By Guiseppe Bernstein
With Swiss-like punctuality and clock-time accuracy, everything ran extremely smooth. Galleries were perhaps second guessing what the Chinese buyers were looking for and as such the risks we associate with Art Basel in Miami Beach and Art Basel in Basel were missing. Video and installation works were lacking, instead there was an overwhelming amount of painting and sculpture. Having been to the VIP previews for art fairs across the US, I notice a hustle and hurry atmosphere in which American and European collectors are rushing to booths to buy pieces from their favorite artists. Most sales happen within the first 3 hours! But instead, ABHK seemed to be relaxed as the Ruinart champagne flowed. With over 60,000 visitors by the events end and sales just as strong from public offerings as those of the VIP, one would say this fair was a real crowd pleaser as consensus has been that its opening edition “ABHK played it safe.” That’s not to say sales weren’t happening, on the contrary. Opening in 2008 as ART Hong Kong to a city with relatively no art fair experience, it is now under Swiss management and the art festival set high standards for gallery selection. With fewer galleries admitted into the fair, the buyers that did come had a lot more space than accustomed to and new art collectors had time to walk booth to booth, go home and research, and then come back to purchase art throughout the duration of the fair as sales continued strong until the last day.
To see the freedom of conformity normally associated with an international art event, you would have to attend some of the over 150 events going on around the proximity of the main fair. In the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKDC) park, six inflatable sculptures including a 51-foot-tall inflatable turd sculpture called “Complex Pile” by Artist Paul McCarthy punctuated the landscape…that is until a hole and high winds tore it to shreds. An obnoxiously cute 53 foot tall giant rubber duck, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, made Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor its home the for most of month in anticipation of the festivities. It too was a sad sight when it turned into a yellow slick of deflated plastic on the waters surface. (UPDATE: The mighty duck has returned to its fully inflated (dis)grace.)
However, for the real meat and bones of Hong Kong Art Week you would have had to visit fairs like Hong Kong Eye. The fair included a collection of works by 24 Hong Kong Artists which encompassed the artistic heritage, rich tradition, and the rapidly evolving society of contemporary art scene in Hong Kong (sponsored by Prudential). Otherwise, you would have needed to check out the officially sponsored, but lightly attended “Paper Rain,” a parade organized by musician Arto Lindsay in collaboration with various artists from the launch of ABHK, on May 23. The parade featured a rickshaw puller blasting music from boomboxes alongside musical and physical street performances all of which were punctuated by that of Angela Su. Known for her incredibly high pain tolerance, the artist explores dualistic states of being when under physical endangerment or distress. In her performance she walked while being subjected to humiliating painful acts. Suited men whipped her with belts as she walked in a red dress until the beaten and nearly stripped where the artist called for her lover, an actor, who put a cigarette out on her arm. However, all of this hoopla was not what most would think! Arto Lindsay told BLOUIN ARTINFO, “This is the dead skin of a protest. What we’re doing is like a political demonstration without content. It is a husk, like when the insect sheds its skin.” Seriously? After parading a waterfront path from Central Pier to the Government Headquarters at Tamar Park, an often used site for political protest in Hong Kong, the organizer says it is art for arts sake? Freedom of expression indeed, but only if it is void of a political meaning and is officially sponsored.
International galleries attempts at “Asianness” back home seemed to make more sense now in proper context. Their Asian and Chinese artists’ works displayed to the globetrotting Euro-American-Asian art world were at home as many visitors found themselves making their first visit to “Asia’s World City”. However, the Asian art world has been traveling to Europe and America for years to accomplish much the same thing and more influential Asian artists have already made a presence.
It was these artists that have reported the major sales. Yayoi Kusama’s recent work, “Love Is Forever That Shines In Heavenly World, from 2012, sold for over $530,000. Yoshitomo Nara’s work had no trouble selling every piece available through Blum & Poe and Pace Gallery at bargain prices ranging from $30,000-$480,000. As for Chinese artists, Wang Huaiqing’s large-scale painting, “Chinese Emperor – 1″ (2008-2013), was possibly the biggest sale of ABHK at $2.6 million. In a market that seems to enter the West at a trickle rather than a flood, it was a real treat to see the world’s premier art fair giving buyers a wide variety of work ranging from the big sellers of the west down to the establishment of great art emerging from Asia. Too often the fine art shown in the West is only politically charged and transparent reactions to the recent oppression. Seeing this got me excited for the Venice Biennale happening now through August, as if you didn’t already know, which is prominently featuring more Chinese artists than ever before.
– Guiseppe Bernstein
The art critic who knows more about art than you.