Art Basel

Art Basel Hong Kong takes over city with 100 events

Fair hits town with a wide array of exhibitors, testament to the strength of local gallery scene

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 11:51pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 7:06pm

Watch: Global art world arrives in Hong Kong for Art Basel

Art Basel Hong Kong takes over the city today with more than 100 events, but its impact on the art scene will go far beyond the four-day fair, industry insiders say.

"One of the things we've been most proud of about the fair has been its ability to put the spotlight on what's happening in Hong Kong," said Magnus Renfrew, director of Art Basel Asia.

He noted that the city had become the world's third largest art auction market after New York and London, with more international galleries looking to set up business here.

Everything you need to know about Art Basel: Read the SCMP’s special report here

The international art fair, founded in 1970, made Hong Kong its third show location, after Basel in Switzerland and Miami in the US. It acquired 60 per cent of Art HK in 2011.

The show returns after a debut last year that attracted 60,000 visitors - a turnout organisers expect to see repeated this year.

Of the 245 galleries from 39 countries and territories taking part, 25 are based in Hong Kong or have offices in the city.

"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," Renfrew said.

The fair aims to maintain a strong Asian presence, with about half of the exhibitors from the Asia Pacific region.

Renfrew said a dozen more American galleries were taking part, along with first-timers from Saudi Arabia and Norway.

German art dealer Florian Weingrull, who is exhibiting for the fourth time in Hong Kong, said he had had more mainland Chinese and Asian collectors after Art Basel opened in Hong Kong. "For a culture where brand means a certain seal of quality, the Art Basel brand helped and worked," he said.

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

But homegrown artists are still far from making it in the global scene. Gallery owner Pearl Lam said the city had been missing a powerful institution with international influence.

"There is not enough of an international platform for them," said Lam. She hopes opportunities for Hong Kong artists will improve when the West Kowloon arts hub's visual culture museum M+ opens in 2017.

Show offers passport to a maze of modern art

There are more ways of getting into an artistic mood than staring at paintings hanging on a wall.

Try applying for citizenship of an imaginary utopian nation, destroying a city by stepping on an urban landscape or getting lost in a maze.

These are some of the options offered by interactive works at Art Basel, billed as the world's leading international art show for modern and contemporary works, that has returned to Hong Kong after its debut last year.

At a counter surrounded by national flags of the "Experimental Republic of Jing Bang", visitors can apply for citizenship or visas of the new nation - which exists only for six weeks on a whale's back - created by artist Sun Xun to show his dissatisfaction with the real world.

Successful applicants will receive a passport with their picture, a national flag, an animation and a hand-printed book depicting the nation's unique creatures.

"The state leader is a magician," said a gloved "officer" who came to help. "You can do anything … and lie as much as you wish."

Those who want to play Godzilla for a day can step on a cardboard model of Bucharest cityscape and "participate in destroying it", Galeria Plan B's Mihai Pop said.

The installation by Romanian artist Ciprian Muresan relates to dramatic changes during urbanisation, he said.

Outside the exhibition - on show at the Convention and Exhibition Centre until Sunday - Berlin artist Carsten Nicolai will energise the 118-floor International Commerce Centre with a light display every night till Saturday. "I'm using the ICC tower as a pure light source," Nicolai said.

In conjunction with Art Basel, a film programme is being offered at the Hong Kong Arts Centre for three days from today.