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alexandra seno

With so many ties to Asia, Canadian contemporary art gallery owner Ian Tan always wanted to open a space across the ocean.

With the success of his downtown Vancouver gallery, which he's had since 1999, the time finally seemed right and last year he found the right spot in Hong Kong's trendy Central district.

"Hong Kong is the art hub for the pacific region," Mr. Tan says. "It's the place to buy art now and it's a friendly place to do business."

After reviewing three offers, he teamed up with two Hong Kong-based friends from his high-school days in Winnipeg – Thomas Hui and Cecila Koo – and launched the 1,000-square-foot Ian Tan Gallery in September.

"It started quite well and things are speeding up but it has been quite challenging because we are starting in a brand new city without a mailing list," Mr. Tan says.

Hong Kong is now the world's third-largest auction market after New York and London, and every May it hosts the Hong Kong International Art Fair, a contemporary art event that attracts dealers and collectors from all over the world. Many big galleries – including Gagosian and White Cube – have opened in the city.

When you establish a business in a new place, Mr. Tan says, "everything costs money." With Hong Kong such a vertical city, he decided not to bother looking for a street-level space.

What's had the most impact has been the gallery's roster of Canadian artists and relatively reasonable prices. The works tend to range in price from $2,000 to $12,000, by established Canadian artists such as Robert Michener.

"A lot of buyers in Asia are not aware of Canadian art," Mr. Tan says. "Good art does not have to be inaccessible. A lot of buyers in Asia look at prices. This puzzles me.

"They seem to think the good art is priced a lot higher than what we ask."

He laughs when recalling a visitor to his Hong Kong gallery who tried to be helpful by suggesting he dramatically raise his prices. Mr. Tan says he keeps his prices the same as they are in Canada.

"In Hong Kong I didn't seem to find art priced in the mid-range. One of the things we are trying to do is fill that hole."

Special to the Globe and Mail

Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.

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