Art Basel in Hong Kong (or ABHK) is the youngest of Art Basel’s progeny, but it is no less breezily confident for that. Since Art Basel bought out the chaotic but lively Art HK in 2012, it has added the familiar accoutrements of an AB fair: the graphic design, the BMW VIP cars, the luxury brands hosting parties in grand hotels, the book launches and talks programmes. It seemed to lose none of its confidence following the ‘Occupy Central’ demonstrations – indeed, this year the fair also spilled out into the streets, to catch the attention of the crowds. Cao Fei’s commissioned video-game art work, flashed the full height of the towering International Commerce Centre; Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s 1995 billboard project, Untitled, was displayed in the K11 Art Mall, in tram shelters and transportation hubs throughout the city; and UK artist Richard Wilson balanced a vintage coach on the edge of the Sun Terrace of the 5* Peninsula Hotel.
The increase in Chinese buyers and the continuing appeal of art fairs to globetrotting collectors has ensured rising visitor numbers and a correspondingly impressive range of exhibitors: 233 international galleries, half of them from Asia. Besides the multinational galleries who already have a base in Hong Kong – Gagosian, Pace, White Cube, Perrotin, and Lehmann Maupin – other leading US and UK galleries, such as David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, and Marian Goodman, were out in force. With solo presentations by internationally known artists such as Xu Bing and Xu Longsen, it was also clear that mainland Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Hong Kong artists were accorded equal space to artists from elsewhere.
Sales were reported to be good: by the end the VIP view Zwirner had sold pieces by Yayoi Kusama, Oscar Murillo, and Wolfgang Tillmans while Hauser & Wirth had sold four paintings by Zhang Enli (prices $250,000 to $350,000), three paintings by Jakub Julian Ziolkowski ($30,000–$165,000), and three paintings by Rita Ackermann ($75,000 each). Most went to Asian collectors. Sean Kelly meanwhile had sold two paintings by Sun Xun, for $145,000 and $135,000 and two by Hugo McCloud for $22,000 each. On the Saturday Pace reported sales of several works by Alexander Calder including an untitled standing mobile from 1972, a tapestry work by American artist Chuck Close and several photographs by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. There were plenty of eye-catching pieces – from Xu Zhen’s provocative paint splashed homage to Courbet’s The Origin of the World (1866), entitled Light Source (2013) to Myeongbeom Kim’s taxidermy deer, Untitled (2015) at Gallery IHN and Sam Jinks’s Untitled (Standing Pietà) (2014), for sale for $155,000 at Sydney gallery Sullivan+Strumpf.
Besides the buying and selling, the major aisles or ‘meridians’ of the fair were dominated by a series of installations by artists from all four corners of the world, curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor from Sydney, Australia. Siobhán Hapaska’s tormented trees (UK), Eko Nugroho’s striking political banners (Indonesia), Sterling Ruby’s giant stoves (USA) and Dzine (Carlos Rolon)’s gaudily oversized chandelier as part of the site-specific installation Around the way (2013) (USA), were placed in dialogue with works by artists from China, South Korea, New Zealand and Malaysia.
For Europeans, it was stimulating to experience a show curated from this quite different centre of gravity. The ‘Insights’ section of the fair devoted to special projects from ‘regional’ galleries reinforced the sense of a creatively vibrant greater Asia, stretching from Australia to Turkey. One highlight was a solo presentation of recent paintings and collages by one of Cambodia’s foremost artists, Leang Seckon (at Rossi & Rossi), another was Chen Qiulin’s poetic installation at A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, which included her video installation The Hundred Surnames in Tofu. There was strength across all media.
The fledgling art scene in Hong Kong has taken time to respond, but this year there were numerous collateral exhibitions in the (sometimes tiny) exhibition spaces in nearby tower blocks. Notable were ‘Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant’, a collaboration between Hong Kong art impresario Adrian Cheng’s K11 Art Foundation and France’s Palais de Tokyo, and the group show, ‘A Hundred Years of Shame – Songs of Resistance and Scenarios for Chinese Nations’ at the pioneering non-profit space, Para Site.
Finally, to prove its graduation into the mainstream of international art calendar fixtures, ABHK had spawned a satellite fair, Art Central (13–16 March), run by Art HK’s former directors. This too performed well, its harbour-front tent offering art collectors an airy, navigable alternative to the monolithic convention centre, with a good balance of middleweight European and Asian galleries. A number of very interesting new ink painters from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong were showing here: an opportunity to explore a genre in depth not often available elsewhere.
Art Basel Hong Kong ran from 15–17 March 2015. Its next edition takes place from 24–26 March 2016 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.