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Friday, May 10, 2019, 11:45
Fair to every art lover
By Chitralekha Basu
Friday, May 10, 2019, 11:45 By Chitralekha Basu

Editor’s Note: As Stephanie Kelly puts the finishing touches on Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong, coming up next week, she looks back on her amazing journey with the brand that believes in bringing art to as many homes as possible. China Daily Hong Kong listened in.

Stephanie Kelly, Fair Director, Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong. (ROY LIU / CHINA DAILY)

You were part of the team that launched Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong (AAFHK) seven years ago. What would you say AAFHK has added to the city’s cultural scene?

I feel the Affordable Art Fair brand has helped develop Hong Kong’s art eco-system, developing the next generation of collectors, helping galleries grow, and supporting artists. AAFHK is seen as building a platform for young artists of Hong Kong. I have seen a number of them get picked up by galleries, exhibit their work outside Hong Kong, partner with brands and actually make a living. 

For instance, we worked with the artist duo Stickyline (Mic Leong and Soilworm Lai) in 2015. They were a two-year-old collective then and they made these beautiful flower and bird paper installations and it really kick-started our special projects. This year we are working with Dorsett Hospitality Group, who selected Stickyline from a number of artists to be the international showcase for Hong Kong artists. They will create a bespoke installation for the Dorsett booth in AAFHK and then recreate their large-scale installation at AAFs in London and Singapore. 

The opportunity to meet people in London, show their work and bring their experience back to Hong Kong is like turning a full circle. I would love to see them mentor the next group of young artists.

I believe the price range has remained quite consistent over the years. Does this in any way affect the quality of the art at the fair?

Our price range is between HK$1,000 and HK$100,000. We believe there are a lot of options for all tastes and budgets, whether you’re looking for your first piece under HK$10,000 or to pick up something at the higher end.

Amazingly enough, even a Damien Hirst is available at under HK$100,000. Is it possible to find other international stars at AAFHK?

Limited editions are a great way to start a collection. You can pick up one of Hirst’s works on paper or silk screen prints by Andy Warhol for much less than one of his paintings. One could also go for editions of younger artists. A lot of prints are worth just a couple of thousand Hong Kong dollars.

What is the price range most buyers seem to prefer?

Our average price is probably around HK$20,000 and artworks under HK$10,000 are highly popular, especially with first-time buyers. We highlight these works with stickers.

This probably suggests that much of the art in the market is more affordable than we think. 

We hear of the big sales at auctions. That’s what gets the headlines. But even seasoned collectors buy art priced under HK$100,000 — those are the ones that make the volume in the art market. In Clare McAndrew’s Global Art Market Report 2019, a survey across all galleries including those in the premium markets found that 44 percent of the volume of sales was under US$5,000 (HK$39,000). It reflects the general trend across the world.

How does someone buying a piece for under HK$100,000 know that the work is of a certain standard? What are your criteria for choosing the participating galleries?

Globally we have a strong set of rules focusing on contemporary living artists at emerging and mid-career stage. We believe art should be bought for love because you hang it at home — love the story behind it, get inspired by the artist that makes you feel something. If you find in the future the price of the artwork is going up, you have helped that artist continue in their career. 

Several Hong Kong-based galleries are on the exhibitors’ list this year. Would you like to mention some of the new entrants and your reasons for including them?

There is Art Tu: gallery by Leon Lai who is an entrepreneur and artist himself. He founded the gallery, brought in other artists and is now participating in other art fairs. We also have Creative Gathering, another new Hong Kong gallery, led by the artist Nick Denambride, bringing together other artists. 

From just across the border we have Jardin Orange, completely ripping up the traditional gallery model. They invite artists from China as well as elsewhere for a residency in Shenzhen for a month or two and create works in their studio. Within the studio they host school camps where kids can come in during the weekend. 

Hong Kong’s Blink Gallery, which now exhibits in New York, is looking at London. They have grown with us over the last 7 years.

Who are the new generation artists AAFHK visitors ought to watch out for? 

The millennial generation of artists has grown up with the internet, with their studios in their pockets from where they can access instant feedback. Our Young Talents Hong Kong section is focused on new media artists this year, including Sikey Wong from China. 

Other emerging local artists include Victor Wong, who has used jewelry crafting techniques to cut a single piece of brass from which the shape of a cockroach can be teased out, while still remaining attached to the base material. 

In the seven years that you helped build the AAFHK brand, you were also raising three small children. Did your children impact the policy decisions you made in any way?  

My children have definitely influenced what we do at AAFHK, ensuring the fair caters to both young and old. A lot of people come to the fair to spend quality time with their kids, see the art pieces through their children’s eyes, which could be amazing because there’s no telling what children will stop to look at. Often they see the meaning behind the art quite quickly. 

Using art as therapy for people suffering from mental illnesses was one of the thrust areas in earlier editions of AAFHK. How has that been developing? 

Last year we built the foundation of art effecting mental wellbeing. This year we want people to get involved in art rather than just talk about it. We worked with a group of art therapists, galleries, artists and charities to design a range of activities. It’s all expressive arts designed to create a vocabulary around emotions to help people express their feelings. 

For instance, among the activities we have “Centering Stone” — finding a word or picture that brings you down to earth. It’s about helping children to cope with extremes of emotion.       

There is also “Shred It or Save It”, inspired by Banksy. There will be a golden frame with a shredding machine. Visitors will draw a picture, showing a time in their lives, happy or sad, the idea being that you can leave it behind (to be shredded), and that you have control over these things. The process of shredding can be cathartic.   

You are moving to Melbourne to launch AAF in September. How do you look back on the Hong Kong chapter of your journey with the brand?

I feel that over seven years AAFHK, launched by a small but passionate team, has grown into a really full fair that’s got an incredible, interactive, fun, fresh programming and a great array of promising galleries aligned with the AAF ethos. The AAF brand gives one the opportunity to try things, push the boundaries. I feel AAFHK is in a good position, ready for someone else to take it on and take it to the next level. 

Interviewed by Chitralekha Basu

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