Recapping Art Basel Hong Kong: Branding, Sponsorship, and Oh Yes, Art

Local Luxury Brands Joined International Sponsors Audemars Piguet, Davidoff, Absolut 

An art installation at the Swire Hotel in Hong Kong during Art Basel Hong Kong 2013. (Border Studies)

An art installation in the Swire Properties lounge at Art Basel Hong Kong 2013. (Border Studies)

Hong Kong’s inaugural Art Basel fair wrapped up on Sunday, and it was clear from this year’s VIP crowd that Art Hong Kong’s new incarnation has made it an integral part of the international art fair circuit. Local and international luxury brands, restaurants, and hotels took advantage of the upscale gathering through sponsorship of special events and promotions throughout the fair, because, in the words of one gallery director, “This is a lifestyle for certain people.”

Thanks to the rebranding of Art Hong Kong (ARTHK) under the Art Basel imprimatur, the event attracted a wealthier, more international audience. Although MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) Ltd. had actually acquired 60 percent of the Hong Kong fair in July 2011, the official rebranding took place this year, and it clearly made a difference in the crowd that turned out.

Several of the fair’s top-tier sponsors were familiar names on the Art Basel circuit, including Davidoff Cigars, Audemars Piguet, and Absolut Vodka’s Absolut Art Bureau, all of which sponsor the Basel and Miami Beach fairs as well. Hong Kong-based sponsors included Swire Properties, concierge club Quintessentially Lifestyle, KEE Club, and Modern Media.

Guests examine an exhibit at Art Basel Hong Kong. (Kitmin Lee)

Guests examine an exhibit at Art Basel Hong Kong. (Kitmin Lee)

Official ABHK sponsorship was an advantage in reaching fair attendees, with several sponsors playing significant roles in hosting panel discussions and conversations in Asia Art Archive’s parallel program of events, which took place on site daily. Swire Properties, a longtime sponsor and lounge host at ARTHK, hosted several talks this year, including the Le Salon Design Talk in their specially commissioned VIP lounge. The lounge itself featured more than 170 architectural miniatures suspended in mid-air, reflecting the building façades lining the streets of Hong Kong. Swire’s support for the arts has been part of their brand culture for years, and ABHK was an obvious fit. “By sponsoring important arts events such as Art Basel, we also hope to facilitate artistic exchange and stir public interest in Hong Kong’s arts scene,” said Martin Cubbon, the company’s chief executive.

As with other Art Basel fairs, socializing was as much a factor as the art, and sponsors took full advantage of the fact. Branding was visible in the exhibition hall, on-site VIP lounges, satellite lounges, and notably at the Absolut Vodka-sponsored art bar, which generated substantial buzz before and during the event. Following the precedent of Basel and Miami Beach, which had Absolut-sponsored art bars in 2012, Absolut Art Bureau commissioned Chinese-American artist Adrian Wong for ABHK’s Wun Dun bar. The result was a mix of kitsch from different eras: a 1970s lounge singer backed by life-sized furry monsters on musical instruments, local Hong Kong teahouse-style booth seating, dim sum as canapés, and tanks full of frogs, sharks, and colorful fish.

Several of the city’s restaurants and clubs also saw the event as a prime marketing opportunity. The multifaceted art space, restaurant, lounge, and performance venue Duddell’s held its grand opening just in time to welcome fair attendees. ABHK sponsor KEE Club presented a special Swiss art menu that included Champagne from lounge sponsor Ruinart, a step up from last year’s Moët & Chandon. Ruinart – an all-fairs Basel sponsor – also sent trolleys of champagne down the ABHK aisles.

Another across-the-board Basel sponsor, Davidoff Cigars, hosted a lounge at the Grand Hyatt, attracting an international mix of collectors. Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, President and CEO Oettinger Davidoff Group said, “It is evident that the quality hallmarks of Art Basel shows in Basel and Miami Beach have taken Art Hong Kong to the next level … We are particularly pleased with the outdoor Davidoff cigar lounge at the pool area of the Grand Hyatt providing the opportunity to connect with the art patrons as they take a break to fill time beautifully.”

Overall, the fair drew 60,000 visitors and generated millions of dollars in sales, ensuring the longevity of Hong Kong as a valuable location for Art Basel organizers. The event’s new international notoriety has not only furthered Hong Kong’s status as a marketing hub for the global companies sponsoring Art Basel fairs worldwide, but has given local luxury-oriented brands and venues a significant opportunity to reach an international jet-setting elite.

Juliana Loh contributed to this report.

Categories

Art & Auction, Culture

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