One in a million or one of a million?
That was a flashing thought as we joined the sardine swarm at the special pre-opening day of the 6th Annual ART BASEL HONG KONG.
This was supposed to be a time when media could mingle with VIPs and get a better gander of the show before it opened to the public at large March 29 – March 31, 2018. YIKES, if this is the throng on the pre-show, how are we even going to breathe once the doors open to the wider public?
Happily though, we discovered that in the case of ART BASEL HONG KONG, unlike its Miami equivalent, the crowds seemed to thin after the opening to the general public.
Probably many were on a similar mission to find that next artistic vision that will rock the art world in the sleeping giant of China. Sun Xun , whose film RECONSTRUCTION OF THE UNIVERSE unveiled in the Miami Art Basel played no small part in cultivating our curiosity about the Asian arts scene. Wei-Wei did too. Add to that inklings of something special happening in the Vietnamese arts scene—although, as it turned out, Vietnamese artists seemed relatively unrepresented in Hong Kong.
Geography probably contributed to this being the first time ever showcase of an aboriginal artist. But that alone didn’t begin to answer the overriding question - what’s ASIAN about this art scene?
What makes ART BASEL HONG KONG "ASIAN"??
A few themes did jump out – at least for these Westerners grappling with Asian norms. How interesting that the jumble and happy chaos of Asia’s big cities seems to be a recurring theme in the works many of the galleries chose to showcase. From cityscapes made of Indian tiffins to sketches of a crowded Turin, the art on the walls and halls seemed to capture the feel of the streets outside.
And, though the art might have originated in Europe, the love for cartoons and animation that you can find in some parts of Asia seemed to not have escaped the notice of gallery curators. There also is more focus on calligraphy, and strength of the Hong Kong per se art scene.
But what you really see at ART BASEL HONG KONG is that the art world is global in reach and perhaps also more similar in appetites than one might suppose. Andy Warhol and Dubuffet, for example, are there for the buying too.
At the press opening, it was reported that 23% of global art sales are now in Asia, 21%in China alone, with 90% of China’s art business residing in Hong Kong. More, the Asian artists showcased at ART BASEL HONG KONG seem to be in conversation with artists everywhere, not just Seoul, Hong Kong, Jakarta etc.
Though art might be big in Hong Kong, you don’t feel Art Basel’s presence there as you do in Miami, where a dozen additional art shows have spawned around the Art Basel Miami center. ART BASEL HONG KONG seemed to be as peripheral to the locals as Art Expo Chicago is to Chicagoans. Most probably didn’t know the show was on—and certainly not the hundreds of women we encountered outside the show’s halls celebrating cheongsam fashions.
True, there are pennants about the show in more well-heeled financial areas of the city. Even more true, you find fun sculptures and public art in many of the city’s public spaces. Approaching the Hong Kong Convention Center, however you might not know the show is on until you get inside its doors.
Why go to ART BASEL HONG KONG when Miami or even Basel Switzerland is so much closer? Because it’s Hong Kong!