Financial crisis puts chill in Asian art

Thu Nov 6, 2008 7:27pm EST
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Down a quiet Hong Kong lane beside the century-old masonry of a colonial-era prison, the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery is abuzz as staff hang bright, bold canvasses and hand-painted photos by three female Indian artists.

The past few years have been golden for hundreds of such modish art galleries and antiques dealers dotted about Hong Kong island's jumbled streets, swept along by the Asian art craze and its hip allure with buyers in the region and beyond.

Glitzy art fairs sprang up across Asia, from Shanghai to Tokyo, while records tumbled for contemporary artists such as India's Subodh Gupta, China's Zeng Fanzhi and Indonesia's I Nyoman Masriadi.

But now with the financial gloom, many galleries are bracing for a painful slump as the disposable income of the city's bankers, businessmen and middle-class professionals shrink.

"We haven't seen any downturn in our business but we are seeing it in the auctions, and we expect it to happen," said Katie de Tilly, the owner of the 10 Chancery Lane gallery which will halve its number of shows this year given the bleak outlook.

"If you are investing in art, have your eyes open, very open right now because I can see things coming down in a big way."


While some galleries with their patient stabling of loyal artists and diversified client base have yet to be badly burned, the high-profile art auction market is showing serious strain for both Western and Asian art.   Continued...

<p>Zeng Fanzhi's painting "Mao I: From the Masses, To The Masses" is introduced during a news conference in Hong Kong in this October 20, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Woody Wu/Files</p>