The big pic­ture

Self- de­struc­tion and harsh re­al­i­ties at Art Basel Hong Kong.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By LAURA MAN­NER­ING

GI­ANT gold cubes de­signed to be de­faced and a large- scale trib­ute to Hong Kong’s lowly card­board sellers took cen­tre stage as Art Basel opened its doors in the city on Tues­day.

VIP guests flooded into the sprawl­ing two- floor ex­hi­bi­tion at the har­bourfront con­ven­tion cen­tre, with more than 200 gal­leries from around the world hop­ing col­lec­tors will bite, de­spite China’s eco­nomic down­turn.

Tues­day’s open­ing kicked off two days of pri­vate views be­fore the pub­lic are given ac­cess to­day, in a week when Hong Kong be­comes a frenzy of art events.

Bri­tish artist Tracey Emin launched her first ever solo show in greater China in Hong Kong on Mon­day, and Ja­panese artist Tat­suo Miya­jima has his lat­est light cre­ation beam­ing out of the city’s high­est tower each night.

But in a re­fresh­ing an­ti­dote to the cham­pagne and glit­terati, one of the most prom­i­nent ex­hibits at this year’s edi­tion is Tintin Wu­lia’s grand­scale Five Tonnes Of Homes And Other Un­der-sto­ries.

Huge com­pacted bales of card­board dec­o­rated with mu­rals hang from chains form­ing a spiral – a re­minder of the city’s ubiq­ui­tous el­derly card­board col­lec­tors who hunch over trol­leys and de­liver to re­cy­cling de­pots in ex­change for a few dol­lars.

Wu­lia spent two years on the pro­ject trac­ing the card­board’s route through Hong Kong, in­clud­ing col­lab­o­rat­ing with Filip­ina do­mes­tic work­ers who use card­board to cre­ate wind­breaks for them­selves when they gather in the city’s pub­lic spa­ces to so­cialise on Sun­days.

Both groups are an in­te­gral part of Hong Kong’s land­scape – both be­long to an un­der­class a world away from art’s big spenders.

“I feel some­times the art fair is quite de­tached – peo­ple fly in and fly out,” says Wu­lia, born in In­done­sia and based in Aus­tralia.

“For me it’s con­nect­ing the art fair to the rest of the world and the real Hong Kong.”

In a more ex­trav­a­gant in­stal­la­tion, Chi­nese artist Zhang Ding’s 18 Cubes shines bril­liant gold – with vis­i­tors en­cour­aged to leave their mark by scratch­ing and de­fac­ing the glint­ing sur­faces.

South Korean Kyun­gah Ham’s em­broi­dery gold chan­de­liers also glit­ter, but make a political point – they use tex­tiles made in North Korea to high­light the con­trast be­tween the two na­tions, and the gulf be­tween the im­pov­er­ished and political class.

The Hong Kong edi­tion of the show, which also takes place in Basel and Mi­ami, is now in its fourth year and has helped feed the city’s rep­u­ta­tion as an art hub for Asia.

A host of new gal­leries have opened in re­cent years and ma­jor arts com­plex M+ is un­der con­struc­tion.

“We never thought we’d es­tab­lish our­selves so quickly,” says Art Basel di­rec­tor Marc Spiegler.

“This week has ex­panded and ex­panded – it’s been amaz­ing to see.”

But crit­ics say Hong Kong’s art scene is still too com­mer­cially fo­cused.

“We are an art hub in the sense of ( be­ing) a mar­ket where peo­ple buy and sell be­cause of the low tax,” says art critic John Bat­ten.

Bet­ter mu­se­ums and an education sys­tem that em­pha­sises the arts from pri­mary school age were key to build­ing up cul­tural cap­i­tal, he said.

“Once we do that, maybe in five years, it will be good,” he said.

Ja­panese artist Tat­suo Miya­jima’s light in­stal­la­tion for Art Basel Hong Kong en­ti­tled

Time Wa­ter­fall is pro­jected onto the fa­cade of the In­ter­na­tional Com­merce Cen­tre ( cen­tre) on the Kowloon wa­ter­front.

In­done­sian art col­lec­tive Tro­marama’s in­stal­la­tion work called Pri­vate

Ri­ots.

— Pho­tos: AFP

Chi­nese artist Zhang Ding’s 18 Cubes shines in bril­liant gold – with vis­i­tors en­cour­aged to leave their mark by scratch­ing and de­fac­ing the glint­ing sur­faces.

A vis­i­tor looks at a piece of a se­ries by South Korean artist Kyun­gah Ham en­ti­tled Chan­de­liers For Five Cities.

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