The value of art: an outlook on Macao’s visual arts development

03 2015 | Issue 3
Text/Hazel Ma, Allison Chan and Bob Leong

Macao enjoys a vibrant visual arts scene of its own, as seen from the many art exhibitions taking place in the city year-round. To establish Macao as a leading arts market in Asia such as Hong Kong or Singapore, however, what conditions will be required? In this issue, we have invited Hong Wai and Fok Hoi Seng Eric, two leading Macao artists, together with James Chu and Ho Kin U, prominent visual arts advocates, to discuss the value of art.


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The importance of artists and art collectors


Currently living in France, Hong Wai is one of the few leading international artists from Macao. Representing a fusion of Chinese brush painting and contemporary art, her works have attracted art collectors both in and outside Macao. In 2013, she was one of the artists representing Macao in the Chinese contemporary art show “Like Thunder Out of China” in Canada, organised by Arsenal Montreal Art Center, alongside other world-famous participating artists such as Ai Weiwei. Speaking of last year alone, Hong sold a considerable number of her works to major buyers, including a private buyer who worked as a senior executive at an international luxury fashion brand. As such, the value of Hong’s works is indisputable.


However, Hong’s achievement today is no mere coincidence. After finishing her Master’s studies in France, Hong decided to stay on in France to seek out opportunities, and embarked on a PhD on Chinese contemporary art.


Other than talent, the prerequisite of a positive, nurturing environment is also conducive to the growth of an artist. With an established art market and schemes to nurture artistic talent, France has provided Hong with a conducive cultural environment, helping her to develop her potential to the full.


In France, art practitioners can apply for different government subsidies to support their careers, as well as enjoy tax benefits. Moreover, art buyers are also eligible for tax exemptions in purchasing art, which sets the trend for private art collecting and promotes the development of the art market. As far as leasing is concerned, property rental prices in France are capped at an annual increase of less than 5%, a measure that provides a more stable living environment for artists.


Hong also pointed out that, other than supportive government policies to encourage creative work and art trade, there are also various community-based agencies in France that promote these trends. “Each year, different art assessors will visit art degree shows at universities with art gallery owners and curators, in order to spot the latest artistic talent. These graduation shows or competitions are not amateurish by any standard. In fact, each art student values so tremendously his or her opportunity to take part. For these emerging artists, well-connected art assessors will certainly help to raise the profile of their work among art galleries and collectors.”


Compared to the sophisticated art scene in France, Macao’s art market is still being developed. Nonetheless, Hong felt that the art students and emerging artists in Macao should keep their hopes up. She said: “In recent years, more and more corporations are keen to collaborate with art organisations in Macao, such as to showcase artpieces made by homegrown artists in the public space of casino arcades, so as to promote public awareness of Macao’s art. In 2012, MGM Macao organised an excellent art show, “Discovery: A Creative Journey Through The Works of 20 Macau Contemporary Artists”, which demonstrates that art is not just confined to exhibition halls. Since a sophisticated art market and audience are still lacking in Macao, public space has become a great venue for artists to showcase their work, making art more accessible to the public.”


Hong believed that the nurturing of a local art audience in Macao is vital, while the next step would be to promote art collecting. “A mature and successful art market does not only rely on art education and policies. Sales strategies are also highly important. After all, no government can support all the artists and, at the end of the day, artists would need to make a living out of their sales. The best way for an artist to further his or her career is to succeed in selling their artworks to art collectors.”