Race to be on top

Race to be on top
The Mobile M+: Inflation! exhibition, held at an open park in the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong last year, drew 150,000 visitors to view six monumental inflatable sculptures, such as Paul McCarthy's Complex Pile.

In the game of winning hearts, minds and wallets for art in Asia, Singapore may offer keen competition but few in the art world will dispute Hong Kong's current pole position.

Its edge was highlighted at the recent Art Basel in Hong Kong, which ended on May 18.

Into its second year, the prestigious five-day fair with roots in Basel, Switzerland, drew more than 65,000 visitors, including prominent art collectors from around the world, and chalked up strong sales for many of the 245 participating galleries.

The top-selling work among reported sales was the bronze sculpture Gorille, 1970/1984, by artist Francoi-Xavier Lalanne, which had a retail price of €1 million (S$1.7 million).

The show was also a catalyst for more than 150 art events, exhibition openings and gallery launches in the city, attended by curators, artists and the wider public.

Numerous journalists, including this reporter, descended on Hong Kong that week and the fair, whose history in Basel stretches back to 1970, was covered in major international publications such as The New York Times and The Financial Times.

The Art Stage Singapore fair held earlier in January was no less a success.

The relatively new fair founded by Mr Lorenzo Rudolf, the director of Art Basel from 1991 to 2000, posted its best results in four years.

It attracted 158 galleries, 45,700 visitors and significant sales over its five-day run. A big-ticket work that sold at the fair was an oil painting by the late Chinese-French painter Zao Wou Ki, which was snapped up for US$1.2 million (S$1.5 million).

But the scale of the event, as shown by the figures, pales in contrast to the Hong Kong fair.

The art scenes of both cities have long drawn comparisons, not least because of enduring competition between the two in areas of economics and finance. Similar ambitions to be the visual arts capital of the region have also invited weigh-ups between the two by the art world.

Mr Lee Weng Choy, 50, president of the Singapore section of the International Association of Art Critics, acknowledges a "mutual envy dance" between Hong Kong and Singapore. "We have an international biennale that Hong Kong doesn't have and generally, our art museums are better than theirs," he says.

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