Art Basel

A bigger, better Basel: Art fair returns to Hong Kong with strong local focus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 11:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 5:36pm

Art Basel Hong Kong will overwhelm the city with more than 100 art events starting on Thursday but its impact on the local art scene will go well beyond the four-day event, industry insiders say.

Aficionados from around the world are flocking to the city as preparations for dozens of Basel art events get underway.

“One of the things we’ve been most proud about the fair has been its ability to put the spotlight to what’s happening in Hong Kong,” says Magnus Renfrew, director of Art Basel Asia.

The show is returning after last year’s debut that attracted 60,000 visitors. The international art fair made Hong Kong its third show location after its original in Switzerland and Miami Beach in the US when it acquired a 60 per cent ownership stake in Art HK in 2011.

Art Basel’s global director Marc Spiegler said, “There is a much stronger local scene to engage with in Hong Kong compared to Basel or Miami.”

Of the 245 galleries from 39 countries and territories participating in this year’s fair, 25 are based in or have an office in Hong Kong.

Renfrew said, “In comparison, in Basel we had five or six galleries from Basel and at Miami Beach only two from Miami Beach. That serves as a real testament to the strength of the local gallery scene in Hong Kong.”

“The Guggenheim curators are here, the Tate curators are here, and the Australian museums are coming,” said Katie de Tilly, co-president of the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association. “Art Basel Hong Kong has benefited Hong Kong as a city by bringing more attention to arts and culture.” she said. 

Fo Tan, home to one of the city’s largest cluster of artist studios known as the Fotanian Artist Village, is welcoming Art Basel Hong Kong’s VIPs with two special tours with shuttle service from Wan Chai.

Though the tour is a Fotanian initiative rather than an Art Basel invention, Fotanian artist Simone Boon said she had benefited from last year’s tour in collaboration with Art Basel, as her encounter with the owner of Ning Space in Beijing’s 798 art zone during the tour resulted in an exhibition there that just took place in April.

Boon is in charge of designing the tour this year. The Dutch-native who has lived in Hong Kong for ten years remembers since the days of Art HK – running from 2008 to 2011, local artists and galleries have held their own events around the time of the fair, “but things have become more organised since Basel came.”

Chow Chung-fai, local artist and chairman of the Fotanian Art Village, compared attending Art Basel and exploring the rest of the city’s art scene to “seeing the end products” versus “seeing where art actually happens”. He said it is a good thing that Hongkongers have a chance to appreciate top notch art from around the world in the three days during Art Basel, “But the development of our art scene is not dependent on the number of local artists that make it to the fair, but on a comprehensive blueprint supporting arts development on a policy level.”

As a centerpiece of this year’s show, Berlin-based artist Carsten Nicolai will take over the city’s tallest building, the 484-metre International Commerce Centre in Kowloon, with his dazzling light installation for three nights. With that described by Renfrew as a visual impact of Art Basel on Hong Kong that is hard to miss, the long-term impact of the show will hopefully be just as remarkable.