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Recap: Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

Last week, the art world descended upon Hong Kong's sweltering streets and alleyways for a week full of openings, art parties, and Art Basel Hong Kong. Only in its second year, Art Basel Hong Kong represents an important shift in focus to the Western art market's new frontier. The fair served as anchor for a week packed with art happenings in the city known as the gateway to Asia, Hong Kong.


Lee Wen, “Splash!” Series 2003, iPreciation

Last week, the art world descended upon Hong Kong’s sweltering streets and alleyways for a week full of openings, art parties, and Art Basel Hong Kong. Only in its second year, Art Basel Hong Kong represents an important shift in focus to the Western art market’s new frontier. The fair served as anchor for a week packed with art happenings in the city known as the gateway to Asia, Hong Kong.

Galleries around the city hosted openings throughout the week, and collectors scouted art at two other art major art fairs held in Hong Kong over the weekend. Art lovers wandered into galleries hidden in Wong Chuk Hang’s abandoned warehouses for the art district’s Art Night on Thursday. Over 60 local artists participated in Chai Wan Mei’s Art and Design Festival on Friday and Saturday. The pop-up Absolut Bar swarmed with party goers and performers roaming in white labcoats as Hong Kong artist Nadim Abbas unvieled his Art Basel installation-turned art party, “Apocalypse Postponed,” complete with blood-colored cocktail served in IV bags.

The art mayhem in the city gave way to the far more pristine event taking place inside Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre. The two floors housing Art Basel’s approximately 245 participating galleries proved that Art Basel has its elite reputation for a reason. Art was impeccably hung on the pristine white walls and installed on the convention floor. The maze of Damien Hirsts, Marina Abramovics, Pablo Picassos, and Giorgio de Chiricos gave way to what sets Art Basel Hong Kong apart from other major global fairs. More than 50% of the galleries came from the Asia and Asia Pacific regions, many showing Asia-based artists exhibiting at Art Basel for the first time.

Art Basel Hong Kong also included several galleries exhibiting more traditional Asian art, tapping into Asia’s base of active and wealthy collectors. Art Basel is a marketplace selling some of the world’s most expensive art, and the fair makes that difficult to forget. VIP lounges are scattered throughout the show and champagne trolleys roll down the exhibition floor.

The show’s most provocative, engaging pieces broke from — or even poked fun at — the high-brow environment. Rainbow colors, cartoon characters, and neon signs popped up all over the show. Singaporean performance artist Lee Wen had viewers up and interacting with his piece, “Ping Pong Go-Round.” Throughout the show, visitors could play ping pong on a donut-shaped table situated in the middle of the first floor. Anastasia Klose, exhibiting with Australian-based Tolarno Galleries, sold T-shirts printed with slogans like, “Jay-Z vs Abromavic,” “Ain’t Gagosian Without Damien,” “Pablo Piclasso,” and “Art Blase” in her installation, “One-Stop Knock-Off Shop.” A sign that reads, “Yes, this is a real shop! Yes, this is performance art!” lets viewers know that what they are looking at is, indeed, art.

He Xiangyu elicited a similar moment of surprise with an incredibly life-like sculpture resembling Ai WeiWei dressed in a suit lying face down in the middle of the exhibition floor, not seeming to belong to any gallery. With their iPhones in tow, visitors cautiously moved closer to see if he was real or fake. (He was fake.) The piece titled, “The Death of Marat,” was showing with White Space Beijing. On the third floor, three small collages marked with red dots signaling they were sold hang below the hashtag “#welltraveled” sprayed on the wall. After asking around at the adjacent galleries, it became clear that the piece wasn’t part of any gallery, but was a guerrilla installation by graffiti artists SKI, 2ESAE, and Col Wallnuts.

It is these moments that make Art Basel more than just a showroom for art with pricetags reaching well into the six-figures. Art Basel Hong Kong captures what art is valued today — whether that is Picasso or Murakami, Bingol or Col Wallnuts.


Patricia Piccinini, “The Comforter” 2010, Tolarno Galleries


Takashi Murakami “New Red Flowerball” Galerie Perrotin


Morgan Wong, “Remnant of My Volition (Force Majeure).” 2014, Pearl Lam Galleries


Lee Wen, “Ping Pong Go-Round,” iPreciation


Kyoung Tack Hong, “Pens” 2014, Hakgojae Gallery


Elmgreen & Dragset, “But I’m on the Guest List, Too!” 2012, Victoria Miro


He An, “What Makes Me Understand What I Know” 2013, Tang Contemporary Art


“The Death of Marat” by He Xiangyu 2011, White Space Beijing


“The Death of Marat” by He Xiangyu 2011, White Space Beijing


“The Unforfable Upswept Bridge” by Keiichi Tanaami, 2011, Nanzuka.

Grayson Perry, “Map of Truths and Beliefs” 2011, Victoria Miro

Burcak Bingol, “Cruise” 2014, Galeri Zilberman

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