Countdown to Art Basel in Hong Kong

Heading to the fair? You'll find more historical work by Asian artists, more Western galleries, plus a "waterfall" of numbers as high as a skyscraper


The Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima’s Time Waterfall is due to transform Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the 118-storey ICC tower in Kowloon, each night next week during Art Basel in Hong Kong. The illuminated numerals that will cascade down the building “express the ethos of living in the present”, according to a press statement, which seems apt for the city’s most hectic art week of the year.

While speculation continues over the effects on the art world of the falling numbers that represent mainland China’s economic slowdown, the forecast looks better for the wider Asian art market at the fair (24-26 March, invited guests from 22 March). Art Basel in Hong Kong is “still very much a 50-50 show” in its balance of Asian and Western galleries, says Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s Asia director since January 2015. But its potential lies in the “wealth of material” from the continent that has yet to gain market exposure, she says.

“The Asian market is quite young, and in terms of art history there’s so much out there that hasn’t been shared,” Ooi says. A number of Asian galleries are planning to present more historical works by artists from across Asia and the diaspora at this year’s fair.

In the Encounters section for large projects, Osage Gallery (Hong Kong and Shanghai) is showing Cargo and Decoy (1989/2010), an installation by the late Filipino conceptual artist Roberto Chabet that was inspired by his experience of the Second World War.

Solo booths of Asian artists in the main Galleries section include Eslite Gallery (Taipei) with the Chinese-American artist David Diao, Rossi & Rossi (London, Hong Kong) with the British-Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen and, participating for the first time, the veteran Japanese dealer Galerie Nichido (Tokyo, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Karuizawa, Kasama, Paris, Taipei) with Ryuzaburo Umehara, the 20th-century Western-style painter who studied under Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Yet there are almost twice as many Western as Asian newcomers on the 2016 exhibitor list. Among 239 galleries participating this year (six more than the last edition), 18 of the 28 newcomers are from Europe and the US, including Cardi Gallery (Milan, London), Xavier Hufkens (Brussels), Greene Naftali (New York) and David Kordansky Gallery (Los Angeles). Ooi says the change in dates from May to March last year “proved to us that this is the right time to hold the fair and made it possible for lots of galleries to join us”.

A short cab ride from the Hong Kong Convention Centre, where the main fair takes place, the satellite fair, Art Central, returns to Central Harbourfront with more than 100 participating galleries, of which 30 have never shown in Hong Kong before. There is a stronger emphasis on talks and discussions for its second edition (23-26 March, invited guests 21 March). The talks programme, presented by the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, boasts an impressive line up of speakers including Alexandra Munroe, the Asian art and senior advisor at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, Karin Oen, the assistant curator of contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum San Francisco.

Speakers due to take part in a new “roundtable” strand of talks include Melissa Chiu, the director of Washington DC’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The programme “aims to break down the stigma surrounding contemporary art by inviting visitors to join a communal table and participate in the discussion with curators, collectors, artists, gallerists, and museum directors,” says the fair’s director, Maree Di Pasquale.


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