Art Basel

Art Basel stages global Modern and contemporary art shows, held annually in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong. Founded by gallerists in 1970, Art Basel supports the role that galleries play in the nurturing of artists, and the development and promotion of visual arts.

NewsHong Kong

Keep focus on art, not the market, artists told as Art Basel comes to town

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 4:15am

With Hong Kong besieged by Art Basel, some of the city's artists are warning their contemporaries not to get carried away in the pursuit of commercial success.

Hong Kong artist Lee Kit, a Basel veteran whose works are being shown by three galleries at the international art show this year, said artists shouldn't lose themselves in chasing profits.

"There is no such thing as [being] shot to stardom after one appearance at Art Basel," Lee said. "It is around 250 galleries, so 2,500 works are on display.

"It may be little help to an artist's career if their works are not shown [at Art Basel], but even for those who do have work here, there is only so much attention you can get," he said.One year after Art Basel's debut in Hong Kong, Lee said the effect of the fair had not been entirely positive.

"What it has created so far is a context or platform that is different from before.

"With a wider spectrum comes a wider 'rich-and-poor' gap in the art world," the artist said.

However, he emphasised that he was not blaming Art Basel, saying that artists who chose to chase profits had nobody but themselves to blame.

"Artists should focus their energy on making good art instead of thinking about the market," Lee said.

The show, running at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai until Sunday, brings together works from 245 galleries based in 39 countries.

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Last year's event attracted more than 60,000 visitors. Art critic Anthony Leung Po-shan said that since Art Basel debuted in Hong Kong, the local art scene had capitalised on its halo effect, but the change was mostly in commercial momentum rather than artistic output.

"It is still early. I hope the benefit will be more visible after two or three years, because over the past two years it was very obvious that all the creative energy was absorbed into the commercial world," she said.

"Artists in Hong Kong are too conformist; they just want to join the game instead of thinking of alternatives. We don't see people who experiment with setting up their art spaces, non-commercial ones. We see all kinds of people working in the industry immediately being absorbed into commercial practices."

She said that elsewhere, including in Basel itself, artists who "disagreed" with the market would organise activities such as parallel exhibitions and events geared not only towards selling.

"But I don't see enough of that happening in Hong Kong. That's why I think it will still take a few more years to mature," Leung said.

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

Local artist Chow Chun-fai, chairman of the Fotanian Artist Village, compared attending Art Basel and exploring the rest of the city's art scene to "seeing the end product" versus "seeing where art actually happens".

He said it was a good thing that Hongkongers had a chance to appreciate top-notch art from around the world in the four days of Art Basel.

"But the development of our art scene is not dependent on the number of local artists who make it to the fair, but on a comprehensive blueprint supporting arts development on a policy level."

Leung said the greatest benefits of Art Basel were the interesting people it brought to the city and how it exposed the public to art. "Now even my 'ordinary friends' know it is the art fair week, so the whole thing is more visible. This is a good thing."

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