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Hong Kong, A Post-Art Basel Heat?

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2016-05-21 14:41

During March under the shining stars, even the air itself seems to be alive with the feelings of art and business. Previously known as ART HK, this event has been put on every year since 2013 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Art Basel Hong Kong and its headquarters in Miami are a platform representing the world’s mainstream art and art trading. According to the official statistics of the Art Basel Exhibition, this year’s exhibition attracted about seventy thousand guests, making it the highest attendance for a Hong Kong exhibition. This number includes over a hundred international institution and museum directors, curators, trustees as well as sponsors for the exhibition. The event also attracted international collectors and a surprising amount of sales. 


“Miami Beach has a distinctly Latin edge, Basel is very European and Hong Kong is a metropolis,” says Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler. “When we first came to Hong Kong, we were afraid that we would be swallowed by it and disappear into the woodwork. But we have managed in a short time to make a huge impact.” Indeed, after five years, the works of art at this year’s Art Basel is all-encompassing. From the great Chinese contemporary artists such as Xu Zhen and Yang Fudong to international artists such as the ever popular Damien Hirst, all the biggest names are gathered together for this event. 

The Basel Flu 

Nevertheless, Art Basel should not be taken too seriously, since after all, it’s nothing more than an art fair. Art exhibitions are a kind of special distribution medium, wholesale and retail are similar distribution mediums, exhibitions only have an extra layer of meaning tied to it. So to talk about art exhibitions from an academic point of view, it is similar to talking about nutrition at a wet market - you don’t have the audience for it. Not to mention that most people do not have the patience to stop and seriously look at a piece of art, so it comes as no surprise that many people end up saying “I don’t get it”. 


Regarding the masses that have just come in contact with art exhibitions, as well as much of the professional media who have made publicity excessively fashion and academic oriented, people see and take in art in a particularly polarised way. The ‘Basel’ tag on social media seems to now symbolise a fleeting fast sale of products. 


Regarding the organizers and the galleries, the trade-off between wanting to entertain and make sales is a difficult balancing act. Everyone in the Hong Kong art industry know that the previous Art Basel director of Asia Magnus Renfrew took a position at the Bonhams, there after several rounds of selection and strong recommendations from himself, the director position eventually fell to their ex-manager of VIP relations of Southeast Asia, Malaysian Adeline Ooi. Long before this exhibition was carried out, Adeline Ooi made it clear in an interview that Hong Kong has inherited the previous Basel’s style, “I think with my background, it’s about opening doors and keeping them open with the different sectors and stakeholders in the art world.” This Central Saint Martins gratuate believes that her global director Marc Spiegler’s appointment is definitely not meant to reform Art Basel Hong Kong, “I don’t think Marc Spiegler hired me to immediately come up with new ideas about how to change Art Basel. What I think I bring to the table is my ability to communicate with everyone and draw out what is urgent, to discuss and figure out what we all need, and then formulate what is to be done next. I’ve been in the art scene long enough to be sensitive to the climates.” As to be expected with this in mind, this year’s Art Basel trucked on in the same vein as previous years, unaffected by the change in curators. For regular visitors though, the lack of new ideas left them feeling a bit bored. 

Art Central vs. Art Basel 

Interestingly, 24 hours before the opening of Art Basel in Hong Kong, another big Hong Kong art exposition, Art Central, opened its doors. People in the world of art all know that the Art Central team is actually from Art Basel’s predecessor - the original ART HK. Since Art Basel was acquired in 2005, it was easier to start from scratch to keep this exposition a leader in Asian art. 


In the same city, two different art expositions were held at nearly the same time, this is perhaps unprecedented. 

Art Central seems to have a challenging attitude towards Art Basel. If you say Art Basel is an exposition that doesn’t involve affairs of the world and instead pursues the ‘yuppie’ quality of life, then Art Central is rather ‘hippies’ rolling around on the grass. 

Situated in front of Central’s symbolic Ferris Wheel and accompanied by water features and a natural breeze, Art Central from the outside looks like a upgraded version of a flea market. 


Relative to Basel Hong Kong’s ‘big urban fusion’ style, Art Central more focused on the art of exploration. Regardless of who wins this duel, for collectors, artists, curators, or taxi drivers, Art Central is a good place to go. Comparing a huge and spread out exhibition such as Art Basel with the compact Art Central, Art Central is both convenient and fast to get to. Situated in the exhibition hall is the ‘Experimenta’ screen which showcased controversial works. From the subject to the topic, the conversation also seemed more open. 

However from an impartial viewpoint and taking into account professionalism and the price of works of art, some of the works of Art Central’s lesser well known Asian artists seem to have high suspicions. To sum up, Art Central doesn’t have the same feel to it; it appears to suit those more are only looking and not buying. 

Highlights in Town 

Tatsuo Miyajima Time Waterfall

Internationally acclaimed Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima presented his new large-scale installation Time Waterfall during this year's Art Basel in Hong Kong. The work was shown across the entire façade of the city's iconic 490-metre-high International Commerce Centre on the Kowloon harbour-front. 


Chen Zhen’s Works Revealed at Basel

The aftertaste of this year’s exhibition of Chen Zhen’s works at the Shanghai Gallery of Art still remains the old Shanghai.


Margaret Lee’s First Asian Exhibition

Duddell’s and the Dallas Museum of Art collaborated together to present the well-known New York artist Margaret Lee’s first Asian exhibition. Margaret Lee will display a site-specific installation including iconic works from the DMA’s permanent collection which will create an optical illusion on the walls of Duddell’s in a wallpaper style. 

Propaganda Painting

After his success in the London’s Simon Lee Gallery, Dexter Lee has put on his latest exhibition in Hong Kong. This exhibition series continues his constant investigation into the role of images and paintings throughout history. 


Zhou Wendou: ADHD

The Hong Kong De Sarthe Gallery presented Zhou Wendou’s first Hong Kong solo exhibition. The exhibition is named after attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’s abbreviated name: ADHD. The exhibition composed of a huge chrome ball where a constant spray of ink bathes it and is repetitively cleaned by windshield wipers. 


K11 Exhibitions

In Course of the Miraculous

The K11 Art Foundation (KAF) presents a solo exhibition of Cheng Ran, featuring his latest work an epic-9 hour film titled In Course of the Miraculous. Coinciding with the Hong Kong edition of Art Basel in 2016, the exhibition fulfills KAF’s mandate to meaningfully incubate emerging Chinese artists, and nurture audience development by introducing a diversified art programme across different mediums. 

Urban Scan

Urban Scan was created by City University Hong Kong’s assistant professor in the School of Creative Media, Tobias Klein. This art work consists of Hong Kong combined with real and virtual landscapes, movie clips, sound, pictures and data on Google Earth as materials in order to create an exhibit. 


Golden Bubbles

Of the seven works of art at the Urban Sense exhibition, the most attention grabbing is definitely Gold Bubbles. This work consists of large inflatable tubes and spheres made of gold with a height of 17.5 metres and are dispersed throughout the three floors and its escalators of K11. 

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