Hong Kong artists break loose from confines of market forces amid Art Basel
As big money changes hands at this week's Art Basel fair, local creators are putting their message ahead of any commercial considerations
All eyes are on art sales and international big names this week as Art Basel and its satellite fairs open in town. But Hong Kong artists are striving to counter the commercial force of the established Swiss-based show by offering their own narratives outside of the fair grounds.
The buzz of art fairs and influx of overseas collectors may have given them more exposure beyond Hong Kong, but some local artists are worried commercial demands could restrain creativity among the young, leading to works that please the market.
To keep the interest in local creativity going, artists based in Fo Tan Industrial District will host the annual Fotanian Open Studios this Saturday and Sunday for the second consecutive weekend. Visitors can browse more than 70 art studios.
Across the harbour, artists in Chai Wan Industrial City are also launching a "grass-roots" arts festival, Chai Wan Mei, this weekend. Organisers say they aim to offer the public an artistic experience outside a market context.
And at AJC Gallery in Central, Kacey Wong is displaying political art at his solo exhibition, "Art of Protest - Resisting Against Absurdity". On show is a collection of Wong's works that have appeared in protests since 2011, including the annual July 1 march and the 79-day Occupy Central sit-ins last year.
"Art has been playing a role in Hong Kong protests since the 2003 march against [national security legislation under] Article 23 of the Basic Law," he said. "The July 1 protest has become a 'symphony of complaints' and a training ground for the public's use of art in protests."
Wong said fairs were one of many platforms to showcase art, but he wanted to tell stories outside of the market context.
"Art is the voice of the people. I want to offer stories of Hong Kong to those who are looking for things outside of Art Basel during this period." He was not rejecting market forces, however, as he saw them as part of art ecology. His works at the exhibition are up for sale, with the proceeds going to young political groups and independent digital media after the gallery takes its cut.
At Comix Home Base in Wan Chai, meanwhile, Justin Wong and Chow Yiu-fai collaborated on "Building Tails", a conceptual show that blended illustration, installation and multimedia works under one roof.
Justin Wong, an illustrator and a lecturer at Baptist University's Academy of Visual Arts, said they had not intended to jostle for attention during an art-filled week, as they had booked the space before Art Basel moved its dates from May to March.
He agreed art-fair buzz had given local artists greater exposure and familiarity with the way the international art scene conducted itself, but asked: "Will they cater their works towards art fairs and gallery sales? Does showing your works at Art Basel or fairs equal to success?
"Works sold at fairs tend to be safe and traditional. I'm worried that young artists' creative vision will be limited by the market."
One artist, Morgan Wong, is striving to find a balance between artistic integrity and the commercial world.
At last year's Art Basel, he showed his monumental sculpture, The Remnant of My Volition (Force Majeure), which questioned what would happen after June 30, 2047 - the deadline that marked the end of Beijing's promise to Hong Kong of 50 years of an unchanged way of life and systems after the 1997 handover.
This year, Morgan Wong was commissioned by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars to create a video installation, Untitled - Expressway, at the luxury brand's Wan Chai showroom.
The work, featuring moving images of Tuen Mun filmed on a ride in a Rolls-Royce car, juxtaposes one of the city's best-known symbols of wealth against that of the grass roots.
Despite commissioning the project, he said, the company "understands the importance that artwork should stand on its own as an artwork" and gave him freedom and support to explore new-town development policy.
A lot of his artist friends had seen greater exposure partly because of Art Basel, he said.
"[But] we don't just work during Art Basel time ... People see and appreciate our works not only at Art Basel, but at other shows [throughout] the rest of the calendar."