The sixth edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong opened on Tuesday with 248 galleries setting up shop for the week in the massive Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which overlooks Victoria Harbour. With each passing year, as the market in Asia and the sophistication of the audiences are both on the rise, the quality of work dealers bring to this fair increases, as does the number of curated, single-artist presentations outside of the fair’s designated sections for solo booths.
From the cutting edge of virtual reality to historical works that command historically high sums, here are the 10 booths not to miss.
Project Native Informant
Discoveries Section, Booth 1C43
With works by Sophia Al-Maria
Installation view of Project Native Informant’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
Mirrors line the entirety of Project Native Informant’s booth, where a vanity table and chair sit against its rear wall. A film playing above the vanity features Chinese-american actress Bai Ling, while a tiny photograph, perhaps of Bai as a child, sits on the table. Titled Mirror Cookie (2018), Sophia Al-Maria’s mixed-media installation takes aim at the endemic racism, homophobia, and sexism within the film industry that has come to the forefront of popular attention in the past six months, as the #MeToo movement has radically changed the dialogue around sexual harassment and assault.
Bai, who has played roles in Entourage and Wild Wild West, among other movies, suffered a series of hits to her public image in the late 2000s. Al-Maria’s film—in which Bai is dressed in a white gown, directly addressing the camera, with the image sometimes going out of focus or glitching—serves as a form of redemption for that downfall. In it, she mixes phrases of inspiration (“Do not doubt yourself”; “When you have love in your heart, nothing can go wrong”) with esoteric lines (“I am an infinity. I am you. You are I.”) and hashtags (“#power”; “#magic”; “trust”). Many of these lines, which the actress calls “cookies,” were pulled directly from Bai’s blog, which Al-Maria then asked her to deliver as if engaging in the self-help ritual called mirror work.
Installation view of Sabrina Amrani’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
Chant Avedissian’s figurative works are well known in the art market—his 120-part work Icons of the Nile (1991–2010) set a record for a living Arab artist at a 2013 Sotheby’s sale in Doha when it sold for $1.5 million. Relatively less known are the artist’s geometric works, which feature in this solo booth. The gallery has hung works on cardboard from 2016 and textiles from the 1980s on top of a wallpaper made from scans of the Egyptian-Armenian artist’s sketchbooks from the latter period. “He’s always been interested in the history and identity of his country and trying to rebuild that identity using symbols of ancient Egypt,” gallerist Amrani said.
She described the works as “a kind of propaganda for the greater East,” meant to recall the millennia of cultural traditions present in the Middle East and Asia that often receive short shrift compared to the much more recent cultural production of the West. The artist doesn’t see this refocusing of attention on the cultural heritage of the East as a move to spread that culture through globalized systems, she said, but rather wants to highlight it as a collective good—something that, regardless of our origins, we can all share.
Insights Section, Booth 3D28
With works by Vivek Vilasini
Installation view of Sakshi Gallery’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
31 pieces of transparent rice paper by Vivek Vilasini, each one slightly browner than the one before it, hang in a grid on one wall of Mumbai-based Sakshi Gallery’s otherwise bare booth. Each represents a different day in May 2017, their ever-darker colors resulting from the accumulation of pollution on the paper’s surface. The work, titled City - Fifth Investigation (2017), marks a stark departure for Vilasini, better known for tongue-in-cheek photographs, like his recreations of The Last Supper and other iconic religious artworks. “His work has always had political undertones, but this is the first time he has moved away from photography entirely,” said the gallery’s curator Sanyogita Deo.
Inspired by Washington governor Jay Inslee’s statement that “we are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and we are the last generation that can actually do something about it,” Vilasini placed the sheets of paper on a roof in New Delhi (the world’s second most polluted city) and took one sheet inside each day. The result is poetic, wonderfully simple, and yet remarkably effective at getting across Vilasini’s message.
Installation view of Lévy Gorvy’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
If you want to see what’s almost certainly the most expensive work sold at a Hong Kong fair to date, head to Lévy Gorvy’s booth, where Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XII (1975) was purchased for an asking price of $35 million less than two hours into Tuesday’s opening. The work was consigned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection and is from the same series of large paintings as Untitled XXV (1977), which set the artist’s auction record of $66.3 million at Christie’s in November 2016—just before Brett Gorvy departed the house to team up with Dominique Lévy. But it’s far from the only draw for the booth.
The gallery’s small room of works by Pat Steir is particularly worth a look. “It’s nice to have a moment to pause like this in a fair,” said Lévy, surveying paintings from her new series, “For Hong Kong” (2017–18)—which, as the title suggests, were made specially for the fair. They continue Steir’s engagement with Sung Dynasty thought, but employ a new color palette, which Lévy said “took courage” for the artist to explore.
Galleries and Kabinett Sections, Booth 3E04
With works by Giacomo Balla, Agostino Bonalumi, Alberto Burri, Enrico Castellani, Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Fausto Melotti, Gianfranco Zappettini
Installation view of Mazzoleni’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
Art Basel in Hong Kong is chock full of trophies this year—many of them in the Modern section, where collectors seeking to add big names with historical weight to their holdings will have no trouble. But, just off to the left side of their main booth, Mazzoleni’s presentation for the fair’s Kabinett sector (which features solo shows and curated presentations) is more treasure than trophy.
Eight works in brass, steel, and bronze from the 1960s to the ’80s by the late artist Fausto Melotti feature here, with prices ranging from $300,000 to $800,000. Melotti, who studied with Lucio Fontana in Milan, also trained as an engineer and a musician, experiences he translates into the delicate metal sculptures that jitter ever-so-slightly as passing viewers disturb the air around them. “He wanted to translate the music into a sculptural form,” said Virginie Puertolas-Syn, an art consultant working with the gallery at the Hong Kong fair.
Installation view of Société’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
Timur Si-Qin’s 12-minute VR work Campaign for a New Protocol, Part II (2018) is well worth waiting for in the inevitable line at Société’s booth in the fair’s Discoveries sector for young galleries. The installation in Hong Kong is part two of a three-part exhibition cycle. (The first part opened at the gallery in Berlin last week; the third will open at publisher Kaleidescope Media’s new space on April 18th.) It consists of three Oculus Rift headsets placed on rust-colored rock sculptures, each of which sits in front of a lightbox depicting a mountainous desert-like landscape and sporting the logo of Si-Qin’s conceptual brand, New Peace. (The full installation is available for purchase from $85,000 to $100,000, and each lightbox can also be purchased for $15,000 to $22,000.)
Don the Oculus headset and you’re shot into the lightbox, suddenly sitting near a campfire. You begin to float upwards and across the landscape as a pseudo-robotic female voice narrates a manifesto of sorts, titled “A New Protocol v0.60.” “Life on this planet stands at the cusp of a great threshold,” she says. “As we awaken for the first time to the full scale of the territory of space and time—something any living thing has only known for a century—we awaken also to our own capacities for altering our planet and ourselves.” As the sun slowly rises pink over the mountains, her voice continues outlining the birth of human religion and belief, and the discontinuity between contemporary religious practice and contemporary life. She goes on to put forward a new framework (or “secular faith”) that better suits a time where dualism and doctrine have no place. The full text is well worth a read, even if you can’t make it to Hong Kong.
Galleries Section, Booth 3C25
With works by Korakrit Arunanondchai
Installation view of Carlos/Ishikawa’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
Shells embedded in a resin-covered soil crunch underfoot when sitting down on a “stage for extinction” to watch Korakrit Arunanondchai’s latest film in an ongoing series, this one titled With history in a room filled with people with funny names 4 (with stage for extinction) (2018). As in Si-Qin’s VR work, belief is central to a film that flashes between post-apocalyptic-looking footage and newsreel-style clips of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. A French-speaking narrator explains that belief unites the human species and constitutes “the joy of being human.” At another point, a paper mask of U.S. President Donald Trump appears between the silhouettes of two figures; the narrator says that “a decaying body can sometimes be turned into poetry.” The work is typical of Arunanondchai’s practice in the way that it integrates footage from his past films, uses a wide spectrum of cultural references in its found footage, and employs a stream-of-consciousness narration. But it also feels much darker, more somber and serious than many of his works. Art often reflects the times in which it is created.
Installation view of Metro Pictures’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2018. © Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel.
Metro Pictures has mounted something of a mini-retrospective of Cindy Sherman’s work for Art Basel in Hong Kong, painting the entire booth pink and hanging photographs spanning from 1976 to this year. The earliest work, Untitled (Murder Mystery People) (1976/2000), pulls from photographs Sherman took during college, featuring 17 characters from an imagined Hollywood film. At the time they were shot, she would cut them up to create collages; she later returned to the original negatives and printed them as they were shot.
Key pieces from many of Sherman’s seminal series feature here. Among them are “Film Stills” from the 1970s; “Centerfolds” and “History Portraits” from the ’80s and ’90s; “Clowns,” “Fashion,” and “Society Portraits” from the 2000s; and her most recent series of works inspired by the Golden Age of Hollywood. “She hasn’t really had a big show in Asia, so we decided to hold some things back,” said the gallery’s Tom Heman. “For many people here, this will be the most comprehensive group of works they’ve seen.”
Art Basel in Hong Kong is known for the “Do Not Touch” signs hanging next to the many works in its halls that beg for a quick swipe of the finger. But in Erwin Wurm’s presentation, part of the fair’s set of large-scale installations called “Encounters” and curated by the executive director of Artspace, Sydney’s Alexie Glass-Kantor, viewers can not only touch the art—they can become the art. Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures (2000–18) were as immediate a hit in Hong Kong as they were at Lehmann Maupin last March and in the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale last May. Minutes into the opening, fairgoers were lining up to hold a Birkin bag or try to see their eye in a mirrored plinth through a hole in a pair of tennis balls.
Nobuyoshi Araki, Blue Period, 2005. Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery.
Don’t miss this gem of a presentation, tucked around the corner of Taka Ishii’s primely located booth just inside entrance 1D. Titled “Tokyo Story,” it comprises the work of 15 photographers who have shot in the Japanese capital over the past 88 years. Hiroshi Hamaya’s photos from the 1930s begin the story with fireworks exploding over Tokyo Bay and street life in Ginza when the luxury shopping mecca of today was beginning a renaissance, following the Kantō earthquake of 1923 and the economic collapse of 1929. You can glimpse a fashion show from 1968 in Yutaka Takanashi’s Towards the City; the hiply dressed youngsters of Japan’s booming ’80s in Ed van der Elsken’s Kabuki-chi, Tokyo (1984) and Tokyo (1987); a hazy aerial view of Shinjuku during the lost decade that followed in Noguchi Rika’s 1997 Shinjuku #3 (1997); and a romantically tinged view of a couple on a street corner in Nobuyoshi Araki’s Blue Period (2005).