Several Western booksellers will be setting up booths at the Fine Art Asia 2013 fair in Hong Kong this month. Art fairs have become a regular part of the mix for several antiquarian book sellers. Some are now making recurring trips to international art fairs in far off corners of the globe.
From October 4-7, Fine Art Asia will be making its 9th annual appearance in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has long been a place where East meets West, and that is more or less what this fair is about. It is filled with items from China and Asia, but then again, it is also filled with items from the West. Collectors, however, will mostly be from China. It is no great surprise that incomes are growing in China, and while the average income is still not enough to buy the level of art offered at this fair, there is a sizable segment of the population that long ago traded in their Mao suits for European fashions. Some will be from Hong Kong itself, but many visitors from the rest of China are also expected to attend.
Books have been merging with art for quite a long time now, though not on the level that they became features at an art fair until more recently. Books as art is nothing new, but their presentation to an audience beyond this particular niche of book collector is a more recent development. It is a logical move for forward-thinking booksellers who recognize the need to expand their audience when sales are not as easy to make to traditional markets as once they were.
We are also seeing more blending of history with art, something that fits well with booksellers who feature antiquarian works. Some of the artwork offered at this fair is more noted for its historic significance. Chinese bronzes may be beautiful objects of art, but they also will be highly collectible because their antiquity, and the history they represent, melds with their artistic qualities to make them very desirable. The same can be said for books. Their age and significance become a part of what makes them appealing as works of art.
For example, Shapero Rare Books will be displaying Novus Atlas Sinensis a Martino Martinio, a 1655 atlas based on the cartographic work of the Jesuit Martino Martini. Martini entered China in 1643 and traveled widely through the country. This is the first European atlas of China, and it was published by the great Amsterdam mapmakers the Blaeu family. Their atlases were both works of artistic beauty as well as a source of the latest information about the outside world for Europeans living in those distant times.
Another book Shapero will have on display is Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique, et physique de l’empire de la Chine, by Jean Baptiste du Halde. Du Halde was another Jesuit, a Parisian who collected the published and unpublished letters of Jesuits from China, including the aforementioned Martini, and published them in 1735. It provided Europeans with much insight into China. Shapero notes, “Historically the work is regarded as monumental from a textual point of view because of the vast amount and variety of interesting details on Chinese political institutions, education, language, medicine, science, customs, and artifacts.” This is another example of a book that is both beautiful and important for its textual content.
Other booksellers going to Fine Art Asia include the London bookseller Maggs Bros., a firm as old as many of the books they sell. Maggs has been one of England and the world's most important antiquarian booksellers for a century and a half. Also coming from London is the much newer dealer Daniel Crouch Rare Books. Crouch specializes in one of the most artistic areas in the works on paper field – maps, atlases, sea charts and voyages. With a shorter trip to Hong Kong is the fine Australian bookseller Hordern House. Many of the voyages that came to Asia also visited Australia. Hordern House is noted for offering material related to many early voyages, those of James Cook and others.
Last year, almost 25,000 people attended Fine Art Asia with sales of over US $50 million. This year's event has been timed to coincide with a series of art auctions being conducted by Sotheby's in Hong Kong.