The highlight of what’s come to be known as art month in Hong Kong, Art Basel is one of the biggest contemporary art fairs in the world and certainly the most important in Asia.
The fair took place on May 21-23 and preceded by two days of VIP previews that began on May 19, it was originally scheduled to kick off some two months ago. The postponement, however, has had exactly the desired outcome, as it has enabled the organisers to attract a far larger number of physical participants than would otherwise have been possible. Indeed, had they gone ahead with the event in March, this year’s fair would have been much like that of 2020, which took place entirely in the digital dimension.
Inevitably, however, compared with more normal years when the fair was able to attract some 250 participating galleries, this is a slimmed-down version of Art Basel, with a total of 104 exhibitors at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Of those, 56 international exhibitors are taking satellite booths, which will be staffed by locally appointed representatives, while eight leading Italian galleries – Alfonso Artiaco, Cardi Gallery, Galleria Continua, Galleria Franco Noero, Galleria d’Arte Maggiore GAM, Mazzoleni, Massimo De Carlo and Rossi & Rossi – have joined together in a single booth.
However, the fact that a physical show – and one that received a healthy flow of visitors, even if they’re socially distanced – can take place at all is surely cause for celebration. Among the more than 100 modern and contemporary art galleries from 23 countries that took part are famous names that include David Zwirner, Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, Lehman Maupin, Lévy Gorvy and Pace, alongside regional exhibitors such as China’s Beijing Commune and Vitamin Creative Space, Mind Set Art Center and TKG+ from Taiwan, Korea’s Kukje Gallery and, from Japan, Kaikai Kika Gallery and Ota Fine Arts. Naturally, there w a large representation of galleries either based in Hong Kong or with sizeable outposts in the city, among which are Alisan Fine Arts, Ben Brown, Pearl Lam and White Cube. Exhibits in this main section of the fair included paintings, sculptures and drawings, as well as installations, photography, video and digital works, while an emphasis on historic Asian works sees presentations of early Korean experimental artists at Arario Gallery, and a showcase at Tokyo Gallery and BTAP of pieces by Yoshio Sekine, Kishio Suga, Jiro Takamatsu, Lee Ufan, Lee Jin Woo and Park Seo-Bo; indeed, Korean artists were strongly represented this year.
Among the younger artists showing at Art Basel are the celebrated Hong Kong painter Firenze Lai (Vitamin Creative Space), the Belgian painter and sculptor Harold Ancart (Clearing and David Zwirner), post-apocalyptic New York-based painter Elizabeth Glaessner (PPOW) and Belgian artist Bendt Eyckermans (Carlos/Ishikawa), while the Mexican newcomer to Art Basel in Hong Kong, Gabriel de la Mora, is showing new pieces from his Neornithes series (Proyectos Monclova).
Alongside Art Basel’s main gallery exhibitors were those in the Insights and Discoveries sections. The former brings together 10 galleries presenting works by Asian artists dating from 1900 to the present, including Korean photographer Heeseung Chung (Gallery Baton) and Japanese artist-calligrapher Morita Shiryu (Shibunkaku). Focussing on solo shows by eight first-time participants that have been specially commissioned for the fair, Discoveries features works by the likes of the Hong Kong artist and BMW Art Journey recipient Leelee Chan (Capsule Shanghai) and, from Shandong, Zhu Changquan (Vanguard Gallery).
These were further augmented by Art Basel Live: Hong Kong, an entirely digital programme running in parallel, which enabled participating galleries to display exhibits in online viewing rooms, as well as live broadcasts, walkthroughs of the exhibition areas, and public discussions between artists, curators, collectors and critics in the Conversations series of talks. The Fine Art Asia Pavilion, meanwhile, was a showcase of antiques and objet d’art.
Given the circumstances and the very real fear only a few months ago that we’d be visiting Art Basel in Hong Kong via our mobile-phone or laptop screens once again in 2021, the organisers have managed to assemble a programme and list of participants that are both remarkably comprehensive and ambitious. It has us eagerly anticipating next year’s fair, by which time we very much hope that normal service will have been resumed completely.
Find out more on Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 here.