So now Lehmann Maupin is moving into the Pedder Building in Central, Hong Kong. They open this March and will join Gagosian Gallery, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hanart TZ Gallery, Pearl Lam Gallery and Simon Lee Gallery. It feels like the Pedder Building is becoming some sort of high-end art retail complex, except that it has Abercrombie and Fitch on the ground floor. . . .
The Pedder building didn’t used to be quite so exclusive. Not so long ago it was full of rather fusty shops selling discount fashion with its only attractions being Shanghai Tang at street level, which was fragrant and enticing, and the building itself which is elegantly neoclassical and a landmark in Central.
There certainly wasn’t any contemporary art. For that you went to Hollywood Road – .a street a little like London’s Cork Street – lined with contemporary galleries showing primarily mainland artists and some Hong Kong based artists. Just ten years ago these artists were being largely ignored by western art critics, then the west saw the money being made as the newly affluent class in China started to collect art. Now, Hong Kong is pretty much the epi-centre for what seems like the gold rush of the global art trade. It has no import or export duties so it’s easier to do business than in Beijing, and western galleries have sensed that serious Asian collectors are looking beyond their own borders.
It makes good business sense to go where the opportunities are but the art market has a tendency to chase the money around the world and exit when it’s drying up. And then there’s that western arrogance when it comes to the history of art and the place of contemporary Asian artists. Only ten years ago one leading London gallery was rather sniffy when I told them about some of the exciting emerging Chinese and Indian artists I was working with. Now the leading three Chinese artists Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang and Zhou Chunya are giving Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Prince and Jeff Koons serious competition at auction.
Whilst Gagosian opened in Hong Kong with a splashy Damien Hirst show, Lehmann Maupin’s will open with Korean artist Lee Bul, recognised as the leading Korean artist of her generation. That’s good news. The Pedder Building might be colonial in its architecture but let’s hope it doesn’t become a western contemporary art enclave as well. Rather a destination for some of the most innovative and exciting developments shaping contemporary art globally right now.