Admittedly with little space in most of our homes, the walls can be put to perfectly good use by attaching shelving or running tall bookcases up to the ceiling. But just as often, Hong Kong walls go bare. Bare and white and bland. The obvious solution is a piece of art, but as much as gallery owners and artists themselves try to bring art down to the masses, most consumers are intimidated by the idea of buying art. Aside from commodified prints at IKEA, there are plenty of places to find a piece to love at a price that won’t break the bank. Like the returning Affordable Art Fair.
The third edition of the fair is set for May, and this year the show and sale will feature over 130 galleries from Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, China, Canada, the United States, the UK, France, Australia and Belgium among others. Since the 2014 edition sold in excess of $39 million worth of art, it’s clear Hongkongers have a taste for it.
The idea behind AAF is simple: Founded in London in 1999, the fair is designed to remove the mystery from art collecting and create an environment where novices and veterans alike can browse and buy — or not — in comfort. Prices are clearly marked, there’s no bargaining and often pieces can be wrapped and taken home the same day. In Hong Kong, prices range from $1,000 to $100,000, and the event features a spectacular “Under $10,000 Wall.” The fair is now hosted in 14 cities worldwide annually.
“In 2015 we are focusing on putting education at the heart of the event, with an exciting range of activities to enable visitors to learn more about art, including tours, talks, live artist performances, creative workshops and the children’s art studio,” explains Hong Kong Fair Director Stephanie Kelly. To that end this year’s iteration includes the Young Talent Hong Kong Exhibition (curated by Eric Leung), focusing on emerging local artists, “Gallery Speed Dating” and “Love Art” talks that provide 30-minute snapshots of various styles, artists and media, a spot for socialising over coffee or a glass of wine at the Peroni Bar and a party at Art After Dark. The fair is kid-friendly, so families can rest assured they can bring along little ones too.
Average sales clock in around $20,000, but there are plenty of purchases at the $10,000 level (mainly prints), and “art” means anything for the AAF: prints, paintings, sculptures, photography, even new media. “That may not be a choice for your first piece,” says Kelly, “But there is interest.” Most crucially, no one at the fair is going to question your choices. Like most collectibles, we buy them because we want to enjoy them.
The elephant in the room, of course, is how much can really be expected of Hongkongers when flats are so expensive a piece of art and other niceties must often be sacrificed to get a home. Kelly understands that but considers the two issues separate. Accessibility is the mandate, and it’s working considering 90 percent of all visitors to the fair last year were residents — meaning they spent $35 million on artwork. “We want to bring art into people’s lives … We’re about attracting locals and it’s for the market here,” she emphasises. “I think [art] is an everyday luxury. I go to so many events with young professionals and ask if they have art at home. They say no,” Kelly finishes with a laugh. “But they have a designer handbag.” Touché.
The Affordable Art Fair runs from May 22 to 24 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.