A flying forest, a styrofoam mausoleum and a giant seesaw will greet visitors to Hong Kong’s Art Basel fair from today as the finance hub transforms into a creative playground.
The annual show comes as Hong Kong’s status as a centre for collectors grows, with artists, gallerists and celebrities gathering at the harbourside convention centre.
Greater China, grouping the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, maintained its market leader status in 2014, accounting for $5.6 billion in global art sales – closely followed by the United States – according to data firm Artprice.
But while the slick international display of Art Basel, which drew 60,000 visitors last year, is the headline event during Hong Kong’s Art Week, smaller shows pop up all around town to coincide with the show – many of them throwing the spotlight back on grassroots talent.
“The art market in Hong Kong has seen such a boom in these last few years and yet local art is still pigeon-holed as ’emerging’,” says Katie de Tilly, of Hong Kong’s central 10 Chancery Lane gallery and co-founder of the Chai Wan Mei Design Festival.
Chai Wan is a mainly residential area in the far east of Hong Kong Island, where former industrial warehouses are now home to galleries and local artists’ studios.
“It’s less polished than the whirl of the fairs and you really get a feel for Hong Kong’s artistic soul,” she said of the festival, which is in its fourth year.
Co-founder Claudia Albertini compared the Art Week buzz to the atmosphere at European fashion weeks.
“I don’t think Hong Kong is far behind art cities like Miami and Berlin, it plays an important part on the global art stage,” she said.
A new event, Art Central, will also take place from Saturday on the Hong Kong waterfront.
“The fair is completely rooted in our city, with a focus on Hong Kong galleries and artists, and regional market trends,” said co-founder Tim Etchells.
Art Basel Hong Kong kicked off three years ago and is the newest addition to the international art show, which started in Switzerland in 1970 and also has a Miami Beach edition.
Champagne-soaked and glamorous it attracted celebrities including model Kate Moss and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich to Hong Kong last year, with Victoria Beckham and Hollywood star Susan Sarandon set to attend this year.
Central to the display will be the large-scale “Encounters” pieces, including a suspended forest of olive trees by Irish artist Siobhán Hapaska, a mausoleum made from styrofoam boxes by Hong Kong-based Portuguese artist João Vasco Paiva and a giant seesawing log propped up by Indian Buddhist statues by Indian artist Tallur L.N.
The Asian artists on show will be displaying an experimental streak, while keeping true to their artistic traditions, says new Art Basel Hong Kong director Adeline Ooi.
“I think the artists are approaching the mediums in a more daring way,” Ooi said.
“It’s just a natural curiosity especially with the younger group.”
Ooi added that collectors’ appetites are also broadening as they look to snap up pieces from a variety of cultures.
But while Art Basel can shine a spotlight on new talent, Hong Kong-based art critic John Batten said the city needs to go further if it wants to be taken seriously as an art hub, including boosting the number of art museums.
Hong Kong, which is home to multiple gallery spaces, currently has just one museum dedicated to art, the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
“We are very poorly furbished by our public arts sector,” says Batten.
“That’s one of the reasons why this week has such a big buzz in Hong Kong, because we don’t get much of it in the year.”
The government is developing a new art and culture district on the Kowloon waterfront, where contemporary art museum “M+” is expected to boast a world-class collection.
For Ooi, Art Basel is a chance to highlight “the best that Asia can offer”.
“It also shines the light on the Hong Kong scene… you literally see the city light up in a different way.”
Photo: See-ming Lee via Flickr