The unrest in Hong Kong over the past few months has left some in the art world feeling nervous about doing business in the city. Hauser & Wirth gallery postponed an Annie Leibovitz show there earlier this month, and Art Basel urged exhibitors at its Hong Kong fair in March to remain on board, offering discounts in an attempt to persuade them to show at the event. Now, one of the biggest gallerists with a presence in the city, David Zwirner, wants to set the record straight—the art market, he believes, won’t be severely impacted by the protests over Hong Kong’s extradition to China.
“I want to paint a slightly different picture,” he told ARTnews.
On November 1, the Hong Kong outpost of the gallery (which opened just one year ago) unveiled a show of large-scale steel sculptures by American artist Carol Bove, who most recently appeared in this year’s Venice Biennale. Zwirner himself flew in for the opening, accompanied by Angela Choon, a senior partner at the gallery’s London branch, and Chris D’Amelio, a senior partner in New York. With prices ranging from $300,000 to $1 million, the show sold out within days, with nine works going to mainland Chinese buyers, several of whom were in attendance at the preview. Most notably, one work sold to the Long Museum in Shanghai, which now wants Bove to have a solo show at its prestigious West Bund location.
Offering to present the invoices for the sales to ARTnews, Zwirner insisted, “I am not blowing smoke around.” Zwirner called the exhibition the “most ambitious show to date” at its Hong Kong space, and said that it required an unusually large amount of effort to ship and install the monumental works.
“I thought, Oh, gee, we are doing all this, and we are going to show up, and there will be nothing happening,” he said. Then, much to his surprise, amid some of the most explosive protests to date, the opening received a strong turnout.
Zwirner said that he is looking forward to participating in Art Basel Hong Kong in March, where he plans to show works by Lisa Yuskavage. Coinciding with the fair, his gallery will have an exhibition of paintings by Luc Tuymans, making it the Belgian artist’s first Asian outing outside Japan.
“I had a gallery in New York after September 11, and though the world came to an end, I really felt that people very much appreciated our effort to bring culture into that moment. I feel that’s what’s happening now in Hong Kong,” Zwirner said, adding, “The art market is very much alive and well.”