Hong Kong to be transformed as Art Basel comes to town

Work-of-art: An artwork titled ‘rem(a)inder’ by Michelangelo Psitoletto at Art Basel in Hong Kong last year. — AFP

HONG KONG: A flying forest, a styrofoam mausoleum and a giant seesaw will greet visitors to Hong Kong’s Art Basel fair from tomorrow as the finance hub transforms into a creative playground.

The annual show comes as Hong Kong’s status as a centre for collectors grows, with artists, gallerists and celebrities gathering at the harbourside convention centre.

Greater China, grouping the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, maintained its market leader status in 2014, accounting for US$5.6bil (RM20.7bil) billion in global art sales – closely followed by the United States – according to data firm Artprice.

But while the slick international display of Art Basel, which drew 60,000 visitors last year, is the headline event during Hong Kong’s Art Week, smaller shows pop up all around town to coincide with the show – many of them throwing the spotlight back on grassroots talent.

“The art market in Hong Kong has seen such a boom in these last few years and yet local art is still pigeon-holed as ‘emerging’,” said Katie de Tilly, of Hong Kong’s central 10 Chancery Lane gallery and co-founder of the Chai Wan Mei Design Festival.

Chai Wan is a mainly residential area in the far east of Hong Kong Island, where former industrial warehouses are now home to galleries and local artists’ studios.

“It’s less polished than the whirl of the fairs and you really get a feel for Hong Kong’s artistic soul,” she said of the festival, which is in its fourth year.

Co-founder Claudia Albertini compared the Art Week buzz to the atmosphere at European fashion weeks.

“I don’t think Hong Kong is far behind art cities like Miami and Berlin, it plays an important part on the global art stage,” she said.

A new event, Art Central, will also take place from Saturday on the Hong Kong waterfront.

“The fair is completely rooted in our city, with a focus on Hong Kong galleries and artists, and regional market trends,” said co-founder Tim Etchells.

Art Basel Hong Kong kicked off three years ago and is the newest addition to the international art show, which started in Switzerland in 1970 and also has a Miami Beach edition.

Champagne-soaked and glamo­rous it attracted celebrities including model Kate Moss and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich to Hong Kong last year, with Victoria Beckham and Hollywood star Susan Sarandon set to attend this year.

Central to the display will be the large-scale “Encounters” pieces, including a suspended forest of olive trees by Irish artist Siobhn Hapaska, a mausoleum made from styrofoam boxes by Hong Kong-based Portu­guese artist Joo Vasco Paiva and a giant seesawing log propped up by Indian Buddhist statues by Indian artist Tallur L.N.

The Asian artists on show will be displaying an experimental streak, while keeping true to their artistic traditions, said new Art Basel Hong Kong director Adeline Ooi.

For Ooi, Art Basel is a chance to highlight “the best that Asia can offer”.

“It also shines the light on the Hong Kong scene ... you literally see the city light up in a different way.” — AFP

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