I didn’t grow up with a lot of art … I got the art bug sometime in my early teenage years at school in Singapore; I was a bit more exposed to it there. I studied fine art (Central Saint Martins) because I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew I wanted to be in the art world. Then when I returned to South East Asia a friend opened a gallery and suggested I become the curator and eventually I founded RogueArt in 2009 with a couple of friends. Later I was asked to join Art Basel for VIP Relations, and now I’m director of Art Basel Asia. The experience in South East Asia has definitely helped right now, being part of the market and seeing how it developed.
It’s a good question. I think this show is in a good spot. Personally, for me I would love to focus more on the Asian content because the whole Asian art scene—I mean there are different art scenes in Asia—but it’s grown and developed so differently from the Western model. A lot of it has to do with the history of independence and the rapid economic development. The thing about the Asian art scene is that there have been such different rates of development and some artists are more well-known than others, while other practices and movements are completely unknown because they existed at the time before there was a market. And I think this is a great platform to reintroduce and rediscover some of this great content and practices that have been overlooked. The Asian market only boomed about 10 to 15 years ago, so what we’re looking at is artists who are practicing right now or circulating around the primary or secondary market and there’s still so much more that we haven’t discovered, or that the market hasn’t caught on to yet.
The thing about Asia is that it’s paradoxical. I always use this metaphor that it’s like a child that’s pumped up on steroids whose vertebrae hasn’t really formed. There’s so much activity and it’s so robust—despite economic downturn and all that—but it’s generally in a state of growth. At the same time it’s growing so quickly and it’s still so young. Take for example the gallery system: a lot of people have started galleries without really understanding what it means to be a gallery, but they make do and feel their way along the process … the structures here are so different.
I think what we’re dealing with is growth that’s happening concurrently. There’s a lot to do generally speaking, but anything and everything is possible. It’s exciting but also messy. But at the same time that’s also the challenge.
Yes, exactly. You look at the market growth and it’s incredible. Galleries have expanded and even younger galleries, like Magician Space in Beijing, they are young galleries, five years old. The time is so intense here. What a gallery can achieve in five years here is incredible. It probably took 20 years for a gallery to achieve this back in the day, but now everything and anything here is so accelerated. It’s exciting and scary. And you’re right, a lot of it is happening on the market side, the financial side, whereas a lot of institutional and cultural spaces for art are still few and far between. I mean if you look at public spaces, and outreach and general awareness in the public of art, it’s growing , but you need to be able to mold and shape it. It’s a lot like a plant that has grown wild. You’re really trying to prune and bring it all together so that it’ll grow beautifully.
I think you’re right. The fairs correlate to the environment they exist in. The Hong Kong show is the youngest version; it’s also the one generating the most curiosity in the international art world. For example, this year we’re getting so many more Americans and museum groups visiting. How does Hong Kong differ from Basel and Miami? Well I think definitely the Asian presence. It’s the one fair that out of 239 galleries, half are galleries from Asia or working in Asia. So, that is one thing. And I think the face of the city and energy of it also contributes to a very different show, and I think what’s exciting is to see how the show will grow. I’m personally hoping that it will result in greater Asian material being presented by Asian galleries and I hope the galleries in the West will continue to take this market seriously and bring the best that they’ve got. It’s difficult to forecast how the show will grow and evolve; it really depends on what’s going on in the art environment as well.
In Hong Kong we have the Insights section, which highlights the Asian curatorial themes and practices. I would love to have an Unlimited HK but that just doesn’t seem possible right now. It’s a one off for Basel. But who knows? I believe that it’s about growing with the times, not just putting something out there for the sake of making it happen. Let’s see what else comes up in Hong Kong and what we can do. I would still love a public programme for the whole show. If you can leave something behind for the public … One very small effort of course is the ICC tower installation, this year by Japanese artist, Tatsuo Miyajima, which will light up on the 21st and kick off the Basel week and will continue to stay on until the end of April. If we can have more of that where it involves the city and its inhabitants, not just come in and out and disappear in five days.
We have two sections: One is a short film programme that will screen at the Hong Kong Arts Centre; and the other is feature length films that will screen at a theatre at the Hong Kong Convention Centre. Those are open to the public and they’re free. I think the film progamme is probably one of the best ways to reach out to members of the public. Sometimes you don’t know what to do with art and you think, ‘How am I supposed to react to it?’ It can be daunting and you walk away. Whereas with film, there’s a narrative and it tells a particular story, whether about an artist or a collector. It’s a gentler and more accessible way into the art world. I’m hoping this is a good way of providing access to the public and that it will be informative.
We’re bringing Takashi Murakami’s Jellyfish Eyes, which we screened last year in Basel, to Hong Kong. It will be screened on Good Friday so I’m hoping it will be a good outing for family and kids.
Definitely. I mean we would love to have more of a presence within the city outside of the fair week. I think this is still a young initiative and we’re looking at how else to support cultural endeavors. Last year we supported the Hong Kong Art Gallery association week, and we’re still looking at different ways of having activities outside of March, like the second part of the year. We’re interested in things to fit in in terms of education or education outreach, but we realise we can’t do it alone. At the end of the day Art Basel is a fair and it’s very much a market platform. It’s also about banding together with other organisations. These are definitely areas that we’re exploring for the Hong Kong show. Something like Event Horizon, for example, is a public art project that is wonderful for Hong Kong, but it also has to be meaningful and inspire people as well. —[O]