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An Economy Of Everything: Art Basel Hong Kong Before The Opening

By Stephanie Bailey  |  Hong Kong, 22 May 2013

So Art Basel Hong Kong has arrived. And though the fair officially opens on 23rd May, the anticipation has been as thick and palpable as Hong Kong’s humidity – galleries and artists have been working over time; the press trip itineraries now officially underway; and visitors from around the world are starting to arrive in their droves to see how Art Basel will fare in its inaugural Asian outing. 

Events kicked off early. Some might say Florentijn Hofman’s inflatable “Rubber Duck” provided the unofficial start to a jam-packed month. The duck arrived at the start of May to great fanfare; welcomed to the city with a performance by the Hong Kong Police Band. It was parked just next to the Hong Kong Star Ferry’s iconic terminal at Tsim Sha Tsui: up until recently a battleground between the Falun Gong movement and a youth group calling for the incarceration of the movement’s leaders. (Police cleared the zone, presumably to make way for Hofman’s art).

A duck economy quickly formed around Hofman’s rubber duckie, completely unaffiliated with the official duck itself. Hawkers sold duck pencils, duck key chains, mini-ducks and duck balloons. A band came down to perform folksy melodies in homage to the duck, and a dance crew performed to an eager and excited crowd, a duck balloon stuck to the billboard behind them. There were medium-sized ducks positioned along the waterfront for more duck-related photo-ops, and others offering to make ducks out of long yellow balloons. “Typical Hong Kong,” said one commodities broker working in China who has seen it all: “You can build an economy around everything, here.”

And so, from Hofman’s inflatable duck and the diverse economy that sprung up around it, to the Duck Vodka at Adrian Wong’s art bar installation sponsored by Absolut Art Bureau: just one of Art Basel Hong Kong’s official list of events. It is a bar representative of Hong Kong as a crossover cultural space, where elements of old Hong Kong are incorporated into the new. A bit like Art Basel Hong Kong, given the fact it is emerging out of its predecessor, ArtHK, inaugurated in 2008 and acquired by Art Basel in 2011.

With Art Basel coming to town, one fact is certain: the Hong Kong art scene will never be the same again. The momentum Basel's presence has produced will no doubt add but one more layer to this city's evolving cultural landscape. 

Events and exhibitions have been springing up around Art Basel Hong Kong, reflecting the city’s new found position as a global art centre. There’s INFLATION! at the West Kowloon Cultural District, organised by M+ Museum’s mobile programme, which makes clever use of the vast area still under development (and where M+ Museum will be built by 2017). Six inflatable works by Cao Fei, Choi Jeong Hwa, Jeremy Deller, JIAKUN ARCHITECTS, Paul McCarthy and Tam Wai Ping are accompanied by a performance piece by Tomás Saraceno, with a closing performance by Adrian Wong.

Hong Kong’s best-loved non-profit space Para Site is also presenting an excellent exhibition spread out over three spaces in Sheung Wan – the perfect way to explore this part of the city. Journal of the Plague Year, includes a re-staging of Lygia Pape’s 1968 performance Divisor on the 25th of May (an earlier performance happened on the 17th) and a gorgeous installation of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s evocative video work, Emerald (2007) in a tiny (and typical) Hong Kong apartment. It also shows a map of China produced by Ai Weiwei using powdered milk cans (a stab at the trend for mainlanders to travel abroad and stock up on powdered milk untainted with melamine or any other such substances found in China’s milk products).

Not to be beaten by providing critical angles around the art fair month of May, the Osage Foundation is staging the second iteration of Market Forces at Osage Kwun Tong, an annual exhibition platform challenging the market’s dominance in the art world, this year sub-titled: The Friction of Opposites and including arrangements by five curators (Joselina Cruz, Ark Fongsmut, Lee Daehyung, Qiu Zhijie, Alia Swastika) and the Osage Foundation.

A whole number of parallel fairs and festivals are also taking place, including the annual Le French May Arts Festival, established in 1993 and which includes an incredible exhibition of works by Jean Cocteau at the Hong Kong City Hall. Then there is the collaboration between the festival, Opera Gallery and LANDMARK, presenting two public exhibitions: Cecile Bart’s Mobile (showing the artist’s luminous, glass-like hanging canvases) and In The Public Eye in which sculptures by such names as Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Robert Indiana and Rodin are being presented to the public in what is an ambitious and welcome exchange between a  public only just getting to know modern and contemporary art in its full capacity.

After all, with Art Basel coming to town, one fact is certain: the Hong Kong art scene will never be the same again. The art scene is gaining traction thanks to the momentum Basel’s presence has produced. Satellite fairs include the Link Fair (opening 24th May), the Asia Contemporary Art Show (in its second year) and the Bank Art Fair, to be staged at the Island Shangri-La.

Then there are the gallery openings: Ben Brown Fine Arts is showing Not Vital & Frank Auerbach; Gagosian is presenting Jean-Michel Basquiat; Hanart TZ is showing Qiu Zhijie; Lehmann Maupin has a group exhibition, Writings without Borders curated by Herve Mickaeloff; Pearl Lam Galleries has a solo presentation by Zhu Jinshi; Simon Lee Gallery is showing Angela Bulloch; while White Cube is showing Chapman Brothers and Galerie Perrotin has opted for Takashi Murakami and Xavier Veilhan. Not to be outdone, Edouard Malingue Gallery has installed a public sculpture at Statue Square of a swimmer balancing an elephant on his back by Fabien Mérelle, while also showing an exhibition of works at the gallery from 21st May.

In more off-centre news, over at To Kwa Wan’s Cattle Depot Artist’s Village, the Burger Collection, in collaboration with 1a Space, is inaugurating a three-year research project, I Think it Rains, while Above Second, an artist-run gallery and studio space in Sheung Wan, is showing Off Basel: a performance series kicking off with a DJ set by Little Boots. All proceeds to the event, which includes music performances and artworks for sale from as low as 100HKD, will go towards the victims of the 20th April Sichuan earthquake.

All this, and we haven’t even yet seen Art Basel Hong Kong – the main event, which officially opens on the 23rd of May. Returning to Hofman’s inflatable duck, the latest news is that the poor thing was attacked as it sat on the harbour, unceremoniously deflated just days before Art Basel Hong Kong’s vernissage. Needless to say, that duck might be the only thing that bursts this May. Everything else is exploding. - [O]

Stay tuned for Stephanie Bailey’s daily reports from Art Basel Hong Kong, which will be posted throughout the fair’s duration. 

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