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Art Basel 2017

Shock and awe: first impressions of Art Basel Hong Kong 2017

There’s stunning and enticing art aplenty at this year’s fair, and from some big names too. Shen Shaomin’s installation Summit and Shi Guorui’s stark camera obscura images of Hong Kong are among works that caught our eye

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 10:51am

We are in a very different world today than we were a year ago, but that may not be immediately apparent at Art Basel Hong Kong 2017. There’s still plenty of visually stunning and enticing art on show (though less bling bling than, say, a couple of years ago); the big installations, big sculptures and big names (Takeshi Murakami, Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor, William Kentridge, and Cai Guoqiang to name the few) are all back. But you have to look hard to find art that makes any kind of political, social or economic statement. Art Basel Hong Kong is a commercial art fair, after all.

That’s not to say this year’s offerings are muted. If contemporary art is out to shock and evoke emotional responses, then Shen Shaomin’s Summit (2009), presented by Osage Gallery, does that with plenty of voltage.

Conceived as a response to the global financial crisis of 2008, the large installation is an “imaginary meeting” of former communist leaders – Ho Chi Minh, Kim II-sung, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin and Fidel Castro – all, but one, placed inside crystal coffins. At the time Castro was still alive, in a hospital bed.

I have never felt physically ill looking at an artwork before, which makes this piece extraordinarily good: these waxwork-like figures are quite grotesque to look at.

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Equally provocative is Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho’s installation series, presented by Arario Gallery, that features a group of what looks like migrant workers protesting – about what, we are not quite sure.

As for the rest of the show, there is a curious absence of photography, though there is an interesting showcase of Shi Guorui’s camera obscura images of Hong Kong by the No 10 Chancery Lane Gallery.

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Produced over three summers, these large black and white images offer an alternative (haunted, even) take on the city’s skyline.

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My attention was also drawn to sculptures and watercolours by Pakistani artist Naiza Khan, at Rossi & Rossi, that explore the female body and the emotions conjured up by attire.

Art Basel Hong Kong, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, March 21-22 (by invitation only), March 22 5-9pm (Vernissage), March 23-25 (public days). Opening times vary.