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White Cube’s New Gallery a Bid for Asian Buyers, Artists - Scene Asia - WSJ

White Cube’s New Gallery a Bid for Asian Buyers, Artists - Scene Asia - WSJ

White Cube’s New Gallery a Bid for Asian Buyers, Artists

White Cube Gallery in London (pictured) is expected to open in Hong Kong in May 2012.

Hong Kong’s aspirations to become an art hub took another step forward when White Cube Gallery, best-known as the London home to artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin, revealed plans to set up shop in the south China metropolis.

The news confirms rumors that were swirling in Hong Kong’s relatively small art scene.

“We’ve tried to be discreet, but it’s hard to do things discreetly in Hong Kong, and we’ve been looking for space concretely for about a year,” Tim Marlow, director of exhibitions at White Cube, said in an interview from London.

The new gallery will take up two floors at the new office tower designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern at 50 Connaught Rd. in Hong Kong’s Central neighborhood. The main exhibition space is on the ground floor, which has 6-meter (20-foot) ceilings. The second floor has an additional 4,000 square feet of space, Mr. Marlow said.

“The timing is because only right now the right space has opened up,” he added. “Finding space in Hong Kong is extremely difficult. If you don’t have good gallery space to put ambitious shows on, it’s not worth looking at from our perspective.”

Mr. Marlow said he just signed the lease last week and that he expects to open in May 2012. He has already been in discussions with artists to begin programming for the gallery but declined to say who they were or what the opening exhibition would be.

While many artists on White Cube’s roster are already represented in major markets like New York, few have gallery homes in Asia, and Mr. Marlow said they’re eager to sell in the region. Already, White Cube has been a participant in the Art HK fair and sold a work by the Chapman Brothers titled “Dass Kapital is Kaput? Ja? Nein! Dummkopf!” to an Asian collector for £525,000 ($821,000).

Nearby China’s art boom is a major factor. Its art market has grown rapidly, surpassing London to become the world’s second-largest market, according to a study by the European Fine Art Foundation. Earlier this month, Christie’s said its sales in Hong Kong so far in 2011 were up 60% from 2010.

“The fact that White Cube is choosing Hong Kong as the location for its first overseas gallery (over New York, for example) reflects the growing consensus that the balance of economic power is tipping eastward,” said Magnus Renfrew, director at Art HK. “The art market is still very young in Asia and there is a great deal of work to do in engaging with potential collectors…having a major presence in Hong Kong will provide an important base for their pan-Asian engagement.”

White Cube isn’t the first Western gallery with its eyes on Hong Kong. Gagosian, which operates in New York, London, Paris and other major cities, opened in Central early this year with a Damien Hirst exhibit.

Planning is also underway for the M+ gallery, a new contemporary art museum slated to open in the soon-to-be-developed West Kowloon Cultural District. Already, the museum has hired Lars Nittve, former head of London’s Tate Modern.

Mr. Marlow said that having an operation in Hong Kong could help White Cube discover Asian — especially Chinese — artists that it hasn’t exhibited in the past.

When asked which ones it is interested in, Mr. Marlow said it’s too early to tell. “We’re here to discover,” he said. “We’re here to look and develop and find out more. It’s not who we’re interested in right now, it’s what we’ll discover once we’re there.”

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