Sun, Jan 18, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Art for all?

Adeline Ooi and Marc Spiegler of Art Basel speak to the ‘Taipei Times’ about the fair’s expansion into Hong Kong and Asia, art collecting and Taiwan’s role in the art world

By Dana Ter  /  Staff Reporter

Li Jing-hu, Rainbow (2009).

Photo courtesy of Magician Space, Beijing

The atmosphere at the high tea organized by Art Basel Hong Kong at Taipei’s Le Meridien Hotel on Tuesday was as writerly as it was artsy, especially since both directors were writers themselves.

Director Marc Spiegler, who worked as a journalist in Chicago and Zurich, joked about common misperceptions of the nature of art fairs, saying that “art is not a luxury brand. We are not selling purses.”

Adeline Ooi (黃雅君), formerly an arts writer and curator based in Kuala Lumpur, who was appointed Asian director earlier this month, was equally charming and lively. Flipping through a stack of art and fashion magazines, she tells me how in Taiwan, “there’s such a high level of sophistication on the part of the general public’s appreciation and understanding of art.” And yet, her eyes light up at the mention of char kway teow, a stir-fried noodle delicacy from her hometown of Penang, a small island in Malaysia.

THE ART OF COLLECTING ART

After years of success in Basel and Miami Beach, Art Basel Hong Kong was launched in 2013 to provide more representation for Asian artists and galleries. Both directors say that the Asian boom has definitely helped with shifting the attention of art collectors and critics to the region.

“There’s no other fair in the world that you can get such a great view of the art scene going on in the East,” said Spiegler.

“We’re not as conservative as some people think we are,” Ooi adds. “The appetite and patterns are just very different.”

It’s the younger artists and galleries in particular who are catching the eye of potential buyers. As Spiegler says, digital art is on the rise in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — and the galleries who represent them have honed in on the latest art market trends and are well aware that it’s not just paintings that bring in the big bucks these days.

Also interesting to note are changes in patterns of consumption — art collecting can be just as telling of social trends as the art itself.

Art collecting is not always an individual hobby. “When a couple buys, they buy as equal partners, as a joint decision as husband and wife,” Spiegler says. “The art hangs in their home, so both partners need to like it.”

Ooi adds that parents nowadays will bring their children to galleries and pass their love and appreciation for art down to their children.

“It’s about legacy,” she says.

APPRECIATING THE FINER THINGS

Ooi, who comes from a background in curating Southeast Asian art, says she has noticed a stark difference between the art scene in North Asia and Southeast Asia.

“People don’t go to bookstores in Southeast Asia,” she says. “But in Taipei, bookstores like Eslite are open 24-7.”

It’s the same with art galleries Ooi says — whereas going to an art gallery is a weekend family affair in Taiwan, such is not the case in Southeast Asia. If you’re involved in the art world in Indonesia or Malaysia for instance, you need to know who the private collectors are. Art, like literature, may not be as easily accessible in those places.

But when asked about the relevance of art and art fairs for the broader middle class, both Ooi and Spiegler were quick to skirt the issue, mentioning instead that it all boils down to different tastes and perspectives.

They were hopeful — even idealistic — in their outlook, fixating on positive developments instead. Both had high hopes for the art world in Taiwan. Ooi said that a lot of Malaysian artists are flocking to Taiwan because the art programs at universities here are far more established.

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