Hong Kong art scene goes global
THEskies were black, the rain was ferocious. There were landslides and lightning strikes. But inside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre last week, Art Basel was vivid with competing colours. Creators, curators and collectors toting dripping umbrellas paused to peer at Marnie Webber’s unsettling installation, Log Lady and Dirty Bunny, and Yayoi Kusama’s spotty and joyous dog statue, Ton Toko.
Aphotographer named Stanley Wong, who prefers to be known as ‘‘Anothermountainman’’, was explaining to me the significance of his series of images on ‘‘impermanent’’ buildings in Asia, which took him six years to shoot. We were chatting at a booth exhibiting works from Blindspot Gallery and there was keen interest from passers-by in Wong’s latest triptych of inkjet photographs of cinnabar bamboo on Chinese scrolls.
You could say Hong Kong came of age as a contemporary and modern art destination with this inaugural Art Basel; there were 245 galleries represented, most from the Asia-Pacific region, exhibiting pieces ranging from the dramatic to the frankly and fabulously mad.
It has been announced the Hong Kong government plans to invest about $HK21.6 billion ($2.9bn) in the West Kowloon Cultural District, where M+ art museum will open in 2017. I was astonished to hear that Hong Kong is the world’s third largest art auction centre (after New York and London) and there has been terrific momentum on the local gallery scene, with more than 80 formal exhibition spaces, often in tucked-away precincts or repurposed warehouses on both sides of the harbour.
It’s fun to explore Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, with its hilly streets and clusters of cafes. Its edgy galleries are sometimes no more than hole-in-the-wall salons or pop-ups such as 100ft Park, a room within a fourth-floor bookstore in the slightly run-down Kai Wong Commercial Building. The South Island Cultural District, about 15 minutes from the Central district, covers Wong Chuk Hang, Ap Lei Chau, Tin Wan and Aberdeen and is home to about 15 galleries (including an annexe of Blindspot, where Ai Weiwei is often a featured artist) and studios, many in industrial spaces.
Back at Art Basel, Douglas Young invited me to take a seat at the VIP Lounge — this avant-garde designer’s oversized cushioned cubes and tables were replicas of mahjong tiles. It seemed such a perfect tradition-meetstomorrow Hong Kong moment.