ART FAIR HONG KONG ORIGINAL COVERAGE
“It’s overwhelming” said a US national HK-based art historian. “I feel sorry for you if you have to sit down and distil all this.” Left and right, in French, Japanese and Mandarin, the same sentiment was expressed over and over by students, artists, the press and art professionals. The sheer scale of the 2011 edition of the Hong Kong International Art Fair (ART HK 11) is breathtaking.
Hong Kong is known for its explosive roller-coaster energy. Drafted in by organisers to promote the fair, even David LaChapelle, an iconic new York photographer known for his fantasy tableaux of celebrities and pop culture, said the city makes New York seem sleepy and cynical. And he is a man well able to judge; he has probably seen it all.
This is the largest ever display of contemporary and modern art Hong Kong has ever seen. And even Hong Kongers, who are used to materialism on a whopping scale, were struggling to take it all in. “It is indigestible,” said one middle-aged female buyer. “I’m not a proper collector, I need more focus. And it is difficult to find my way around. I couldn’t do it justice.”
Perhaps the leap from 110 galleries in 2010 to 260 this year was a bit of a struggle for the organisers, too. The booth numbers were confusing and some gallery locations did not correspond with the map reference key.
“I feel like I’m in a shopping mall,” said a local lecturer who wandered through the main hall of 160 “chosen” galleries. In this section of the art worlds “best”, including White Cube, Gagosian and Marian Goodman, it was surprising how the gallery displays that popped out were those that featured multiple works by a single artist. Hong Kong-based Hanart’s show of ink artist Luis Chan was one rare example. The rest might learn a couple of tricks from the crowded supermarket shelf: simple sells, so limit choice and pile them up for maximum impact.
A new addition this year is a category called ASIA ONE. ASIA ONE houses galleries from countries located within a broadly defined Asian region – “Turkey to New Zealand and the Middle East to the Indian sub-continent” – that have been asked to present solo shows of artists of Asian origin (again, this is broadly defined.) It was created for pragmatic reasons, according to rumours and may well have saved the day.
In 2009, in a struggle for survival, the fair was forced to accept unproven or less-than optimal galleries after it lost its Lehman sponsorship deal and was not able to line up a replacement. Fair organisers created a showcase for these newer galleries called ART FUTURES for which young galleries, established in or after 2006, present the work of one or two artists 35 or less years old.
Now that the fair is on firmer ground, with top international galleries taking prime space and wanting to prevent “dilution” of their brands by proximity to “undesirable” neighbours, the two separate (by name and location) gallery categories work as happy solutions. ART FUTURES and ASIA ONE are, in fact, the most rewarding and enjoyable sections of the fair.
What else is worth seeing? The Deutsche Bank show “Urban Utopia” is a triumph. It contains recently acquired north Asian and new media works. The bank has been buying art for its new space in the International Commerce Centre (ICC Tower) in Tsim Sha Tsui. This is the tallest building in Hong Kong and, because it is not in the main business district, there are lavish amounts of cheap space, a commodity as rare as clean air in Hong Kong.
The bank plans to buy around forty or so more north Asian works in the next two years, but this is a drop in the ocean compared with its total collection of 56,000 pieces acquired over the last thirty years. Some interesting and underrated photography works by Hong Kong artists Almond Chu, Tim Li and anothermountaiman (a.k.a. Stanley Wong) are on show.