Art Basel Hong Kong Opens With Record Sale, Jeff Koons

Art Basel Hong Kong 2018 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Paul Kay

Within hours of opening the doors on the sixth edition of the art fair, a 1975 work by Willem de Kooning was sold for $35 million as an explosion of arts and culture events took over Hong Kong.

Art took over Hong Kong as the sixth edition of Art Basel Hong Kong rolled into town this week.

The fair, part of the global network of annual art sales events that also include Miami and Basel, Switzerland, opened to the public Thursday and continues through Saturday. Private tours for collectors and other VIPs commenced at the beginning of the week.

The 2018 edition got off to a record start as a work by Willem de KooningUntitled XII (1975), was sold by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for $35 million to a private buyer within hours of the fair opening for business, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. The sale is a record for Art Basel Hong Kong.

The big draw at the opening of this year's fair, held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, was American artist Jeff Koons. Ever the showman, Koons showed off his works Gazing Ball (Rembrandt Self-Portrait Wearing a Hat) (2015), a faithful copy of a Rembrandt self-portrait complete with a distracting blue ball, and the huge steel sculpture of a bird, Bluebird Planter (2010-2016).

Featuring 248 galleries from 32 countries, including big names from New York and London, Art Basel Hong Kong has quickly come to dominate the art market in Asia, attracting high-profile collectors as well as regional and international stars to the city, although the fair garners criticism for its lack of blockbuster works and accusations that it does little for local artists.

Previous editions may have lacked star power, but in addition to Koons, this year's fair will feature works by globally renowned artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jaume Plensa and Korakrit Arunanondchai

To differentiate itself from sister shows in Basel and Miami, the Hong Kong event has a wider selection of international galleries from countries as diverse as Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines. Galleries have also begun to exhibit more never-before-seen pieces from prominent artists, such as London gallery Marlborough Fine Art showing previously unseen works by British artist Frank Auerbach. 

Away from Art Basel Hong Kong, the city has been awash with arts and culture events as galleries; luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Loro Piana and Swarovski; and even high-end hotels and restaurants look to exploit the surge in interest as well as the presence of thousands of high-net-worth individuals visiting the island this week. 

A number of international galleries and art foundations have sought to exhibit in bigger and more interesting spaces than those offered by the convention center. One of the more prominent satellite shows was put on by the K11 Art Foundation. Titled Emerald City and taking place at Cosco Tower, it featured works from the likes of Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Clarissa Tossin and Trevor Yeung

The H Queen's Building in Hong Kong's central district has also become something of a focus this week and the art gallery-centric tower held Wolfgang Tillmans’ first exhibition in the city at David Zwirner Gallery.