For the latest installment of our five-question interview, we spoke to Alexandre Errera, an art dealer and advisor based in Hong Kong who specializes in Postwar and Contemporary art.
What was your travel life like before the pandemic?
I’ve been in Hong Kong for about eight years now, and I used to travel all the time. My main business is that I’m a secondary-market dealer, so traveling and meeting clients and collectors is very important. I would travel as often as once a month, whether it was shorter trips in the region—to China, or Taiwan—or to the United States and Europe. So I was on a plane pretty much every month, and sometimes once a month to the U.S., which was not very healthy. When you’re in Hong Kong, a trip to New York is sixteen hours; a trip to Paris is twelve hours.
What was the most recent trip you were able to take?
At the beginning of last year I was in Vancouver in January, for the opening of Lorna Simpson and Barkley L. Hendricks at the Rennie Museum there, and then I went to Los Angeles for Frieze and spent a month there, and then spent a couple of weeks in New York. As soon as Hong Kong announced that they would put people coming from the U.S. in quarantine, I jumped on a plane and came back. I haven’t traveled since March of last year, and I don’t think I will for the next few months.
How have you and your clients adapted to not being able to see art in person over this past year?
Obviously, what happened was terrible for everyone and hasn’t made things easy. But I’m lucky in the sense that in Asia, where many of my buyers are, we are used to buying art through JPEGs—much more than in the U.S. and Europe. A lot of my business was already conducted by sending images, videos, and condition reports, and the decision to buy was often based on those materials, so it hasn’t changed things dramatically for me. If anything, it’s given me an advantage over other dealers who work with more traditional clients. It has allowed me to see more material which maybe I wouldn’t have seen because it would have been sold to a collector in the U.S. or a collector in Europe.
How are you using digital and social media during this time?
For some viewings I have used FaceTime. That has been a good way to see artworks in an interactive way, where you can tell the person, ‘Move to the left, move to the right.’ And I can’t emphasize enough that people here are all about texting and messaging. Even when I conduct business for quite large amounts, sometimes we don’t even speak—we negotiate via text and that’s pretty much it. There have been a couple of situations, though, where we had to see the painting in person and it was very difficult. In one case we sent a really important Abstract Expressionist painting to Japan for viewing and the country went into lockdown, and it was stuck there for a while before anybody could see it.
People are more engaged and present on social media, especially Instagram. In addition to discovering new artists, it’s a good way to just connect with other people. People are bored and stay at home, so they have more time to be on it. They post something that’s right in front of them on their wall, and that creates a conversation. Even though we haven’t been able to travel, it’s been somewhat easier to connect with other people. People have more time and are a little more open to approaches from someone they might not know, as opposed to when they’re always busy and traveling.
What are you looking forward to once travel resumes?
I’m not particularly looking forward to art fairs. Maybe I shouldn’t say that as a dealer, but it’s something I don’t really miss that much. It’s more about the opening of great museum shows, some exhibitions that have been postponed—those I’m more keen to see. There’s a Joan Mitchell retrospective that’s due to start at SFMOMA and then travel to a few museums. Another one I was going to make the trip for, but couldn’t go, was the Yoshitomo Nara retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And closer to home, I’m looking forward to the opening of the M+ museum here in Hong Kong. It’s been so many years in the making, and has been delayed so many times. And I would love to go to Paris, London, or Basel and see the great artists in museum collections and just spend some time there.
I’m also looking forward to traveling to see clients and collectors, going to their houses and seeing art there as opposed to just receiving images. There are some opportunities that are created only by meeting in person, where you go to someone’s house and say, ‘That work is great, did you ever think of selling it.’ That’s hard to do via email or on a phone call.