22 August 2019
More than 60,000 people trooped to Art Basel Hong Kong, a three-day event that featured more than 3,000 artists and 233 galleries. Photo: AFP
More than 60,000 people trooped to Art Basel Hong Kong, a three-day event that featured more than 3,000 artists and 233 galleries. Photo: AFP

Hong Kong Arts Month: Take a bow, corporate sponsors

Art lovers have had more than their fill of the best offerings in visual and performing arts in the city recently as the 43rd Hong Kong Arts Festival, which takes place every March, coincided with Art Basel Hong Kong, whose schedule was moved forward from May.

More than 177,000 people showed up in the two signature events. In a thank-you ad published in major newspapers on Monday, organizers said the Arts Festival has drawn an audience of 117,000 for its 137 shows (of which 16 were first shown in Hong Kong).

That’s an average attendance rate of 95 percent. With such as mass celebration of the true, good and beautiful, who will still doubt that Hong Kong is truly Asia’s world city? 

For Art Basel, more than 60,000 enthusiasts trooped to the three-day event which featured more than 3,000 artists and 233 galleries. The attendance may be smaller than last year’s, but that’s because the previous one lasted four days.

The galleries were happy, too, as their cash registers kept on ringing throughout the event. Zao Wou-Ki’s gigantic triptych “24.11.80″ was sold for a record-shattering US$20 million. Enough to buy you a luxury flat in Mid-Levels. 

But you wouldn’t find too many property developers loitering around the halls of the Convention & Exhibition Centre during the event.

Paintings and sculptures, if chosen by someone with taste and experience, are good investments. They can give a residential project a certain snooty ambience that will justify the scandalous per-square-foot price tags on the flats being marketed.

And developers are not beyond appreciating the value of beauty. Not too long ago, they were jostling against each other for the chance to bid for the West Kowloon Cultural District. 

But their enthusiasm suddenly died when then chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan decided to cancel the bidding and let the project be undertaken solely by the government. Which also explains why the much-ballyhooed project appears going nowhere.

Swire is something else. It has always had a big heart for the arts. The Swire Group Charitable Trust has been supporting the Hong Kong Arts Festival and Swire Properties was at Art Basel Hong Kong. And since 2006, Swire has been the principal patron of Hong Kong Philharmonic.

We also noticed all the major US banks were missing on the list of sponsors. Not Citibank, not Goldman Sachs, not JPMorgan. Which is understandable. How can they think of lofty matters like the arts when regulators are always bugging them with multimillion-dollar penalties and settlement payments related to financial wrongdoings?

But of course there’s UBS, the “global lead partner” of the event (it’s not too different from underwriting an IPO), along with other big brands such as BMW, Audemars Piguet, AXA and Mandarin Oriental, to name a few.

It seems that Hong Kong Arts Festival has been more successful in luring developers into its camp. Its sponsors include Sino Land (along with the Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation), Kerry Properties, HKR, Great Eagle, Chevalier Group and Jardine Matheson.

The festival also drew ICBC, as finale sponsor, and HSBC, which bankrolled a Hong Kong Story concert to mark its 150th anniversary. Shanghai Commercial Bank and BNP also lent a hand, taking up minor, supporting roles.

Going forward, Le French May will be big for long-time partner BNP, which just goes to show that the arts will continue to blossom with the tender, loving care of corporate sponsors.

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EJ Insight writer

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