Art Basel Hong Kong will be served in many ways

No one ever said it would be easy to hold an art fair in a place with a complicated web of Covid-related travel restrictions and quarant...


No one ever said it would be easy to hold an art fair in a place with a complicated web of Covid-related travel restrictions and quarantines.

For Art Basel Hong Kongwhich will be held from Friday to Sunday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, part of the solution consists of satellite booths or spaces at the fair which are occupied by Hong Kong representatives, for art dealers who cannot personally attend.

The concept returns this year, having made its debut at the show last May. More than half of the approximately 130 dealerships use satellite booths.

“Hong Kong was the first of our group of fairs that we canceled, in 2020, and it was also the first to return,” said Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel. The fair currently has iterations in Basel, Switzerland, and Miami Beach, and is adding a new event – ​​called Paris+, by Art Basel – in October.

Mr. Spiegler credits the satellite stand for the success of the Hong Kong fair last year. But the art world still thrives on face-to-face interactions, and buyers are used to seeing real-life dealers – often the gallery owners themselves. Mr Spiegler was not quite sure people would again flock to an event that relied so much on local substitutes.

“My logic was that now that physical fairs are happening again, a satellite booth might not be as appealing,” he said. But he noted that with satellite cabins dropping from 55 last year to 74 this week, the concern was unfounded.

“It’s not people’s favorite way to buy or sell art, but it’s proven to be effective,” he said.

He credited the strength of the Asian market. “People are playing a long game,” he said. “Dealers have invested a lot of time and money to make the Hong Kong market work.”

Mr Spiegler said he would not be at the convention center in person, but Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s Asia director, planned to attend – after he went into quarantine.

“This time it’s seven days instead of three weeks,” Ms Ooi said in an email, referring to her hotel quarantine upon returning to Hong Kong after traveling earlier this month. “It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’ve also come to appreciate this experience of self-isolation.”

She said organizers had improved the experience for people who couldn’t attend, especially because of the virtual version of the fair.

“We have expanded and updated our virtual tours,” Ms. Ooi said, “and will offer nine live guided tours this year that cover both the show and the online viewing rooms, and are led by specialists in five languages. different.”

The famous collector Jens Faurschou, whose Fauschou Foundation has private museums in New York, Copenhagen and Beijing, has been an active patron of Art Basel Hong Kong in recent years.

“I got an absolute masterpiece there,” he recalls of Liu Wei’s large installation “Don’t Touch” (2011), which he bought at the Long March space in Beijing. Crafted from cowhide, it is modeled after the Potala Palace in Tibet, once the residence of the Dalai Lama.

He expressed a typical collector’s perspective when he said he wasn’t thrilled about a virtual fair but would check it out anyway. “It’s almost impossible to travel to China,” he said, noting that he hadn’t been to his own Beijing museum in more than two years.

Ms. Ooi acknowledged the challenges that remain. “Our galleries in Shanghai, which is still closed, have had considerable difficulty shipping works to Hong Kong,” Ms Ooi said.

One of these, Shanghai capsulecame up with a solution: since the works for their satellite booth were scattered, they were shipped directly from cities that do not face same restrictions. “We’re trying to be faster than Covid,” gallery founder Enrico Polato said of the fast thinking required.

Mr. Polato spoke by telephone from his home in Shanghai, located in the same complex as his gallery, where he remained in mandatory confinement.

His presentation at the fair, “In Between”, features four artists: Cai Zebin, Gao Yuan, Liao Wen and Douglas Rieger.

Mr. Rieger is represented by “Cigarettes” (2021), a sculpture made of wood, upholstery foam, vinyl, steel, epoxy, magnets, iron shavings, rubber gaskets and paint.

“It’s about revealing traces of the human gesture, in both painterly and sculptural form,” Polato said of the overall selection. “Artists all work in the liminal space between reality and imagination.”

Another dealer using the satellite concept, Anat Ebgui from Los Angeles, said she had a great experience with her last year.

“They really stand up for you,” she said of fair organizers. “We would prefer to be there, but we will participate in any way we can.”

Its booth will feature paintings by Los Angeles figurative painter Alec Egan, including “Fruit Bowl With Bird” (2021).

“The work is completely intertwined, like the chapters of a story,” Ms. Ebgi said of Mr. Egan’s paintings.

Mrs. Ebgi said that although she had pre-sold some of the works to Asian collectors—”You have to have some certainty,” she said—her gallery’s presence on the convention center floor was invaluable.

“I still think the exposure is good,” Ms. Ebgi said. “I run a gallery in Los Angeles, and the proximity and expansion of the Asian market makes me want to invest more there.”

Fine Arts Roomswith branches in New York and Salt Point, NY, is sharing a stall with a local dealer, Anna Ning Fine Art from Hong Kong.

“We didn’t do the fair last year because there were too many uncertainties,” said Dan Chen, a gallery associate and director. “But we thought we would take the plunge this year. We have collectors and friends in Hong Kong that we wanted to engage with, and this is one way to do that.

Chambers will present half a dozen oils by Beijing painter Guo Hongwei, including “Laughing at This World No. 3” (2021-22). The works are part of a series originally inspired by videos that went viral on social media during China’s initial Covid lockdown.

“They bring humor and levity to confinement,” Mr. Chen said.

Pascal de Sarthe, who founded his Gallery in Paris in 1977 and moved to Hong Kong in 2010, has a local dealer’s perspective on the recent art scene there.

“We were all very worried at first, but last year’s fair was wonderful,” said de Sarthe. “We saw an influx of local people that we had never seen before. Most of them had never bought art before.

Galerie De Sarthe sold nearly 30 works during the 2021 fair, including a large installation that went to the K11 Art Foundation. If Mr. de Sarthe will not be present – ​​he has been away since December – his local staff will be.

The booth presentation, ‘Utopian Reality’, features works by Zhong Wei, Lin Jingjing and the artist known as Mak2.

“They are all commenting on reality versus non-reality,” Mr. de Sarthe said.

“Home Sweet Home: Gang 1” (2022) by Mak2, from a series of triptychs started in 2019, riffs on the video game The Sims. Each of the three panels is painted by a separate artist Mak2 finds on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, and the unpredictability of the outcome is part of the story.

“Most young people have a virtual life and a real life, especially in Asia,” Mr. de Sarthe said. “In virtual life, anything goes.”

The invocation of internet culture may seem relevant, given that some people will only experience Art Basel Hong Kong online. The convention center audience will, like last year, be more of a local Hong Kong crowd than usual.

“No one really knows what the new normal is,” Mr. Spiegler said of the international globetrotting that was once the art world’s default mode.

Based on the Venice Biennale, as well as other recent art fairs, “I don’t see a diminished appetite for travel,” he added. “I see a desire to make up for lost time.”

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