The New Art Basel Hong Kong

As published on, 9 May 2013

Only two weeks to go before the inaugural Art Basel HK kicks off and it feels like the circus is coming to town. Inboxes are flooded with invites to art-related and art-themed bars, restaurants, new art clubs, pop-ups, collaborations and art retail and luxury events, ready to capitalize on the anticipated flood of international art visitors to the city. Art, art, art everywhere! What a difference a few years makes.

Held from 21-25 May Art Basel HK comes two weeks after Frieze NY and will be followed by the Venice Biennale, with a week rest before Art Basel opens in Basel. It will be an exhausting month of art, and with more and more art fairs and events crowding the annual art calendar, galleries and dealers will increasingly have to become choosier over which fairs to attend. But the importance of having a reach beyond the West, and a presence in a rapidly growing Asian market — particularly for European galleries doing business in an increasingly fiscally austere environment– is not lost on many international galleries, with a number already opening branches in Hong Kong and investing in building an audience in the region.

Demand for booths at the transformed Hong Kong fair has been great and countless galleries didn’t make the cut with the selection committee. The number of exhibitors has been whittled down from a total of 266 at the 2012 Art HK fair to 245 this year, allowing for larger booths and larger works. It will be the “strongest ever line up, anywhere in Asia to date”, says Asia Director Magnus Renfrew, “with works from emerging young artists to the modern masters of the early 20th and 21st centuries on show”. Although the list of galleries reads like the Debrett’s of the art world — lots of familiar established blue chippers and important heavy hitters — there are also a few newcomers this year including Tina Keng gallery from Taipei, New York’s 303 and Peter Blum galleries, and Wentrup and Johnen Galerie from Berlin, OMR from Mexico and Nara Roesler from São Paulo.

Like Art Basel Miami Beach, which emphasises galleries from the Americas, and Art Basel, which largely features European galleries, Art Basel HK will stay rooted in the region and maintain a distinctly Asian flavour. Asian galleries will make up 50% of the exhibitor line-up, and the fair will feature 28 galleries with exhibition spaces in Hong Kong, including Platform China, Blindspot Gallery, Gallery Exit, and Grotto Fine Art as well of course as Western galleries who have recently set up in HK. Art Basel Director, Marc Spiegler, stresses that, “The selection confirms Art Basel’s commitment to Asia. The Hong Kong fair will look very different to Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel,” a prospect that many are looking forward to and counting on. “It will be a refreshing treat to Art Basel followers worldwide!” states gallerist Katie de Tilly of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. “There is such a small presence and understanding of Asian art in the Western art fairs.”

The fair will be divided up into four sectors: Galleries, the main wheeling-and-dealing sector of the show with modern and contemporary galleries; Insights, which will present 47 galleries from Asia and Asia Pacific with specially developed curatorial projects; Discoveries, a showcase of solo or two-person exhibitions by emerging contemporary artists from around the world; and Encounters, a presentation of large-scale installation pieces from around the world, which will become a key feature of the fair. This year will include works galleries including ARNDT (Germany) who will present a 120 part sculpture by Jitish Kallat; Long March Gallery (Beijing), who will show a suspended sculpture by MadeIn Company; Edouard Malingue Gallery (HK) who will showcase a neon text installation by Laurent Grasso; and Kerlin Gallery (Dublin) who will showcase a new commission by British artist Liam Gillick.

A parallel program of talks and panel discussions, long a feature of the Art Basel fairs, will also be presented in collaboration with Asia Art Archive (AAA); the Asia Society; and M+, Hong Kong’s future museum for visual culture, which is currently exhibiting an installation of monumental inflatables at the site of the future West Kowloon Cultural District promenade. Para/Site Art Space and Spring Workshop, will offer an associated program of events throughout Hong Kong that will take place during the week of the shows. Hong Kong Eye, a curated group show of contemporary Hong Kong art which opened earlier this month and debuted at the Saatchi gallery in December, will be showing at ArtisTree until the end of May. The Art Basel program will also be supplemented by gallery tours hosted by the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association; Fotan Studios, a complex of industrial buildings housing dozens of local artists’ studios; and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which will be featuring an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art. Meanwhile, for an off the beaten track look at the Hong Kong creative community, check out Chai Wan Mei: Art and Design Weekend, which will take place in the industrial suburb of Chai Wan on 24-25 May. The weekend will consist of exhibitions, performances, pop-up installations, video screenings, design, fashion, and more.

It will be an exciting year not only for many galleries exhibiting at a Hong Kong fair for the first time, but also for Hong Kong which has been itching for greater international cultural visibility. The Art Basel brand’s global reach and reputation will no doubt provide greater exposure for local artists and institutions. Many hope it will also kick-start this city’s cultural evolution, stepping in where Hong Kong’s politicians and wanna-be Medicis have failed to step up. “Art is becoming an international language and at this particular time we’re developing an artistic and cultural scene in Hong Kong,” says HK artist and architect, William Lim. “It’s a great opportunity and a great time.”

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