10 Must-See Shows during Art Basel in Hong Kong

Brady Ng
Mar 15, 2023 10:36PM

Boloho, still from BOLOHOPE - Episode 01, 2022. Courtesy of the artists and Hanart TZ Gallery.

There are people dragging suitcases behind them in Hong Kong again. Since the city lowered the bar for entry earlier this year and dropped its mask mandate this month, visitors have been trickling in. In theory, this is a boon for major events, and maybe—just maybe—stampedes of art collectors will land in Hong Kong to visit Art Basel and Art Central.

Away from the fair, exhibitions being staged reach into all sorts of directions, from high-minded explorations into abstract matters related to technology, culture, and identity, to straightforward experiences that link up people with food.

The shows and performances below are scattered all over Hong Kong. They can take visitors from the clusters of commercial galleries to industrial buildings, and on trips that highlight the creativity that survives and thrives in different corners of the city.


Hanart TZ Gallery

Feb. 18–Apr. 6

Boloho, installation view of “BOLOHOPE” at Hanart TZ Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kitmin Lee. Courtesy of Hanart TZ Gallery.


Guangzhou-based experimental artist group Boloho has transformed Hanart TZ Gallery into a cha chaan teng, a Hong Kong–style café. The group is using that backdrop to showcase their paintings, installations, and other artworks that were created in the entrepreneurial context that frames the collaboration by the group’s nine members.

Additionally, Boloho is staging a series of performances at the gallery titled “Surviving and Chilling,” first turning the space into a film studio to host a talk show, with improvised program production. The group will then cook with guests on two occasions, initially with a local anarchist-founded vegetarian restaurant, and then with Indonesian artist collective ruangrupa, as a continuation of the latter’s presence at Documenta 15 in Kassel last year.

Michele Chu, “you, trickling”

PHD Group

Mar. 20–May 13

Michele Chu, detail of work in progress, 2023. Photo by Rave Wong. Courtesy of the artist and PHD Group.

Multidisciplinary artist Michele Chu has created a site-specific installation and mixed-media works that are centered on her relationship with her ailing mother. The gallery’s entrance has been transformed so that visitors must pass through a slit in a swathe of fabric to enter the space, then walk into a series of connected areas that activate different sensations with condensed mist, heat lamps, and a circular tunnel.

The artist has been experimenting with metalworking in the weeks leading up to “you, trickling.” Some of the artworks on show include metal and glass shards strung together to reveal images of hands or parts of Chu’s own body, as well as a casting of the artist’s belly button suspended over salt.

Wang Tuo, “The Second Interrogation”

Blindspot Gallery

Mar. 21–May 6

Wang Tuo, still from The Second Interrogation, 2023. Courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.

The Second Interrogation (2023) is a three-channel video installation that dives into a touchy subject: cultural censorship in China. Wang Tuo makes viewers follow the unfolding friendship between an artist and a censor. Naturally, there is confrontation between the two figures, but they eventually need to grapple with new realizations: The censor comes to understand the real meaning of art in tightly surveilled environments, while the artist becomes a snitch who works for the state, outing those whom he sees as rebellious art world participants.

Wang’s film is buttressed by a series of oil paintings, “Weapons” (2023), which show individuals who are involved with China’s art scene, painted from referencing self-portraits taken by the subjects. They’re meant to be images of resistance, each small act of noncompliance being a slight counter to larger systems of inequality.

Kimsooja, “Topography of Body”

Axel Vervoordt Gallery

Mar. 18–June 3

Kimsooja, Thread Routes – Chapter III, 2012–15. Courtesy of the artist and Axel Vervoordt Gallery.

This show starts with a heartbeat—or at least a rhythmic sound that makes you think of a heart pumping blood. Kimsooja’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong ties together a practice that is often framed by her expressive bottari—wrapping cloths or “bundles.” Her presentation at Axel Vervoordt Gallery includes a range of works that involve her usage of clay, fingerprints, and rice paper.

The third chapter of the artist’s “Thread Route” series (2010–19), which was filmed in India in 2012, takes viewers to nomadic communities in Gujara, as well as the Adalaj Stepwell and Modhera Sun Temple. We see traditional dyeing, sewing, weaving, and embroidery in the video, while table covers stamped with indigo ink are presented in the show, threading together a practice that has been shaped by the exploration of what textiles tell us about cultures and traditions that have evolved through the ages.

Shubigi Rao, “Eating One’s Tail”

Rossi & Rossi

Mar. 18–May 13

Shubigi Rao, still from The Pelagic Tract, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Rossi & Rossi.

After representing Singapore at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022, Shubigi Rao is presenting a survey of her work at Rossi & Rossi. The third installment of the artist’s decade-long project Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book was showcased at the Singapore pavilion in Venice. It included a film that explores the destruction of books and those who preserve manuscripts for personal or professional reasons—to retain the memories of loved ones, conserve cultural value, or simply transfer knowledge.

The survey at Rossi & Rossi will unpack Rao’s specialization in examining the insights that are passed from person to person and shape our world. Additionally, The River of Ink II (2023), an installation of 300 hand-lettered and -drawn books soaked in ink (a more expansive iteration of Rao’s The River of Ink made in 2008), will be on view at Art Basel in Hong Kong as part of the Encounters section.

Nadim Abbas, “Ventriloquists’ Stone”

Oil Street Art Space (Oi!)

Mar. 1–July 30

Nadim Abbas, installation view of “Ventriloquists’ Stone” at Oil Street Art Space (Oi!), 2023. Photo by Tai Ngai-lung. Courtesy of the artist and Oi!

Nadim Abbas makes installations that seem familiar to viewers—particularly millennial viewers—yet feel jarring. His five-month presentation at Oil Street Art Space (Oi) is meant to misdirect you. It changes every week; fixtures are not so fixed.

It generally takes some mental gymnastics to navigate and decode Abbas’s work. In the case of his show “Ventriloquists’ Stone,” start by following the gray concrete path within the exhibition space and let the sense of not quite belonging sink in. You’re walking through what feels like a miniature diorama, blown up to our scale.

All of that matters less than what visitors are meant to experience internally. Part fantasy, part bleakness, Abbas’s presentation casts viewers as active explorers in familiar surroundings. You’re meant to navigate the space with a dose of imagination, not just follow yellow bricks to a destination.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, “The Shop”

David Zwirner

Mar. 20–May 6

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s show at David Zwirner is yet another exhibition inspired by Liu Cixin’s popular science fiction series Remembrance of Earth’s Past. Liu’s books have been referenced by artists and curators for years, all over the world. Maybe it’s a sign of the times: The story has fear, paranoia, chaos, and interactions between civilizations that were previously separated by the cosmos. Alternate realities found in fiction are enticing escapes.

“The Shop” is Tiravanija’s first solo show at David Zwirner since he started working with the gallery. He’s known for staging participatory installations, like sharing with visitors the responsibility of preparing pad thai, the stir-fried rice noodle dish that can be found all over Thailand.

Tishan Hsu, “screen-skins” and Jes Fan, “Sites of Wounding: Chapter 1”

Empty Gallery

Mar. 18–May 6

Tishan Hsu, breath 9, 2023. Photo by Pierre Le Hors. Courtesy of the artist and Empty Gallery.

Tishan Hsu continues his probing of the ways we process our relations to our physical bodies in an environment where technology rapidly evolves. As the tools and platforms for image production become increasingly diverse, and with screens now an integral part of our lives, Hsu explores the distortion of the human body, specifically incorporating ideas of corporeality and death.

Meanwhile, Jes Fan will present artworks that were created based on research that has been unfolding for more than a year. Through collaborating with scientists from the University of Hong Kong, Fan embedded the Chinese characters for “The Pearl of the East” into live oysters, coating the phrase with the iridescent quality of mother of pearl. The artist’s latest work evokes a sentiment that resonates with Hong Kong’s slow recovery after social turmoil and pandemic-induced isolation.

Vaevae Chan, “She Told Me to Head to the Sea”

Juen Juen Gung


Vaevae Chan, installation view of “She Told Me to Head to the Sea” at Juen Juen Gung. Courtesy of the artist.

Ceramist Vaevae Chan made her debut in Hong Kong with a unique presentation. Between 2018 and 2021, the artist holed up in a nondescript industrial building and transformed it into a cave-like space. After a series of private viewings hosted earlier this year, Juen Juen Gung—as Chan calls the space—is open for visits by appointment.

Chan’s exhibition “She Told Me to Head to the Sea” thoughtfully expresses personal experiences with trauma, and attempts to find greater meaning in the way she articulates her creative practice. The artist’s artificial cave is a nod to the extravagant gardens in Hong Kong and Singapore built by the herbalist family behind Tiger Balm, with whom Chan says she has a spiritual connection.

This is a show where you’re meant to blunder—only one out of the unit’s four doors leads into the space. The other three open up to lenticular images of waterfalls paired with the sounds of flowing water and birdsong. After that, it gets difficult to describe, but the journey is worth it.


Para Site

Mar. 18–Sept. 29

So Wing Po, Sea Ear Hi-hat, 2020. Courtesy of the artist, X Museum, and Blindspot Gallery.

Nonprofit art space Para Site is mounting yet another ambitious multi-artist presentation. The Chinese characters in the exhibition’s title literally mean “in an instant,” and together form a homonym of, well, the word “signals” in Cantonese. The show will take place in three phases over more than six months, taking inspiration from the gallery Signals, which operated in London’s West End in the 1960s and served as an outpost for the avant-garde of Latin America and Europe.

At once interdisciplinary and international, Para Site’s show features work by Christine Sun Kim, Candice Lin, P. Staff, Mika Tajima, So Wing Po, Truong Cong Tung, and more artists, as well as publishing and broadcast projects that will mingle with the presentation. This transmutative show is a nod to the fluidity and experimentation of Signals’s three founding artists: David Medalla, Gustav Metzger, and Marcello Salvadori.

Brady Ng