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Hong Kong Gallerist Ben Brown on the City's Growing Yen for Western Art

Mary Agnew ArtInfo 01/14/2012 20:20
Hong Kong Gallerist Ben Brown on the City's Growing Yen for Western Art - art - Hong Kong

Although he was a native of Hong Kong, when Ben Brown decided to open an art gallery, he chose London rather than his home town for his first venture. When Ben Brown Fine Arts opened its doors in London’s Cork Street back in 2004, Hong Kong still seemed an unpromising location for a gallery aiming to specialize in western contemporary art. But by 2009, having already opened a second London branch, Brown was ready to take the plunge in Hong Kong.

It turned out he was at the very start of a wave that has brought a raft of internationally focussed players to Hong Kong in recent years.  Leading dealers Edouard Malingue and Pascale de Sarthe opened their eponymous galleries in 2010, while Gagosian joined Brown in central Hong Kong’s historic Pedder Building in January 2011.

This month Brown will be testing the waters in Hong Kong’s rival port city of Singapore, exhibiting a selection of Indonesian masters at Art Stage Singapore, which runs until January 15. On the eve of his departure for Art Stage, Brown spoke to ARTINFO HK about why Belgium is probably a better market than Hong Kong, the importance of art fairs and his attitude to new kids on the block like White Cube.

How did you go about setting up your gallery in Hong Kong?

Well, at the time I was trying to do it slightly on a shoestring, which in Hong Kong is almost impossible. It was most difficult from a manpower perspective. Since then the rate at which the Hong Kong art buyer is consuming Western art has increased incrementally. Previously the market had been preoccupied with Asian masters.

Have you seen the market grow and change since you have established Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong?

Well, put simply, more and more people are buying Western art. So yes.

Do you have any particular artists in your stable that you have found have done particularly well in the Asian market?

I would say I do particularly well in Asia with Ron Arad and Candida Höfer.

Is there something in their work that particularly appeals to the Asian buyer or is it about availability?

I think it is about availability and about actually bringing the works to the market. They are also names that are admired from afar. Asian buyers, like most buyers, want to see the work of art before they spend their money on it and no one else brings this level of art out to them.

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