With its eighth edition kicking off on 26 – 29 August this month, we sit down with Fair Director Regina Zhang to talk everything art, from the local ecosystem to charitably lead initiatives aimed at nurturing local communities.
Tell us about yourself.
I studied media arts in college in London – that was really where I started getting interested in contemporary art. New media, or media arts, were my focus for quite a period of time, but when I came to Hong Kong, I went into the advertising marketing agency field for a while. And then I realised, as I started producing events for people, the art elements started to come out in different ways. And so I made the conscious decision to switch careers and got a job in a gallery that was focused on New Media Arts.
When I then moved on to K11, that was where I really had the opportunity to work with a lot of artists to produce exhibitions, not just in Hong Kong, but also in China. We worked with a lot of local artists and a lot of local schools. Gradually, I realized that I really developed a passion for nurturing young artists.
Can you elaborate on the nurturing of artists?
In general, I love working with artists. I love the thought processes when artists tell stories; what their stories are, what their background is like, how their lives actually affect their art, or the other way around, how their passion for arts in a genre or an element really attracted them and changed their lives.
In that way, as you’re just being exposed to so many possibilities, that’s what I really like about working with artists. The extent of possibilities that they can think of. Perhaps because I find myself sometimes quite conservative, being exposed to that possibility just refreshes your perspective. And that goes for work, and also goes for life. So when I communicate with artists, they give me a lot of inspiration.
Lovely. Tell us more about this year’s edition of the Affordable Art Fair.
It’s our eighth year and we’re definitely making the best of what we have. It all came together very organically. Generally, 80% of our galleries tend to be international galleries, but this year, because of the travel restrictions, we really focused on Hong Kong: Hong Kong galleries, Hong Kong artists, everything Hong Kong. There is a very strong focus on homegrown talent – but that doesn’t necessarily mean one has to be born in Hong Kong. There are many international faces and personalities in Hong Kong as well.
Having said that, in order to still have that international element, we have this feature called Crossing Borders where we invite our international galleries to participate. They send their artworks over and we curate the space for them. We have eight galleries participating in Crossing Borders this year; it’s something new that we’re very excited for.
Do you have a favourite new artist that we should keep our eyes on?
Every year we have a Young Talent feature where we handpick a few local artists to showcase.
This year we have Corn Ho who has this series called Night Swims. And it’s very intriguing. It’s got this sense of pitch that exudes some sort of isolation with these characters in either a pond or a swimming pool. They’re gathered around having a swim, but they all have this isolated look in them and it’s quite mesmerising.
We also have Alex Lam. He comes from a background of art in terms of the entertainment industry. He’s got this series of paintings which he’s developed in recent years from drawings that he did when he was overseas. There are pieces that draws to you because they make you ask yourself a lot of questions about the women in the paintings. They are faceless, so you’re trying to figure out who she is, what she’s thinking about, and the colours.
What are the charitable organisations the Affordable Art Fair is supporting this year?
We normally only worked with one organization, but this year, we embraced several including The Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, Hong Kong Association of Art Therapists and The Sovereign Art Foundation. There’s going to be quite a few workshops for kids and for adults. There’s one called ‘Paper Lab’, where you can make your own paper art to create little paper characters. Another workshop is called ‘My Affordable Art Piece’, where you’ll have various materials to work with to create your own very first affordable art piece.
This year, because we’re still not out of the woods yet in terms of the pandemic, everyone is more conscious of cleanliness and space. We had to tailor-make the stations with individual materials so participants won’t have to share with others. So, while the workshops were traditionally free, this year, we’re charging a small fee.
What are some changes you’d like to see in the art world?
Over the last year, what a lot of art organisations or institutions have realised is that we really need to be flexible in the way that we do things. We need to be open to more possibilities and to be more inclusive in different ways. During the height of the pandemic, everyone banded together really quickly, which was great to see. Everyone is evolving in their own ways.
We try to engage with our collectors and our visitors beyond the fair. And for us, making people understand art, not just about collecting art, but to get closer to it in different ways. We hosted some workshops that incorporated interior design, how to combine art and interior design together because everyone was renovating or sprucing up their house. Art therapy is also an element of focus. Art is a way to help people channel their energy in different ways, positively.
How do you think the landscape of art collecting has evolved?
In a normal year, we host about 13 art fairs around the world. We’ve had an online marketplace for the last three years where we mainly focused on galleries who have participated in our art fairs. We’ve provided them with this platform to continue promoting their artists and to sell these art pieces beyond the fairs.
I think last year was very interesting because that’s where we see people spend more time at home. Maybe people have been doing more house decorating, so we see higher transactions during those times. In November when we decided to hold a whole online art fair, we definitely saw a spike in interest and sales. And because of that success, we did another one this year in April as well.
I think how art collection has changed for us was that we definitely see an interest and demand from people who want to buy more art. Due to the pandemic, a lot of people now have a bit more time to really appreciate these artists and artworks.
Did you find that this surge was mainly from new buyers? Or was it an increase in transaction from existing buyers?
I think it was a mix of both, but we definitely do see a lot of new buyers. We’re so international that galleries in Hong Kong or Singapore are able to sell their pieces to collectors in Europe or America. It really helped to open up the market, globally. The landscape has definitely evolved. People are focusing on what makes themselves happy, decorating their little corner of personal sanctuary, really curating their homes.
What advice would you offer to new buyers?
Everyone wants to have something that makes them happy. I think that’s very important when I encourage people to come to the fair. There’s a misconception that purchasing an art piece is a very complex journey, but in reality, it’s not. It’s sometimes as simple as you see it, you like it and you buy it. The beauty of art is that it triggers you in different ways. And that’s how you know whether you know you want to purchase that piece or not.
Another bit is personal experience and how you resonate with the pieces. Maybe it’s a landscape piece which reminds you of a place that you’ve been. Or maybe if you like colours, an abstract splash of colour will give you some inspiration in life.
Returning for its eighth edition to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 26 – 29 August, the Affordable Art Fair will continue its mission to support the art ecosystem by providing a platform for emerging talent and charitably lead initiatives aimed at nurturing local communities.