Three years of lockdown, uncertainty and pandemic later, Art Basel Hong Kong is returning full-scale next month, with high hopes that it’ll be bigger, bolder and better than ever.
There’s a palpable sense of excitement in the air. In early January, Hong Kong began to see, with a glimmer of hope, the return to normalcy after three years of pandemic restrictions. People could travel with ease again. And, more importantly, visitors were welcome again – and it’s this latter point that the team at Art Basel are most thrilled about as the annual art fair is set to return, guns blazing, on March 23-25.
There’s a new energy at Art Basel Hong Kong, too, with a shift at the top – Angelle Siyang-Le, who’s spent the last 10 years as head of development in Greater China, took on a new role as director of Art Basel Hong Kong in November, as Adeline Ooi sets her sights on spearheading Art Basel’s other initiatives regionwide as director Asia.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Le tells me, “for Art Basel to inject a refreshed vigour to the show with my experiences in the art world and to reinforce Hong Kong’s position as the cultural hub of Asia, fulfilling the potential that Art Basel Hong Kong can offer to the region’s art scene.”
With each Covid wave that crashed over our heads, sinking countless local businesses in its wake, it almost seemed a miracle that Art Basel Hong Kong managed to stay afloat and hold both its 2021 and 2022 editions – the fair was cancelled only in 2020, in the early months of the pandemic.
“The art world has been constantly changing and we’ve prepared ourselves to be nimble and agile when it comes to our planning,” says Le. “Travel restrictions prevented us from receiving our international friends to the Hong Kong shows, but we realised it’s important to have both digital and physical components, as they allow you to connect with the broadest possible audiences.”
It might have been a steep learning curve, but according to Le, “The 2021 and 2022 iterations of our Hong Kong show were a resounding success, thanks to the hybrid format we adopted, which allowed in-person and online engagement simultaneously.”
Being restricted also meant the local art scene boomed, as visitors in the city turned their focus on home-grown talent – “with unwavering enthusiasm”, says Le.
But as Hong Kong opens up again, the fair finds itself in a promising position. “We’re excited to welcome a surge of visitors, including gallerists, artists, museum directors, curators, collectors and patrons to bring back the energy and essence that our Art Basel Hong Kong show normally brings to the region and underscore its unique position as a nexus between Asia and the rest of the world,” Le says.
Indeed, this year’s will be Art Basel’s largest show in Hong Kong since 2019, with 177 galleries from 32 countries and territories in attendance. The fair will also see the return of all its special sectors, including Encounters, which is dedicated to large-scale works and again curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, executive director of Artspace, Sydney. Glass-Kantor has long partnered with Art Basel and will be curating this special section for the sixth time. The Film sector will be curated by multimedia artist and producer Li Zhenhua, while Conversations, hosted by author and editor Stephanie Bailey, will be the buzzing centre for talks and panels on the ever-evolving global art scene. Last but not least is Kabinett, which will feature thematic and focused presentations, with more details to be shared in the coming months.
Of the 177 galleries exhibiting at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, up from 130 last year, 22 are making their debut in the city. Among them are Galerie Christophe Gaillard and Loevenbruck from Paris; Jan Kaps from Cologne; Helly Nahmad Gallery London from London; Venus Over Manhattan from New York; Denny Gallery, with spaces in New York and Hong Kong; Kosaku Kamechika, Kotaro Nukaga, Takuro Someya Contemporary Art and Yutaka Kikutake from Tokyo; Yiri Arts from Taipei; YOD Gallery with Lieu from Los Angeles; Umberto di Marino from Naples; moniquemeloche from Chicago; Retro Africa from Abuja; SMAC Art Gallery with spaces in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Stellenbosch; Union Pacific from London; Gallery Vacancy from Shanghai; and Whistle from Seoul.
“The return to a fully-fledged physical show will benefit emerging artists and galleries the most,” says Le.
“They rely on the meets-and-greets and relationships they cultivate with collectors, industry patrons and general art aficionados.”
There’ll also be plenty of exceptional art coming from Asia and Asia Pacific, with more than two-thirds of participating galleries having exhibition spaces in the region. Hong Kong is strongly represented, with 33 galleries, while this year’s fair will also feature standout presentations by galleries from Southeast and South Asia, including, in the Galleries sector, ROH Projects from Jakarta; Richard Koh Fine Art with spaces in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok; Gajah Gallery with spaces in Singapore, Jakarta and Yogyakarta; Vadehra Art Gallery from New Delhi; and Yavuz Gallery, with spaces in Sydney and Singapore. In the Discoveries section are Vin Gallery from Ho Chi Minh City; Nova Contemporary from Bangkok and newcomer Vida Heydari Contemporary from Pune. Of course, as always, galleries from mainland China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will also have a strong presence at the fair.
“It’s always been our core mission for Art Basel to find ways to collaborate and support the local arts scene and explore avenues that push the envelope of artistic boundaries,” says Le.
To further its support for the local scene, Art Basel will continue working closely with museums and non-profit institutions in Hong Kong. “Details are still under wraps,” says Le, “but as in the past, our forthcoming fair will continue to uphold the dynamic energy and devise engaging programmes that highlight regional artists and create meaningful connections from the city to the region.”
Art Basel is ready for its comeback. Big time.
(Header image: Tang Contemporary Art at last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong.)