The Artists Everyone Was Talking about during Art Basel in Hong Kong

Alina Cohen
Apr 1, 2019 5:03PM

Installation view of Jamie Diamond, “Dolls’ House,” at Prada Mode Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy of Prada.

Early last week, a well-heeled group of international gallerists and collectors infiltrated Central Hong Kong’s busy streets as Hong Kong Art Week kicked off. Before the seventh edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong commenced, a flurry of exhibitions opened in galleries across the city, including at some younger, hipper spaces, such as Empty and Blindspot, which have set up shop on the island’s Southside district of Wong Chuk Hang. The events offered visitors and locals myriad opportunities to discover new artists and view recent work by old favorites—and to tell us all about them.

On Monday, musical siblings David, Lauren, and Sean Carpenter serenaded visitors to the newly opened Lévy Gorvy at the ground level of the St. George’s Building in the island’s Central neighborhood (the trio are friends with co-owner Brett Gorvy). Sean Carpenter explained after the performance that he and his siblings collect art—“[Yayoi] Kusama, [Robert] Motherwell, a lot of [Willem] de Kooning, so a lot of post-war”—and noted the similarities between their work and the gallery’s program. When they’re not performing, the trio sells Stradivarius violins. “There’s kind of an aesthetic to these 18th-century old instruments,” Carpenter said. He was particularly enthusiastic about the work of Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-Ki, whose work hung alongside that of American artists Joan Mitchell and Agnes Martin at Lévy Gorvy.

Zao Wou-Ki, 04-06-62, 1962. Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy.

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 2003. Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy.


Meanwhile, H Queen’s and the Pedder Building—just a short walk away from each other—bustled with champagne-fueled art enthusiasts. In the former, David Zwirner opened a show of large-scale Neo Rauch paintings, while Hauser & Wirth displayed a miniature retrospective of Louise Bourgeois, to coincide with the artist’s first major traveling museum exhibition in China (the show, “The Eternal Thread,” just left Shanghai’s Long Museum and opened at Beijing’s Song Museum).

At the Pedder Building, visitors were particularly intrigued by a show of still lifes by Paul Cézanne, Giorgio Morandi, and Sanyu at Gagosian, curated by Zeng Fanzhi; an installation made to look like a boiler room by the ever-entertaining Scandinavian duo Elmgreen & Dragset at Massimo De Carlo; and a show of new sculptural work by Leonardo Drew at Pearl Lam. Drew created the new work in China, incorporating porcelain into his practice for the first time. Many of the pieces resemble black paintings (colored by charcoal) with fragments of gold, black, and colored porcelain fracturing off the surface like three-dimensional paint drips. The centerpiece is a larger-than-life vase, busted at the center with gold porcelain shards spilling out around it. All are major departures for Drew, who’s best known for large-scale assemblages made from wood.

Installation view of Leonardo Drew solo show at Pearl Lam Galleries, 2019. Courtesy of Pearl Lam Galleries.

Drew himself was in town: In addition to the Pearl Lam show, he was slated to show work at three Art Basel in Hong Kong booths—Pearl Lam, Galerie Lelong, and Pace Prints. The artist later told me that he tries to avoid fairs, which he likened to “a meat market,” before adding, “I think fairs are wonderful. I’m not interested in attending them, but I understand they’re important.” Drew said his week had been “over-the-top crazy,” but he’d been able to enjoy a presentation of sculptures by Cuban artist Yoan Capote at Ben Brown Fine Arts, also in the Pedder Building.

Yoan Capote, Top Feminist, 2008–09. © Yoan Capote. Courtesy of Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Samson Young 楊嘉輝
Music while you work , 2018
Edouard Malingue Gallery

The week’s raison d’être, Art Basel in Hong Kong, welcomed long lines of VIPs and press—like racehorses waiting to be unleashed—inside its stanchions beginning midday Wednesday. Crowds clustered, in particular, around Berlin-based gallery Société’s presentation of Chinese artist Lu Yang’s wild, colorful videos. The abundance of work by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean artists (such as a massive white Yoshitomo Nara sculpture at Blum & Poe and STPI’s booth featuring Do Ho Suh prints) revealed many galleries banking on the appeal of regional artists.

Already thinking ahead to the next event on the international art-world calendar, curator Kim Inhye was at the fair in anticipation of the Venice Biennale. In May, she’ll organize the first international retrospective of Dansaekhwa (a South Korean minimalist movement) artist Yun Hyong-keun at the Palazzo Fortuny. In the heavily guarded VIP lounge, she told me she was mostly interested in work by Korean artists such as Lee Bul, who had works in Lehmann Maupin’s booth, and who created a giant silver balloon for the “Encounters” sector of large-scale artworks, entitled Willing To Be Vulnerable - Metalized Balloon (2019). (The piece, presented by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Lehmann Maupin, and PKM Gallery, sold to a private museum in China.)

Hong Kong Art Week also offered opportunities for international institutions to meet with local talent. At a brunch for the Donum Estate winery on the 49th floor of the tony Upper House hotel on Pacific Place, Camden Arts Centre director Martin Clark told me he was looking forward to a meeting with Wong Ping. The Hong Kong–based video artist won the museum’s inaugural Emerging Artist Prize at Frieze London last fall, and Clark and his team are planning a solo presentation of Wong’s work. Wong also has an animated film, Who’s the Daddy (2017), on view at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun center, in the traveling show “Performing Society: The Violence of Gender.” A particularly memorable scene features a high-heeled woman stepping on a man’s eye—violence of gender, indeed. “The videos have this darkly comic [element]; they’re like these contemporary fables,” Clark said of the artist’s recent appeal. “The visual language feels like it comes out of the Chicago Imagists, crossed with a manga video. A very Chinese aesthetic. It speaks to a sort of alienated, slightly disenfranchised moment in a twisted way.”

Installation view of Lee Bul, Willing To Be Vulnerable - Metalized Balloon, 2019, at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2019, presented jointly by Lehmann Maupin, PKM gallery, and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Couresty © Art Basel.

The satellite fair Art Central hosted a handful of notable focused presentations: Seoul’s Gallery Hyundai displayed Dansaekhwa artists such as Lee Ufan, while Hong Kong’s Puerta Roja showed work by all Latin American figures (the gallery’s specialty). Laura Zhang, a curator at the latter gallery, lauded the show “An Opera for Animals” at local nonprofit Para Site. “The curation is always amazing,” she explained, noting that the exhibition includes many artists, so “you need to go through the context of their work to feel the power of their pieces. Unfortunately, during Art Week, it’s a little difficult.”

Nevertheless, Para Site offered gallerists and curators a chance to slip away from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and see the space during a packed Friday morning brunch. Of all the work in the show—which focused on themes of colonialism, nature, and technology—Luhring Augustine director Donald Johnson Montenegro was particularly excited to see that of Hong Kong–based artist Samson Young (known for multimedia works about sound) and Colombian artist Beatriz González (who often adorns domestic objects—curtains, tables, beds—with political imagery). Regarding the latter, he said, she’s “an important figure in contemporary Columbian art. People call her La Maestra, like ‘the master.’ She’s shepherded a whole generation of artists in Columbia.”

Installation view of Puerta Roja’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy of Puerta Roja.

The exhibition’s only weak spot may have been the brunch food—bagels and tepid bites of egg—but over at iconic local restaurant Duddell’s (owned and run by major collector couple Alan Lo and Yenn Wong), visitors received more regional fare in the form of pork belly and egg rolls. The space is exhibiting large-scale abstract paintings by Chinese artists Wang Guangle (full of subtle color gradations) and Li Shurui (resembling panels of LED lights). The works hail from young French entrepreneur John Dodelande’s collection, organized by roving French curator Jérôme Sans.

Sans called the venue “a cultural hub…the skin of the cultural city.” The curator is also responsible for the first-ever Hong Kong exhibition of Franco-Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed—a series of gruesome red-and-white paintings that look as though they’re spattered in blood—over at Tang Contemporary Art, in H Queen’s.

Sans and Galerie Lelong director Dede Young enthused over Hauser & Wirth’s Bourgeois show; Young called it “absolutely fabulous. Absolutely knock-out beautiful.”

In the evenings, eager revelers headed to Prada’s pop-up club, Prada Mode Hong Kong, located in the former police barracks that is now the site of cultural space Tai Kwun. Regally decked out with chartreuse banquettes and currant-hued leather chairs, the venue also exhibited photographs by Brooklyn-based artist Jamie Diamond (Milan’s Prada Foundation is currently showing her work). Many of Diamond’s pictures feature “reborners,” a group of women who make stunningly life-like dolls that they treat as their own children.

“The whole show is exploring notions of love of motherhood, of the uncanny but more specifically the relationship between a human and a synthetic representation of a human in a doll,” Diamond shouted to me over the pulsing music, wearing a feathered black Prada dress. She’d been too busy with the brand’s events to see much besides an exhibition entitled “Cutthroat Kitchen,” of young Chinese artist Zhang Zipiao’s elegant abstract paintings, at the new Mine Project Gallery near the Convention and Exhibition Centre (the show was curated by Diamond’s former student at the University of Pennsylvania, Michael Xufu Huang).

Diamond hoped to see work by KAWS—an enormous inflatable sculpture by the street artist floated in Victoria Harbour for a few days before bad weather forced its removal, and the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation also mounted a well-attended show of his work on Aberdeen Street.

Installation view of Denny Dimin Gallery’s gallery pop-up at partner Katie Alice Fitz Gerlad’s Hong Kong apartment, 2019. Courtesy of Denny Dimin Gallery Hong Kong.

For a significantly more DIY evening activity, New York gallerist Robert Dimin mounted a show at Denny Dimin Gallery partner Katie Alice Fitz Gerald’s Hong Kong apartment. He brought the exhibition’s works—a series of Erin O’Keefe’s photographs and Matt Mignanelli’s geometric enamel-and-acrylic paintings—to Hong Kong in his checked luggage. As the party wound down, Fitz Gerald showed me the sparkling view of the city from her rooftop. The gallery, she said, was interested in having “a more intimate setting, which is less intimidating perhaps than the austere white cube space.” (Also, of course, it comes with much less overhead.) On the Southside, she’d enjoyed Hong Kong artist Lam Tung-pang’s “atmospheric” mixed-media show at Blindspot—a refreshment from the main fair.

All this activity, more or less, traces back to the advent of the first Art Basel in Hong Kong in the early 2010s. Sans noted that since then, a new dialogue has emerged between the West and the East. “Within five years, the entire world came to Hong Kong and China,” he said. “A few years ago, many of my Western friends were still suspicious about this part of the world. Now they are wholly here and it shows a radical change.”

Alina Cohen