Art Basel highlights Hong Kong's new arts hub status

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The first Art Basel fair to be hosted by Hong Kong boasts a prestigious array of international art, highlighting the city's new role as a global arts hub amid an explosion of personal wealth in mainland China.

The four-day annual show is the world's premier art fair and has until now only been held in Switzerland and the United States.

On Wednesday wealthy VIPs flocked to the waterfront exhibition centre hosting the fair, which opens to the wider public on Thursday.

Dressed in glamorous outfits and against a backdrop of popping champagne corks, they perused an eclectic mix of works from more than 3,000 international artists exhibiting through 245 of the world's leading galleries.

The main section showcases work from an international group of 171 modern and contemporary art galleries, with selections of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and video.

In one room a Volkswagen Beetle had been compressed into a giant sphere. Another installation drawing crowds featured a dishevelled human-sized rabbit sitting on a log, created by the American artist Marnie Weber.

Internationally renowned artists whose work is on display include Britain's Damien Hirst, French artist JR and the German photographer Andreas Gursky.

Other sections feature selections from the Asia-Pacific region curated for the show, large-scale sculptures and a section with solo and two-person exhibitions from emerging international artists.

The boom in Hong Kong's international art market is largely a result of the fast-growing wealth of mainland Chinese, some of whom are investing heavily in art.

"Having seen the high quality and vast range of presentations from galleries across the globe, I can assure you that the first edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong promises many discoveries and delights," Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told reporters.

Art Basel also exhibits in the Swiss city of Basel and in Miami Beach in the US, but the Hong Kong show will emphasise works from Asia, Spiegler said.

Hong Kong is "a place where all Asia feels at home and with many bridges to the west", he said.

"Here in Hong Kong, we will provide a global stage of international exposure for galleries and artists in Asia."

There is also a growing interest among Asian collectors in different types of art aside from traditional works.

Gagosian, White Cube, Acquavella, Lehmann Maupin and Galerie Perrotin are just some of the big-name galleries to have arrived in the city in the past two years despite sky-high rents.

"Art Basel in Hong Kong is evidence that Asia is becoming paramount to the international art world," Pearl Lam, who runs galleries based in the southern Chinese city and in Shanghai by the same name, said in a statement for Art Basel's opening.

Art Basel replaces Art HK, Hong Kong's former art fair which was set up in 2008. It was recently taken over by the high-profile Swiss Art Basel franchise, which has been showcasing modern and contemporary art since 1970.

"This is a truly historic moment for the art scene in Hong Kong and in Asia", Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew told reporters.

"The arrival of Art Basel in Hong Kong strengthens the city's position as the leading art hub in Asia."

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