Art Basel lands in Hong Kong.



The first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong proved to be a great success with public and dealers alike, attracting 60,000 visitors. As the successor to the Art HK fair (bought by the MCH Group last year), the fair is now sporting a new name, new colours and looking to the future with a great deal of optimism.

As the third member of the Art Basel empire – after Basel and Miami – the fair opened its doors in style in Hong Kong. 245 galleries representing 35 countries came along to try their luck in this new Eldorado of the art market. Remember that China became the premier art auction market in 2010, and, with its favourable tax system, Hong Kong has quickly established itself as the new nerve centre of the contemporary art market in the East.

Now that it has dropped anchor in Asia, the fair was proud to announce that half of the galleries are located here. This is perhaps a subtle turn of phrase, as the list included galleries such as Gagosian, Lehmann Maupin, Simon Lee, Perrotin, Ben Brown (who now has an exhibition space in Hong Kong after making his name elsewhere), Blum & Poe (who will shortly be opening in Tokyo after having conquered the USA), Continua in Beijing, San Gimignano and many other galleries who have been tempted to try the Asian experience.

It is only the view over the bay of Hong Kong and the more Asian clientele that make the aisles of Art Basel HK seem any different from those of Art Basel Miami, FIAC or FRIEZE.

Visiting the fair was a little predictable right from the outset because of this standardisation of the art market on the part of the major galleries and the major artists (at least five stands were displaying works by Marina ABRAMOVIĆ and Anish KAPOOR).

Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth welcomed visitors to a glittering stand. A mirror flecked with bindis by Bharti KHER was displayed opposite an installation of metal kitchen utensils by her compatriot Subodh GUPTA, which in turn faced the provocative silver sculptures of Matthew Day JACKSON (a dog urinating) and Paul MCCARTHY (a garden gnome holding a vibrator).

On the other side of the aisle, the stand housing the White Cube gallery opened onto an enormous 4-metre photograph by Jeff WALL, only the third contemporary photographer to be admitted to the very exclusive club of artists who have sold a work that has broken the one-million barrier (along with Gursky and Shermann). The interior of the stand was mainly given over to pieces that had been shown during the year at the gallery’s exhibition space in Hong Kong. These included new works by Damien HIRST (Spin Paintings New Generation, razorblades and other insects) and by Chinese artist ZHANG Huan.

On the Thaddeus Ropac stand, a huge GILBERT & GEORGE (over 4 metres long) could be seen across the sparkling mobile by Korean artist Bul LEE. Jules DE BALINCOURT, one of the few French artists represented at the fair, was also exhibited on the Austrian gallery’s stand.

The artist George CONDO was ubiquitous, with appearances on the Gagosian and Spruth Magerts stands, and particularly prominent at Simon Lee, (recently established in Hong Kong), with the display of a bronze and a canvas. The London gallery also offered a series of monochrome paintings by Sherrie LEVINE.

Marina ABRAMOVIĆ also turned up everywhere, with her various portraits adorning the stands of Gladstone, Kissinger, la Lisson and Sean Kelly, along with an abundance of works by Idris KHAN. An abundance, because this game of Memory was generally spread right across the fair (the same work by Sophie CALLE was at both Arndt and Perrotin, but on different floors), while works by Idris Khan were actually displayed facing each other on the neighbouring Yvon Lambert stand. But despite this faux pas, the stand was a success thanks to two magnificent installations by Shilpa GUPTA alongside some luminous shots by Candida HÖFER. PKM also provided a ray of light – the Korean gallery decided to show a large number of works by Olafur ELIASSON.

The ShangART gallery returned the focus to Asia with a video installation by HU Jieming and a monumental paper sculpture by Sun Xun.

A few metres further on, we returned a very global offer on the Gagosian gallery’s superb stand. This was showing a large Zhang Fenzhi (recently exhibited in its Hong Kong gallery), a huge Basquiat (currently being exhibited in Hong Kong), a gigantic Condo, a monumental Murakami (shown here last November), an enormous Baselitz, an impressive Gursky (exhibited in Hong Kong last May at the gallery’s opening), and some tiny Picassos.

Meanwhile the Pace gallery chose to open its doors in Beijing rather than Hong Kong. In December last year it held a successful exhibition of the works of one of the most sought-after artists, ZHANG Xiaogang. So this was an opportunity to show paintings and sculptures by the world’s most expensive contemporary Chinese artist in Hong Kong.

The US gallery Marian Goodman is one of the few international galleries that has not yet opened up in Asia. But it presented a magnificent stand that included a gigantic mural (over 6 metres long) by Julie MEHRETU, an easel-mounted video installation by William KENTRIDGE and 16 printed panels by the world’s most expensive living artist, Gerhard RICHTER.

On the Zwirner stand, French artist Adel ABDESSEMED (who attracted attention earlier this year with his statue portraying the Zidane head-butting incident) presented a sculpture in plastic of a horse in a somewhat unhappy state, surrounded by drawings.

The la Lisson stand either stole from others or unveiled its artists a little too early, as they were also showing Abramovic and Kapoor, but also AI Weiwei (also exhibited on the Urs Meile stand) and Jason MARTIN (Pearl Lam).

Lehman Maupin – a newcomer to Hong Kong in the famous Pedder Building (home of Gagosian, Ben Brown and Simon Lee) – presented a beautiful transparent cabinet by Do Ho SUH opposite a very ugly Iwamoto MASAKAZU. The gallery also displayed a neon piece by Tracey EMIN that replaced a series of drawings.

Is the Kukje in the throes of becoming the Gagosian gallery of Asia? In any event, the list of artists that it represents looks like a “dream team” of the contemporary art market and its stand at Art Basel HK had no shortage of major works by Bill VIOLA, Othoniel, Kapoor, Ghada AMER, Retle and even Basquiat.

The stand was always crowded, no doubt thanks to the fact that it was exhibiting the two most-photographed works at the fair (not forgetting that we’re in Asia!). The waxwork My fantazy by HE Xiangyu, representing Kim Jung III on his deathbed, attracted almost as much attention as Maneki-Neko’s field of amputated arms waving in time like a field of goldenrod.

A clear trend could be distinguished at this fair: the return of paintings. They were everywhere, particularly at the Contemporary Fine Arts stand, with canvases by Gert & Uwe TOBIAS alongside those of Baselitz and Schwontkovski.

For its part, the Continua gallery continued to show very constructed pieces with a mirror installation by Pistolleto, two large sculptures by Gormley and chairs by Loris CECCHINI that allowed tired visitors to take the weight off their feet.

After having a little rest at Continua, the second floor also offered collectors a wealth of visual treats, beginning with a slightly more modern section containing the likes of Dominique Levy and his Warhols, Leo Castelli and his Lichtensteins, Gmurzynska and his Boteros…. Van De Weghe and Aquavella offered a mixture of all of them plus a little Calder and Magritte on one stand and Lucian FREUD on the other.

In between the modern and the contemporary, the Karsten Greve gallery as always pulled off a delicate balancing act between the fresh works of Georgia RUSSELL and the better-known works of Louise BOURGEOIS and Cy TWOMBLY. The simplicity of the stand and the beauty of the works on show made it one of the most enjoyable stands on this floor. Just opposite was the more original and flashy tribal stand of Michael Werner, with a great many drawings by A.R. PENCK and Aaron CURRY.

The Arndt gallery had apparently decided to follow the example of Perrotin and exhibit as many artists as possible on its stand, which created a sense of overload, but it also showed some very beautiful small works by Chiharu SHIOTA. Even more beautiful was a piece by the same Japanese artist on the Daniel Templon stand, displayed facing a small marble sculpture by Jan FABRE.

Before leaving the fair, we also wanted to cast an eye over Encounters, a very large-scale solo project. It may not have been the fair’s best work, but the biggest hit was achieved on the Seung Yulon stand, where an inflatable area attracted a swarm of children for 5 days. For them it was a playground, an escape from a fair that perhaps they too were finding a tad predictable.