Is this the art fair of the future? At Art Basel Hong Kong, Dealers Stream as Holograms and Hawk NFT Galleries for Crypto


In a dark room at Art Basel Hong Kong, Emi Eu, director of STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery in Singapore, gave a group of eight guests a detailed introduction to the works on paper by Korean artist Haegue Yang.

Then, at the end of the session – poof! – she disappeared.

Eu was part of a futuristic experiment that allowed foreign dealers stranded by travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine up to 21 days to teleport around the fair using holographic technology. It was one of the many new experiences highlighted at the first physical Art Basel fair since the pandemic.

As overseas dealers strived to be present virtually, the first Art Basel Live: Hong Kong broadcast the show to audiences around the world and the latest version of Art Basel’s online viewing room sought out. to encourage remote transactions. Local galleries, meanwhile, have experimented with NFTs and cryptocurrency, seemingly undeterred by the recent stock market crash.

“This notion of a hybrid show, both physically strong and [digital] level, is a way forward, ”said Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler, zooming in from Switzerland, during an online press conference.

A hologram of a beaming dealer in Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. Photo: ARHT Media

Return of art week

This year’s fair, held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, featured only 104 galleries from 23 countries; more than half of them participated via satellite booths (or, as we like to call them, “ghost booths”), a first move for dealers who couldn’t attend in person. In another first, Art Basel took place under the same roof as the Art Central satellite fair, which is normally located in a tent in the nearby Tamar Park.

The first two days of the VIP preview saw friends and colleagues enthusiastically reunite – with strict crowd control measures and mask requirements in place, of course. Since less than half of the typical number of galleries participated, the fair only occupied the first floor of the convention center. Local merchants such as Hanart TZ Gallery, de Sarthe and Gallery Exit have been allocated privileged seats near the entrances.

Many galleries in Hong Kong reported strong sales at the start of the show. De Sarthe sold Andrew Luk’s large-scale installation Haunted, recovered (2020-2021) at K11 Art Foundation for an undisclosed award. Blindspot Gallery has sold works by Lam Tung-pang, Jiang Zhi, Jiang Pengyi, Sarah Lai, Un Cheng, Trevor Yeung and Sin Wai Kin for prices ranging from $ 5,000 to $ 70,000. 10 Chancery Lane sold five works by Laurent Martin “Lo” and several by Frog King Kwok, priced at approximately $ 10,000 each. Gallery Exit sold half of its booth after the first VIP day, including works by Oscar Chan Yik Long and Stephen Wong Chun Hei. The Galerie du Monde has sold out the works of Taiwanese artist Wu Chi-Tsung.

Joan Mitchell, <i> 12 falcons at 3 o'clock </i> (1960).  © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell, 12 falcons at 3 o’clock (1960). © Estate of Joan Mitchell

International galleries in Hong Kong reported multi-million dollar sales. Hauser & Wirth sold George Condo’s Blues in a nutshell (2021) for $ 1.75 million and Haunted by demons (2020) for $ 800,000. Rashid johnson Untitled Broken Crowd (2021) sold to the Long Museum in Shanghai for $ 595,000. Lehmann Maupin sold a work by Lari Pittman to a private collection in Malaysia for $ 300,000 and another to a museum in China for $ 225,000 and David Zwirner sold paintings by Belgian painter Harold Ancart. Three of the four works on the stand went to an Asian art museum for $ 300,000 each.

Levy Gorvy had perhaps the most expensive sale of the day, unloading a prime painting by Joan Mitchell, 12 falcons at 3 o’clock (circa 1962), which had an asking price of $ 19.5 million. (This exceeds Mitchell’s public auction record of $ 16.6 million.) The same painting sold at Christie’s in 2018 for $ 14 million.

International galleries which rely on the operation of satellite cabins have also reported satisfactory results. The first exhibitor Proyectos Monclova, who participated from Mexico City, sold three works by Gabriel de la Mora for $ 25,000 each.

Hologram dealers

Spiegler and Asia Fair Director Adeline Ooi said it was “surreal” enough to stage Art Basel Hong Kong in this pandemic year. Even more surreal, however, was the first-time presence of life-size holographic versions of gallery owners from overseas.

The program was only available to dealers located in three cities – Singapore, Geneva and New York – who could enter studios equipped with technology from ARHT Media Inc., a leading digital content development company. (Brokers did not have to pay any additional fees to participate in the offer.)

Asia Art Center in the Insights section at Art Basel Hong Kong. © Art Basel

The handful of vigilantes who attended the test sessions said they were amazed by the advanced technology. It remains to be seen how it could be adapted to a larger crowd and more gallery owners.

International dealers who were unable to participate in the hologram trial attended virtually via iPad or computer, keeping their eyes on the screen to ensure they could grab the attention of passing collectors.

Yvonne Zhou, from the first Karma exhibitor, was present via iPad from New York. Despite the 12 hour time difference, she said the experience “was fun”. “I had meaningful and productive conversations, while some visitors thought I was an interactive work of art,” Zhou told Artnet News. “I even spoke with a collector who was also an iPad that made up a connection from another city in Asia.”

Even remotely, she has managed to sell works by artists such as Reggie Burrows Hodges, Henni Alftan and Marley Freeman. “It’s more important to see the art in person than to see the dealers in person,” she said.

Zhang Yanzi "Mask Series" to Ora-Ora, for which the gallery will accept payment in cryptocurrency.  © Art Basel

Zhang Yanzi’s “Mask Series” at Ora-Ora, for which the gallery will accept payment in cryptocurrency. © Art Basel

Alternative currency

Local galleries have looked at new technologies in their own way. Ora-Ora presented the first NFT works at Art Basel, by Peng Jian and Cindy Ng, to coincide with the launch of its own marketplace on OpenSea. The Art-Tech start-up, the Screens Guru, has also launched an NFT for sale at the booth of the local institution 1a Space.

Chinese antique dealers Andy Hei and Warren Cheng – both presented as part of a collaboration between antiques fair Fine Art Asia and Art Basel – have launched two NFT collectibles: one dagger from the Warring States period (770-221 BC) and a crescent blade of the Qing dynasty. Fifteen of the 30 editions of each weapon had already sold on OpenSea for just under $ 1,500 each Thursday night. The real objects were on display in the pavilion.

Hei, also director of Fine Art Asia, said the idea was inspired by his son’s passion for collecting weapons in computer games a few years ago. “In hindsight, they were already NFTs,” he said. Only those who have purchased the NFT versions of the items will be able to purchase the IRL weapons. “We can try to attract younger customers this way,” Cheng said.

It’s a whole new world. Register at the de Sarthe booth at Art Basel Hong Kong. Photo: Vivienne Chow

Other local galleries, including Ora-Ora and de Sarthe, are accepting cryptocurrency as a means of payment for the first time. Ora-Ora accepted Bitcoin and Ether for Zhang Yanzi’s “Mask Series” (and had received a number of technical questions about payment mechanisms in this way during the opening days of the show), while de Sarthe accepted payment in cryptocurrency for contemporary program, usually priced at $ 50,000 or less.

“As a gallery that represents artists using the Internet as a creative tool, it is natural for us to accept cryptocurrencies as a means of payment,” Pascal de Sarthe told Artnet News. “The majority of cryptocurrency consumers are between 26 and 45 years old and many of them have just entered the art world. The transfer or art and ideas will be transparent in the form of crypto payments. “

Art Basel Hong Kong runs until Sunday May 23.

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