Tim Etchells’ latest endeavour, Art Central, aims to confirm Hong Kong’s status as a leading hub for contemporary art.
Tim Etchell left school at 16, was fired from his first job working at Sketchley’s cleaners, and had no serious involvement in the art world until he was over 50. But in the last eight years, Tim Etchells has become one of the most active art fair impresarios on the international stage. On Friday, he launches Art Central, a new contemporary art fair in Hong Kong, right under the nose of the established brand fair, Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) which opens on Saturday.
The opening follows Etchells’ most successful art venture to date. Having set up Art HK, the original Hong Kong art fair, in 2008 in partnership with Sandy Angus – the chairman of Montgomery, the events organizers – he sold it three years later for a handsome (though undisclosed) profit to Art Basel, the biggest contemporary art fair in the world, which was looking for a toe-hold in Asia.
Etchells had known Angus since 1978 when, after his second, more successful job as a salesman for Rank Xerox, he was hired by Montgomery. In 1989 he set up his on his own, organizing events such as the BBC’s Good Food Show, where he put a young Jamie Oliver on stage for the first time. He oversees British Fashion Week and did the Dr Who 50th anniversary celebration in 2013.
Countering suggestions that he is just a money man with little knowledge about art he says: “I may not have had so much direct involvement in the art world as Matthew Slotover (co-founder of the Frieze Art Fair) or Marc Spiegler (director of Art Basel), but I do go to fairs and I buy art. I have works by Peter Blake, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol as well as several lesser known artists in my collection.”
Since the sale of Art HK, Etchells has opened the highly ambitious Art13 in London’s Olympia, which is coming up to its third year (as Art15) as an emphatically international event bringing galleries from 40 countries to the UK. He has also founded Sydney Contemporary, Australia’s most international art fair; and taken a share in Art International, Istanbul.
Art Central will feature 77 galleries, 65 percent from the Asian continent and 18 percent from Hong Kong. So, unlike ABHK, which has a strong western influence, it is predominantly for Asian galleries aimed at Asian collectors.
There will be a smattering of western galleries including the Fine Art Society from London and Edinburgh which is showing work by Jacky Tsai, an artist who made his name in 2008 when he created a floral skull image for fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s menswear collection. Tsai had a sell-out exhibition at London’s Scream gallery last year, and at Art Central his embroidered Floral Horse will be priced at £18,000.
It won’t be a fair where you will see the dominant international galleries – the White Cubes, Gagosians, David Zwirners and Hauser & Wirths you get at all the big fairs including ABHK. Art Central will look different, and the price points will be lower. Etchells says the fair will confirm Hong Kong’s “status as one of the world’s leading art hubs”.
Shi Zhongying, Cleansing, 2013