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Interview: Affordable Art Fair fair director, Stephanie Kelly

“Buying art is addictive, in a good way. The more you buy art, the more it enriches your life”

Stephanie Kelly
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Huang Yulong: Be My Side
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Dina Goldstein: Modern Girl
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Art Month may have come and gone but creativity and entrepreneurship never ceases in Hong Kong. Returning for its fifth edition, the Affordable Art Fair is showcasing the works of 1,000 artists from more than 110 galleries, all available for between $1,000 and $100,000. Affordability is the key word as the event hopes to encourage art lovers in Hong Kong to shift from merely admiring art to collecting it. We chat with fair director Stephanie Kelly about what’s new at this year’s event and why people should reach for their wallets... 

Hi, Stephanie! Can you give readers an overview of what the Affordable Art Fair is all about?
Our role in Hong Kong is about developing the art market. We develop collectors, converting art lovers into art buyers and potential collectors and philanthropists.

The Fair also plays a big role in developing local artists, particularly with Young Talent Hong Kong. Its been really successful in providing a springboard for some of these young artists to go on and to progress their careers. This year were showcasing five new artists alongside five artists we previously exhibited, so audiences can see the progression. Another big part of our model is developing galleries and helping them build their business.

So supporting galleries is a big thing for Affordable Art Fair?
Exactly. Seventy percent of our galleries come to Hong Kong from abroad and we’re helping those galleries get their artists on an international platform. Weve 1,000 artists on-site from all over the world showcasing a diversity in art. We want to provide not only artists from everywhere but also at different price ranges and in different mediums like painting or sculpture or 3D art. Were proud to be working with Hong Kong Art Gallery Association to support and promote local galleries. One of the things the Association is doing on-site is a spotlight tour of Hong Kong artists and local galleries. If you want to get to know your local art scene, Id definitely join that tour. 

What is the largest difficulty you face as fair director? 
Throughout the years, the challenge is always keeping the event fresh. Making sure we get new artists. Were delighted this year that weve started a new selection, Fresh, which highlights the best new artists in the fair. We want to keep it interesting for visitors so they come back year after year, to not only look at the art but also create art. We also have a creative hub, in which weve invested a lot of space, time and effort into bringing amazing education partners like M+ Rover. Theres a children’s art studio, so very young kids can be in a safe environment that allows their artistic talent to grow. Theyre generally more creative than we are!

What else is new this year? 
For us, its about balancing everyones perspective, so the new aspect this year is focusing on young Hong Kong and Chinese artists. Weve got a great selection including Huang Yulong’s Be My Side, which is an amazing installation of a hoodie on a park bench, combining Buddist memorabilia and Western cultural influences like breakdancing. We’ve also got another young artist, Lia Bing Bing, who creates these monumental installations made out of string. Another highlight this year is that we wanted to bring back the making of art, which is why our creative art hub has so many different stations where you can go in and get hands-on. 

Affordable art is the main attraction but are Hongkongers keen to splurge on art? 
I think Hong Kong people are very passionate about art. What we have this year are under $10,000 picks. So each gallery is highlighting pieces that are that price. People in Hong Kong are beginning their collecting journey. Were in a different stage than somewhere like London where 90 percent of the visitors already own art. In Hong Kong only 50 percent of our visitors own art. Were in a really different stage in our art collecting culture and its an exciting stage  people are beginning to define their taste. Out of our buyers last year, a quarter were first time buyers. 

How do you motivate first time buyers?
Its about encouraging them to have confidence in their own taste. Art is not a fashion item. Art is very subjective and its about trusting your instinct. Its about buying a piece that will stay with you for life.

Is it hard following Art Month and Art Basel and Art Central? 
Art Month is a great opportunity to define your taste. We encourage people to immerse themselves in the art world and work out what they like. Theres the opportunity to come to our fair and start building those relationships with galleries, to start asking questions about artists that youre interested in and to start building your confidence to actually be part of this market. 

What are your top picks at the fair? 
My top picks would be the Fresh selection featuring eight artists. These are the ones that are quite cutting-edge, including Dina Goldstein, a photographer who has been working a long time in North America and showcased in Europe a lot. She’s never been shown much in Asia. Originally she became famous for a series called Fallen Princesses where theres a shot of Snow White, showing the reality of Snow White with her four children and husband sitting on the couch watching TV. Her new series, Modern Girl, is a bit more subtle, based on 1930s Chinese adverts. 

Then you have Ryan Cheng, a Hong Kong ceramic artist who makes these beautiful minimalist sculptures. Its all about the lines and the shapes. We’re really excited to showcase him in Fresh as well. Theres an artist group called Xiang Demei from Shenzhen and they make collages out of money. Real money. They look at the idea of consumerism, materialism and what is money really worth. 

Another highlight for me is the Art for the Disabled Association. Weve got four or five artists showcasing their work in a commercial setting. Sometimes, theres not enough diversity in the art world and the fair gives these artists a platform to be showcased alongside their peers while bringing a very different perspective. 

Why should people buy art? 
Buying art is addictive, in a good way. The more you buy art, the more it enriches your life. It makes your home something thats really unique and enables to shape your home. It expresses yourself. 

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