By CJC Fellows
It’s all about opportunity; that’s the message from critics, artists and gallery owners as Hong Kong becomes the centre of the artistic universe.
For the international galleries exhibiting at Art Basel and satellite fairs like the new Art Central, it’s an opportunity to build collaborations and, for some, discover more about the Asian market.
For art lovers, it’s a chance to see works that might not otherwise come to their attention.
For John Batten, president of the International Association of Art Critics Hong Kong, the real opportunity of Art Basel lies not just with the big-name international galleries but with the up-and-coming artists in the Discoveries section.
“We could go to the big galleries, and see the famous artists,” Batten said. “But this, you may only have to see one time. And usually the artist is here, you can talk to the artist.” For Berlin gallery Galerie Gisela Capitain, Art Basel is an opportunity to introduce its works to Asia and a chance to learn more about the region and its artists. As a way to explore the aesthetic of the different audience, the gallery brought in Untitled (1983) by British artist John Stezaker, a painting filled with Chinese motifs.
Thaddaeus Ropac, an art dealer from Paris, represents two Asian artists and hopes the visit to Hong Kong will help him learn more about the region and its galleries. He said Art Basel in Hong Kong, where an exhibitor from Korea could be placed next to a European gallery, showcased their differences.
“It’s a different aesthetic and a different culture here in Asia and it’s very important that they stay different,” said Ropac. And Hans Mayer, who runs a gallery in Hamburg, said the Hong Kong art scene had changed immeasurably over the past 20 years.
“Now the visitors are wonderful. The young people are very well-educated and informed,” he said. He believed Art Basel was a great platform from Asian artists and collectors, and that a new generation of art fairs would change how galleries interacted with audiences and artists in Asia.
Bao Dong, an independent curator based in Beijing, noted that there were more European galleries than Asian ones this year, which “in a way shows they want Asia to pay the bill, a bit like a cultural colony”. A few minutes away, Art Central is making its debut on the Central harbourfront, offering a friendlier experience to complement, rather than compete with, Art Basel. Galerie Du Monde is showing the installation O-Viewpoint by Stella Zhang, made with different layers of white fabric, which the artist said related to a female body. The choice of colour also symbolises purity and freedom in west and death in east. People can go inside the artwork, interact and use high and low angles to observe and feel.
Another work on show Desire Obtain Cherish by Bluerider ART, is a playful approach to the theme of materialism and drug abuse that reveal social problems and common values of today’s world. The artist Jonathan Paul uses beautiful appearance of daily objects to cover the cruel reality that provokes the audience to think. While shows such as Art Basel and Art Central give Hong Kong a massive profile, the mission of turning the city into Asia’s art hub is still a work in progress. Construction continues on the long-awaited West Kowloon Cultural District despite political wrangling and technical issues, but the task of building up the local cultural scene is proving harder still. Art Basel does help local artists to get a shot at the art market, says Damon Tong, of local studio Rental United.
But he says it is not fair to expect local artists to rely on big art fairs to make money – he says the people of the city and government must do more. “It’s not a matter of the figure,” he said, referring to the billion of Hong Kong dollars spent on arts subsidies. “But the way every penny is spent.”
“One problem about the local culture is the sense of being too cynical at everything, including art,” Tong said. “The government needs to inform the general public that artists have to make a living through art.”