Art Market

The 10 Best Booths at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2021

Aaina Bhargava
May 20, 2021 8:11PM

Sofia Mitsola, installation view of Pilar Corrias’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of Pilar Corrias, London.

The halls of the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre were charged with an electric energy Wednesday afternoon, one that could only be induced by the opening of an in-person art fair in the midst of a pandemic. Art Basel in Hong Kong 2021 is finally taking place, two months later than its usual late March slot, bringing with it art-month staples including the concurrent Art Central fair and a slew of exhibitions openings and previews. The weekend prior to the fair, galleries in the city’s industrial Wong Chuk Hang district saw heavy foot traffic, and the seemingly never-ending elevator line in Central district’s gallery-filled H Queen’s building brought back memories of a jam-packed, festive fair season in March 2019.

Though a smaller iteration than usual, 104 galleries from 23 countries and territories are participating in this year’s Hong Kong fair, giving attendees a taste of what a new normal would look like for in-person art fairs yet to come. Just over half the participants, or 56 galleries, don’t have a presence or representation in Hong Kong and staged “satellite booths” overseen by local representatives hired by Art Basel. Clutching selfie sticks (for non-Instagram purposes this time), staff and representatives wandered the aisles on opening day giving virtual walkthroughs to international VIPs and online audiences.

Installation view of Blindspot Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of Blindspot Gallery.


Digital tools and services are present throughout the fair. Visitors can scan QR codes in the booths to directly connect with overseas dealers via WhatsApp. At Stephen Friedman’s booth, which features a solo presentation of works by David Shrigley, collectors can actually purchase a piece simply by scanning a code. Art Basel further supplemented its digital offerings with the introduction of Basel Live, a daily video series featuring clips of collectors, artists, and gallerists around the world sharing their thoughts on the Hong Kong fair, interspersed with updates about goings-on in the city and at the fair itself.

The pandemic has cultivated a collaborative spirit that is evident throughout the fair, with many galleries paired up to share booths. Hong Kong–based Rossi & Rossi and Manila’s Silverlens are showing together, as are German galleries Meyer Riegger and Sies + Höke, and Shanghai’s Antenna Space with Paris’s Balice Hertling. And eight Italian galleries (Alfonso Artiaco, Cardi Gallery, Galleria Continua, Galleria Franco Noero, Galleria d’Arte Maggiore G.A.M., Mazzoleni, Massimo De Carlo, and Rossi & Rossi) have joined together to stage one massive presentation at a collective booth.

The experience of visiting an art fair in 2021 can be disorienting—at once surreal and familiar—but seeing art in person again was also rejuvenating for many. The fair’s typically exceptionally diverse selection of galleries is sorely missed, particularly its strong South Asian gallery presence, but in its place there’s an emphasis on local galleries, artists, art professionals, and collectors. Here, we take a closer look at the standout presentations at this year’s edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong.

David Kordansky

Booth 1C16

With works by Huma Bhabha

Huma Bhabha, Fury, 2021. Photo by Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Huma Bhabha, Untitled, 2021. Photo by Adam Reich. Courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

With an incredibly strong institutional presence (her work has been exhibited at the ICA Boston, MoMA PS1, and others), the Pakistani American artist Huma Bhabha’s work is widely known in the West, but less so in Asia. This informed David Kordansky’s decision to present her work here, with pieces all newly made for this specific presentation. The booth sold out on the first day of the fair, with sculptures priced in the range of $100,000 to $200,000 and works on paper in the range of $20,000 to $40,000.

“She never had a solo presentation in Asia, and we thought she deserved the attention,” said Mi Jeong Kim, David Kordansky’s director in Asia. “It’s rare to see her work in Asian collections, and this is the platform where she can receive that appreciation.”

One of the most visually cohesive presentations, the presentation of Bhabha’s crude figurations reflects a complex conceptual take on “alien” identity and otherness in tandem with their monstrous aesthetic. Composed of rough hewn materials such as cork, the sculptures emit an earthy scent, creating an almost multisensory experience, subtly offset by the gestural violence and brighter hues found in the works on paper. Smaller in size than her monumental works—as seen on the Metropolitan Museum’s rooftop in 2018—the works on paper and sculptures on display here are perhaps a better fit for Hong Kong collectors, who tend to collect smaller work, Kim suggested.


Booth ID36

With works by Kong Chun Hei

Kong Chun Hei, installation view of TKG+’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of TKG+.

Taipei’s TKG+ has one of the fair’s most thoughtfully curated booths, showing work by Hong Kong–based artist Kong Chun Hei. His conceptual practice focuses on themes of restriction and constraint, evoking feelings of dread and angst reminiscent of situations with no apparent resolution. The installation is titled “Transcend into Knots,” and Kong explained that for him, it relates to the feeling that “every time one transcends or overcomes a present difficulty, it ties the situation into a deeper knot.” During a time of political upheaval and pandemic restrictions, this struck a chord.

The artist placed mechanical scales on the floor in front of the booth, but when visitors step on them, no numbers appear to display their weight, rendering them superfluous. The presentation also includes Kong’s intricate and meticulous drawings of electrical cables morphing into one another, which actually depict a single electrical cable tangled in a loop. Another work consists of a light box Kong has covered with his signature, repeating it until the surfaces turn dark in a subtle commentary on the tension between individual pursuits and the common good.

Shelly Wu, TKG+’s director, has wanted to exhibit Kong’s work on an international platform since she started working with him last year. “As you enter the space he creates, an immediate sense of solitude enfolds you,” Wu said. “I also see how his work would resonate with fair attendees, especially during this moment in the pandemic.”

ROH Projects

Booth 1C10

With works by Gary-Ross Pastrana, Tromarama, and Davy Linggar

Gary-Ross Pastrana, Tromarama, and Davy Linggar, still from Companion, 2021. Courtesy of Davy Linggar and ROH Projects.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, Tromarama, and Davy Linggar, still from Companion, 2021. Courtesy of Davy Linggar and ROH Projects.

One of few video works at the fair, Companion (2021) has the capacity to simultaneously hypnotize and scare viewers. The result of a collaborative effort by three artists—Manila-based Gary-Ross Pastrana, the Indonesian collective Tromarama, and the Indonesian photographer Davy Linggar—the video meditates on connection during times of isolation.

Made amid pandemic border closures in Southeast Asia, the three-channel video shows Tromarama and Linggar creating a sculpture made of ice and embedded with objects like a doll and a small taxi, based on written instructions from Pastrana. The film documents the creation and eventual disintegration of the sculpture with surrealistic tones, making the most of the eerie sound of ice melting.

“We wanted to show a work about the current times we are going through [that] emphasizes sharing, collaboration, and connectivity,” said ROH Projects founding director Jun Tirtadji. “There is something to be said about a work that was initially conceived conceptually in Manila, and thereafter developed and produced here in Indonesia, and then shown at Art Basel in Hong Kong,” he added, emphasizing the possibilities of regional collaboration evident throughout Art Basel in Hong Kong.

Massimo De Carlo

Booth 1D15

With works by Maurizio Cattelan, Robert Longo, Steven Parrino, Jim Hodges, McArthur Binion, Josh Smith, Paola Pivi, Aaron Garber-Maikovska, Yan Pei-Ming, and Lu Song

Installation view of Massimo De Carlo’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of Massimo De Carlo.

No, it’s not a banana taped to the wall this time, but Italian dealer Massimo De Carlo is debuting an eagerly anticipated work by Maurizio Cattelan. It consists of an imposing, all-black American flag punctured with bullet holes. Marking a departure from his usual humorous tone, but retaining his provocative flair, Night (2021) is a part of a series of flag works the artist began working on in 2019 for his exhibition at Blenheim Palace, where he encouraged visitors to tread on a walkway featuring the Union Jack flag.

Night appears to allude to the Black Lives Matter protests, police brutality, and the gun violence epidemic in the U.S., but the work is also an inquiry into the function of flags throughout history that reimagines history itself. “It brings to mind how countries have changed their flags (or not) throughout history, the different characteristics, and what they symbolize,” Claudia Albertini, Massimo de Carlo’s director in Hong Kong, said of the piece. “For me personally, it symbolizes the concept of glory behind a flag.”

The Cattelan work anchors the gallery’s striking red and black booth. Unsurprisingly, it sold on the fair’s first day for €950,000 (nearly $1.2 million).

Vitamin Creative Space

Booth 1C03

With works by Pak Sheung Chuen and Firenze Lai

Pak Shueng Chuen and Firenze Lai, installation view of Vitamin Creative Space’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of Vitamin Creative Space.

Possibly the most aesthetically appealing booth at the fair, Guangzhou gallery Vitamin Creative Space brought together works by two Hong Kong–based artists. The gallery’s elongated booth, divided into two, presents Firenze Lai’s highly sought-after and distinctively ethereal figurative paintings. Entwined with their surroundings in an abstracted manner, Lai’s figures prompt us to reconsider our own relationship with our surroundings, and by extension, the local—particularly pertinent themes during the pandemic.

Pak Sheung Chuen, installation view in Vitamin Creative Space’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

In the adjacent space, minimal geometric configurations by Pak Sheung Chuen (who represented Hong Kong at the 2009 Venice Biennale) are seen beside a subdued collection of photographs, small drawings, and paintings on mixed media. Striving to alter our experience of daily life and space, Pak’s addition of a plant, a glass of water, and a journal on a shelf within the booth adds a domestic element that evokes a sense of comfort and intimacy not often found at an art fair.

Pilar Corrias

Booth 1D22

With works by Sofia Mitsola

Sofia Mitsola, installation view of Pilar Corrias’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.

Providing a refreshing, whimsical experience, Pilar Corrias is showing young Greek artist Sofia Mitsola’s fantastical take on Nietzsche’s well-known observation that “anyone who fights with monsters should make sure that he does not in the process become a monster himself.” Essentially creating a new myth featuring two heroines and titled “Aquamarina,” Mitsola makes us conscious of the narrow gap between monster and hero through her hyperfeminine, translucent, and bold depictions of the human figure. While her paintings and works on paper at times appear to border on kitsch, they challenge dominant perspectives on confrontation, power, and voyeurism. Mitsola takes inspiration from Greek and Egyptian mythology, but playfully subverts traditional female stereotypes.

Sofia Mitsola, installation view in Pilar Corrias’s booth Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.

“Rather than being depicted as monsters, the characters become courageous heroines and emancipated sexual beings,” Pilar Corrias said. “I’m very excited to present the continuation of this new series in her upcoming solo show at our gallery in September.” This is the first time the artist’s work has been shown in Asia, and it’s been a successful debut—the booth was sold out within the first day.

Hanart TZ

Booth 1C07

With works by h0nh1m and Tobias Klein

Luis Chan (陳福善), Untitled (The Man and His Tropical Fish) (《無題》(男人和他的熱帶魚)), 1981. Courtesy of the artist and Hanart TZ Gallery.

Titled “Shanshui 山水” (or “mountain water”), Hanart TZ’s booth boasts a striking selection of works from its gallery program, which is known for its pioneering representation of Chinese contemporary artists. At Art Basel in Hong Kong, the gallery is foregrounding two new media artists, h0nh1m (real name Chris Cheung) and Tobias Klein.

Starkly imposing in their own minimal way, h01h1m’s videos Bamboo Annals (2021) and InkFlux: Crack of Time I (2021), installed side by side, combine elements of sound, light, sculpture, and ink to create a meditative encounter. Johnson Chang, the gallery’s founder and an expert on Chinese modern and contemporary art history, described h01h1m’s work as “digital poetry based on Chinese classics.” The pieces resonate with more traditional ink- and paint-based works by the likes of Wang Dongling, Cao Xiaoyang, and Leung Kui Ting, as well as with Klein’s bulbous glass sculptures, which appear to be dripping with thick black and white paint.

“We have met new clients and reconnected with old friends,” said gallery director Arman Lam, “and are delighted with the sales result of the first day.” By the end of the day, Hanart had sold most of the major works in its booth.

Lehmann Maupin

Booth 1D29

With works by McArthur Binion, Lee Bul, Lari Pittman, Ashley Bickerton, Mary Corse, Shirazeh Houshiary, OSGEMEOS, Helen Pashgian, Do Ho Suh, and Cecilia Vicuña

Installation view of Lehmann Maupin’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Photo by Daniel Murray. Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

Lehmann Maupin’s group presentation is dominated by strong works by female artists including Lee Bul, Helen Pashgian, and Shirazeh Houshiary. Bul’s sculpture Study for Light Tower (2019) resembles a billboard and lights up in an alternating pattern to read “Because Everything Only Really Perhaps Yet So Limitless.” The work stands in stark contrast to her delicate “Perdu” painting series, making a novel addition to the presentation. Bul’s Study for Light Tower sold for $115,000 to a private collection in Hong Kong, and Houshiary’s large blue painting Fission (2019) sold for £150,000 ($213,000), also to a private collection in Hong Kong, both within the first day. Other highlights of the booth include Lari Pittman’s paintings imbued with symbolic imagery, which have never been shown in Hong Kong before. Pittman’s Found Buried #4 (2020) sold for $300,000 to a private collection in Malaysia.

Shasha Tittmann, Lehmann Maupin’s director in Hong Kong, noted that Art Basel’s digital offerings have improved the fair experience in spite of the complications wrought by the pandemic, “marking a huge step forward to the future of art fairs. Art should travel when people can’t.”

Blindspot Gallery

Booth 1C17

With works by Chen Wei, Un Cheng, Jiang Pengyi, Jiang Zhi, Sarah Lai, Lam Tung Pang, Sin Wai Kin, Trevor Yeung, Yeung Tong Lung, and Zhang Ruyi

Installation view of Blindspot Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of Blindspot Gallery.

Playful and high in aesthetic value, Blindspot Gallery’s booth showcases works by local and Chinese artists from its roster. Fun Bag (2015), an unmissable sculpture by Sin Wai Kin (formerly known as Victoria Sin), takes center stage. Made from a plastic bag stuffed with four balloons hanging on an extra-small hanger, the work approximates an idealized “Barbie figure” and speaks to the artist’s interest in subverting gender stereotypes. Lurking in the corner of the booth, Trevor Yeung’s Night Mushroom Colon (Five) (2020)—the artist’s electronic take on his plant-based practice—lights up. Part of a popular series by the artist created from interlocking night-lights, the work sold in the range of $8,000 to $15,000. Works by artists Un Cheng, Jiang Pengyi, Jiang Zhi, Lam Tung-pang, and Sin Wai Kin also sold within the fair’s first day.

Fungi are an unexpected motif in the booth, taken up again in Chen Wei’s meticulously staged photograph Mushroom (2016). Gallery founder Mimi Chun noted that 2021 is an important year for the artist: His meticulously staged photographs, which tend to comment wryly on consumer culture, will be exhibited in a solo exhibition with the gallery in the fall.

Empty Gallery

Booth 1D19

With works by Tishan Hsu, James T. Hong, Taro Masushio, Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork, and Xper.Xr

Installation view of Empty Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2021. Courtesy of Empty Gallery.

Hong Kong’s original “black-cube” space, Empty Gallery, is staging a group presentation showcasing poignant works by its eclectic roster of artists. Tishan Hsu’s work Thumb-Eye-Extended 1.0 (2020) visualizes the dissolution between humans and technology. Also on view are his early works on paper, documenting the development of his distinctive aesthetic. Taiwanese American filmmaker James T. Hong’s politically charged set of monochrome watercolors, The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend (2020), resonates at a time when relations between the East and West hang delicately. The revered Hong Kong noise artist Xper.Xr’s work is also on view, both at the fair and in the gallery itself, with a solo exhibition entitled “Tailwhip.” “For over thirty years, Xper.XR has fought against the system and made art out of his failures,” said Stephen Cheng, Empty Gallery’s founder.

Other standout works in the booth include one of Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork’s metallic, electric “Noise Blanket” works, which glistens in the center of the space. Also on view are suggestive black-and-white photographs by the young Japanese artist Taro Masushio, which subtly question the dominant aesethic of Japanese masculinity and pay homage to an old, hidden archive of homoerotic photographs.

Aaina Bhargava