Published on ocula.com, 20 March, 2015
Your head hurts; your liver no longer holds any value on the black market; your dignity is in tatters after falling down a flight of stairs in high heels at an exhibition opening—sober; a random girl licked your leg; and the last conversation you remember was about vodka home-brewing methods with a Chinese artist. It’s only Friday morning and you already sound and look like you walked off the set of a John Waters film. Hemorrhoid cream will not help with the eye swelling. Not this time. Welcome to Hong Kong art week, the art world’s equivalent to the Rugby Sevens, without the cross-dressing bogans.
The week got off to a fairly civilised start with the K11/Palais de Tokyo opening party for their Inside China exhibition on Wednesday. Floating up and down the three floors in a cloud of Tom Ford cologne with an army of handsome chaps (the art crowd never looked so good) we stumbled through the unusual layout of the exhibition space to check out works by Chinese and Western artists hanging from ceilings, jutting out from walls, and growing out of the floor. An earsplitting sound piece by Yu Ji and Yan Jun was about as big a hit with the audience as a dog whistle on a Pomeranian. One guest described it as an intense and disturbing noise performance. I loved the beautiful tactile paintings on textured hemp canvas by Chinese artist Li Gang, which looked as though they were enlarged under a microscope. London based artist Mathis Collins really gets Inside China with a work resembling a blanket with enema tubes. And some rock-hard phallic looking concrete sculptures by Yu Ji prompted giggles and some lewd selfies with a few of the boys.
The Pedder building galleries promised and they delivered. Gagosian gallery had a resplendent series of gold works by Rudolf Stingel. Imprints of visitors’ scribbled names and messages from a previous installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Whitney Museum in New York in 2007 riddle the surface of the panel paintings. It’s clearly not Aussie or Brit graffiti judging by the notable absence of nobs and obscenities amongst the messages. Sneaking in a peek when all was calm and quiet in the gallery, former Art Basel HK director Magnus Renfrew, now with Bonham’s, remarked the exhibition as feeling almost religious. The works glowed like icons on the wall. Or the dining room of a ’90s Novii Russki.
The Michelangelo Pistoletto show provided plenty of opportunity for self-reflection (literally) with a series of mirror works. Visitors by the dozens were snapping their reflected selfie in the works. Pearl Lam’s group show of Chinese abstract artists, Perfection by Chance presents some beautiful pieces by Su Xinping, and a series of quiet minimalist calligraphy works by Yang Zhilin.
Alex Prager’s cinematic photographs featuring hair and wardrobe the envy of Mad Men, brought a nostalgic and retro feel to Lehmann Maupin Gallery. And Galerie Perrotin won for sexiest show. Berlin-based artist Gregor Hildebrandt covered the entire gallery in strips of glossy black VHS tape as the backdrop to his minimalist works. The result is a space that looks like a black hall of mirrors crossed with a slick nightclub, in which one could catch glimpses into the artist’s domestic and internal world. I loved the homage to Constantin Brancusi’s ‘Endless Column’ fashioned out of pressed vinyl records, standing in the middle of the gallery.
And I absolutely adored Beatriz Milhazes’ White Cube exhibition. A kaleidoscopic and festive explosion of colour and pattern inspired by the optical works of Bridget Riley and Brazilian modernism, it even put a happy smile on the face of this committed fan of all things black and minimal.
After the previews it seemed the whole art world was at Duddell’s for the ICA Hong Kongese exhibition to celebrate the opening of the group exhibition curated by Gregor Muir, Alia Al-Senussi and Abdullah AlTurki. After tumbling my way down the flight of marble steps at Duddell’s, and nursing my very bruised ego, I limped my way to Sevva, where the party-hopping merry-go-round continued at Lehmann Maupin’s party for Alex Prager. Guests took advantage of the polaroid booth to snap themselves against Hong Kong’s killer skyline starring its two architectural attractions from Norman Foster and IM Pei. The long night ended at The Pawn for the LEAP/Mr Porter party where guests were lured upstairs like rats to the Pied Piper by Alan Lo’s infectious peals of laughter. This was the sound of fun to be had. It was definitely the place to be Thursday night, heaving with so many bodies pressed together, and frottaging Frenchies, that we all ended up being that little more familiar with one another (and avoiding eye contact at the fair the next morning). You know it’s a good party when the Hong Kong police make a guest appearance. And when you wake up to find a bottle of vodka and a stack of mysterious discount Mr Porter vouchers in your handbag.
Friday, it’s the Basel VIP preview, but not before I pop into UCCA’s brunch at Lai Bun Fu attended by UCCA’s Phil Tinari, Pye’s Dee Poon and an assorted bunch of fashion types and the usual style bloggers. In my comatose state of staring at my chopsticks for half an hour I vaguely make out something about a UCCA artist t-shirt collaboration with PYE. Well, it seems the thing. Everybody else is doing it so why not? Art and fashion are friendly bedfellows indeed.
At Art Basel HK, later that evening, well heeled VIPs flooded into the fair doing more than posing for the social pages. People were buying, buying, buying. There were reports of big sales from David Zwirner (sold both of its large stunning Neo Rauch pieces and a Chris Ofili elephant dung painting); Hauser and Wirth which sold eight paintings by Zhang Enli; a Sterling Ruby and Barbara Kruger at Spruth Magers, and…well, lets just say, sales were made, dealers were happy, and hangovers were nursed the next morning.
The Art Basel Encounters section featuring 20 large-scale installations, curated this year by Australian, Alexie Glass-Cantor, was a knockout. Stand-out pieces included Yang Maoyuan’s (Platform China) gluten-intolerant and bloated horses; a beautiful monumental Chinese ink scroll painting by Xu Longsen set against a sculpture installation by Wang Keping (10 Chancery Lane); Cao Fei’s installation of a video tent (Vitamin Space); Sterling Ruby’s series of black cast iron stoves recalling the industrial age, their monochromatic heaviness contrasting heavily against the colourful fast money-driven world of the art industry. The colourful Mikala Dwyer fabric installation, ‘Square Cloud Compound’ (Roslyn Oxley Gallery), was a hit with the Godkids who mistook it for a giant teepee and proceeded to dash through it, just out of sight of AB director Marc Spiegler. Making art fun for the next generation.
There were too many stunning works I fell in love with this year to mention, but of note was the Eva Rothschild sculpture installation at Stuart Shave/Modern Art booth. An installation of a deer by Korean artist, Myeongbeom Kim, at Gallery Ihn was a hit with visitors as dozens at a time clamoured to snap the work on their iphones. And Australian artist Sam Jinks’ hyper real nude silicon and resin sculptures were probably by far the most photographed works of the week, allowing viewers to indulge in a bit of pervy voyeurism without the shame and guilt. Speaking of snapping artworks, more than a few dealers were getting irate with visitors mindlessly and carelessly snapping away at art works with Victoria Miro gallery citing examples of visitors walking backwards into other artworks to get a better shot of a Yayoi Kusama sculpture. Pearl Lam had to station guards beside several of her works to prevent visitors from touching them — a tactile Joanna Vasconcelos plush work proved particularly tempting. And Roslyn Oxley’s fluffy sculpture, ‘Small Black Garden’, by Kathy Temin attracted the paws of grownups and children alike.
It was encouraging to see Hong Kong artists also shining amongst all the big names at this year’s fair with a solo exhibition devoted to young artist Trevor Yeung’s work at the Blindspot Gallery booth in the Discoveries section; Sampson Young had his sound installation and performance at am space. Both artists were on the shortlist in the BMW Art Journey award for emerging artists. Gallery Exit Hong Kong featured a great solo show by Lui Chun Kwong; ShugoArts, Tokyo, included pieces by Lee Kit; works by Frog King could be found at 10 Chancery Lane; and a large Styrofoam installation by Joao Vasco Paiva, ‘Monument’ (Edouard Malingue Gallery) took centre stage in the Encounters section.
And there were more photo opportunities with celebs and artists than even Klaus Biesenbach (who was also spotted around the fair, in all his glorious Nosferatu pallor) could wave a selfie-stick at. Susan Sarandon made an appearance; Takashi Murakami has become almost as permanent a fixture at the Art Basel art fairs as Eva and Adele (although the alopecic frocked duo were notably missing from this one); German artist Neo Rauch popped into the David Zwirner booth. French street artist, JR, wandered around the fair with his oh-so-cool gallic posse, hidden behind his trademark shades and stopping for the occasional photograph. I did spot him taking the sunnies off once outside the exhibition halls. I know who you are now, mate!
While the Dita von Teese martini glass strip-tease was taking place at the Grand Hyatt we legged it to the China Club (couldn’t be in two places at once, and the journo friend I had sent in my place got ‘stuck’ in a Wan Chai bar and never made it) for a civilized and well-behaved dinner with David Zwirner gallery and Neo Rauch. This was followed by a night of partying with pretty people at the Audemars Piguet cocktail party in Lan Kwai Fong where we were led through a labyrinthine complex of staircases and hallways in an as yet unfinished building to a room resembling a grotto, filled with ‘mist’ (someone likened it to stepping into a giant bong) and moss.
Saturday night promised big things at the Chai Wan Mei Nights party, but I ended up in a petrol station search for chips and chocolate with a curator and a couple of artists. We seem to have missed the night’s entertainment, but had plenty of our own as we were regaled with stories of Ionesco-esque proportions by an Austrian artist known for wearing animal onesies (his entire studio wears them too…the crocodile is his favourite) and working on an idea of cashmere kidnapper onesies to use for trick or treating (errrr). And because I missed Dita, he kindly presented us with a Marina Abramovic-meets-Chippendales gutter side strip-off together with an Aussie artist—pants off shirts off, although why or how this transpired nobody can now remember.
The Sunday afternoon Intelligence Squared debate ‘The Art World is a Boys Club’ was attended by a largely female audience, and resulted in a surprising win against (by a hair). On the topic of gender in the arts, Monday saw a UBS panel discussion on ‘Women in the Arts’ moderated by yours truly with a female art industry power-house including Alexie Glass-Cantor; Katie de Tilly, 10 Chancery Lane; Alice Mong, executive director of Asia Society Hong Kong; and Emi Eu, director of STPI in Singapore. A formidable line-up with the ladies agreeing that that more needs to be done to support female artist and encourage women in the arts. Rob Thicke made an impromptu guest appearance before the panel discussion to take a look at the UBS collection. I mistook him for a good-looking curator (I’m a Melbourne girl; if it’s not rock, I don’t have a clue, sorry). One last walk through the fair on Tuesday and the exhibition halls and art booths were still buzzing with people, many hoping for that last minute discount on objects of desire (easier to discount than ship all the way back home for unsold works, eh?).
Time to recover from fairtigue and curl up into my bronchial coma stoned on cough medicine. Two months until Venice Biennale.