.

So we actually get to know them and get to know their collections and get to know their taste.

Emily Tan: Earlier in the show we met conceptual artist and Hong-Konger, Mak2.

As part of Art Basel’s large-scale ‘Encounters’ series, she’s showcasing an installation named ‘Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy’, based around her ‘Home Sweet Home’ series.

The first set of works started as a j-pegs created on video game, The Sims.

Mak2 then split the images into 3, before hiring painters on an ecommerce platform.

Mak2: The painters do not know that they’re actually finishing a whole painting. So when they finish, I combined them together. So as you can see, the triptychs are not matched.

Emily Tan: What criteria did you go after in choosing the painters for your work?

Mak2: It’s basically pretty random. Because I also want the randomness in it. Because the concept of it is, I want to say that the ideal version of home when is translated in the real world is basically random. It’s mostly out of control.

Emily Tan: So the works are based off the Sims, so this is copy of a copy, is that right?

Mak2: Yes. So the first layer of copy is the game itself because the games is the copy of reality and home sweet home is the copy of the game so home sweet home is the second layer of copy.

Emily Tan: So these are a copy of a copy? Are there more copies?

Mak2: Yes, there is. I’ll show you.

So even though they look similar as the ones that we saw before, but actually they’re different. For the original Home Sweet Home, I hire three painters on ecommerce to help me visualize the idea of virtual homes in Sims, but this time, I only hired one painter to re-make the triptychs. So from triptychs to singular canvas here.

Emily Tan: And then above us, we have another copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. But this one is gray and looks old and worn down. Can you explain it?

Mak2: So the other part is actually reimagined versions of this booth 200 years from now.

The ones that we’re seeing on the top are actually not paintings, but the print of the lower part’s painting. So through the process of copying, what I was trying to say is we’re getting more far away from the reality because the Sims, the game, is the copy of reality, right? So through the process of copying, we’re getting more far away from the original reality.

Emily Tan: So are you saying that there’s a copycat culture in life here? 

Mak2: There is a quote, I particularly like, I guess it’s from the book called Steal Like an Artist is that originality is undetected plagiarism, which means that nothing is original. But I think maybe true, because when you need to make something new, you got to have some reference, right?

Emily: So what does it mean for you to be at one of the world’s largest exhibitions?

Mak2: It’s actually quite surreal. being able to show in such an important and International Art Fair is it’s like a dream.

Emily Tan: How successful have you been this year? Have you sold any pieces?

Mak2: Yeah, I did luckily.

Emily Tan: In fact, Mak2 sold 8 works with a combined value of around a hundred thousand dollars, contributing to total sales figures in the millions across the entire fair.

The high wealth investor, what are they looking for when they’re investing in art?

Angelle Siyang-Le: They’re looking for different things. A lot of them actually really appreciate the artists practice and the concept really resonate with the individual collectors. And so it’s a bit of everything, a mix of factors of why a collector is collecting these particular artworks.

A lot of them it’s because the, because the names are very popular amongst a group of collectors. A lot of them is also sees the potential of a young artist with a great potential of growing Korean Art.

However, I still believe that the majority of the collectors really collect from their heart, and they really resonate with concepts behind and the process the process of the artworks that is being made. So yes, I feel that collecting is a sentimental and emotional business, it’s a very personal process. 

Emily Tan: The buzzword these days is artificial intelligence, AI. Is there a place in art for AI?

Angelle Siyang-Le: Absolutely. I think digital art is definitely here to stay. And actually, throughout the so-called COVID closet years, a lot of the digital artists is becoming more and more prominent, and digital art, the definition of digital art nowadays has been expanded from simply photography to video art to NFTs to AI generated art and other forms of digital-related art. So we feel that, you know, with the younger generations becoming more and more prominent in the market, for sure that digital artists will be some, will be the group of artists getting more attention.

Emily Tan: Angelle, thank you very much for having us here at Art Basel.

Angelle Siyang-Le: Thank you very much.

Emily Tan: That’s all from Hong Kong – join us next time in a new city as we explore ‘The Art of Appreciation.’

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