What I learnt at Art Basel Hong Kong...

Posted on March 27, 2015 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Gilbert & george

The alluring appeal of Gilbert & George...


I arrived in Hong Kong in the midst of the Art Basel weekend, and ART was the hottest topic in town. From a city that was once nicknamed 'cultural desert', Hong Kong has come a long way to become the new art hub of Asia. But what does art or the fair really mean to Hong Kongers? Has it made any positive impact on the local art scene and artists?

Despite my jet lag and distaste for mega art fairs, I decided to check out Art Basel Hong Kong before it ended. Three years ago, I visited the fair's predecessor Hong Kong International Art Fair (read my entry here); since then, the fair has grown considerably with more than 233 galleries from 37 countries participating this year. With a new Malaysian fair director on board, the fair was divided into six sections including Insights, a section dedicated to 34 Asian art galleries.


myeongbeom kimXu Longsen's Beholding the mountain with aweAntony GormleyJohn Baldessari 'Beethoven's Trumpet (With Ear) Opus #133'art baselart basel Tobias RehbergerGrayson Perry

Top row: Myeongbeom Kim's 'Deer'; 2nd row left: Xu Longsen's 'Beholding the mountain with awe' 2nd row middle: Antony Gormley's sculptures; 3rd row right: John Baldessari 'Beethoven's Trumpet (With Ear) Opus #133' 4th row left: Leung Mee Ping's 'Memorize the future'; 4th row right: Tobias Rehberger; Bottom row: Grayson Perry's tapestry: ‘you could lay it out for a national picnic’


After spending hours of my afternoon at the fair, I want to summarise my observations and afterthoughts, and so I have created a list on what I learned there and then:

1. The event reaffirmed my distaste for mega art fairs. The issue is not to do with the quality of the art work, but rather the crammed setting/ commercial ambience/ environment.

2. Even though I knew this is the case, but the event confirmed this fact: Mega art fairs are not about art, they are about sales, marketing and making noise.

3. Big art fairs are the worst places to appreciate/enjoy art, because you are mostly like to feel physically and mentally exhausted after seeing all of them in one go. Being overdosed on art does not make one feel inspired.


art baselart baselDjordje Ozbolttanada kojiart basel ahmed mater

2nd row middle: Djordje Ozbolt's 'Les objects mystique plastique'; 2nd row right: Tanada Koji; Bottom right: Ahmed Mater's 'Pre-illumination'


4. Subtleties do not work well at art fairs; showcase the most outrageous and prodigious pieces, then the galleries are most likely to receive the maximum footfall.

5. On the day of my visit, a majority of the visitors (mostly Mainland Chinese) were more interested in photo opportunities/ selfies than the art itself. And after being shoved around by them, I decided to photograph the behaviour of these art-lovers. It turned out to be the most entertaining part of the event.


Eko Nugroho Lot lostVik Muniz's Forbidden city sam jinks, standing pietaart baselAnish Kapoorart basel

The efforts required to take the perfect photos at Art Basel


6. Speaking to my local friend after the fair, she also expressed her (and her friends') disappointments of the event. Their verdict was that the newer and smaller Art Central was more enjoyable than Art Basel. Lesson learnt for all of us.

7. Big names and record-breaking sales transactions at the art fair don't necessary mean that the general public care more art. If the footfall to art museums and galleries is consistent all year round, then it veritably demonstrates the real impact of the fair.


art baselWim Delvoye's "Twisted Dump Truck" Yoshitomo nara

Bottom left: Wim Delvoye's 'Twisted Dump Truck'; Bottom right: Yoshitomo Nara's 'Puff Marshie'


8. Without a world class art museum (M+ is due to open in 2018), art is still fairly inaccessible to the general public in Hong Kong. Most of the art galleries in Hong Kong are targeted at art buyers or investors, hence it explains the popularity of the annual art fair.

9. Due to lack of support from the Government, Hong Kong artists perpetually struggle to make ends meet or gain recognition beyond the city or Asia. This is partly to do with the art education system and misconceptions towards art and other creative industries. Art only became 'important' in recent years because of the money involved. Without these transactions, art is merely regarded as a frivolous profession in Hong Kong.

10. Hong Konger are more artistic and creative than people realise... but these artistic activities take place on the streets rather than indoor. The artists are the street vendors, small shop owners, scaffolding construction workers, cupboard collectors and wet market stall sellers etc.

What Hong Kongers fail to understand is that art is around them all the time, and best of all, it is free of charge.


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The mysterious man in white shirt who was constantly blocking my view, so I used him as my subject at the fair. I was THAT bored.



This post was posted in Hong Kong, Travel, Art, Art fair, Asian art and was tagged with Hong Kong, art fairs, Asian art, contemporary art, Art Basel Hong Kong