Unravelling the Art of HK Art Basel

Stepping into the biggest, baddest art exhibition of the region
by JUNK
Arty-FartyApril 9, 2019
After our initial foray into art, (via Minimalism and silly questions about art fairs) we ventured even further into the art realm by visiting the motherlode of all art fairs in Asia – Art Basel Hong Kong. Yikes!

None the wiser, and only armed with a few vague memories of local art fairs, we boarded the plane and walked the halls of HKCEC (the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre) till our legs fell off… 242 booths later. This art fair is a behemoth. It’s all too much to take in, but here’s a sampling of pieces that caught our non-expert eye…

Peng Jian
‘Wave’
2018

After running out of blue plastic things, the artist discovered his balls.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 3/5 (entry level A E S T H E T I C)

Kostis Velonis
The Ability to Keep an Upright Posture While Standing Still (Partial Reconstruction of Joaquin Garcia Torres Toy Figures as an Instrument of Research for Politics)
2017

The artist promises he’ll get round to finishing the artwork… after he comes up with a snappier title.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 2/5 (strangely moving)

Lu Yang
The whole booth (that’s not a title, we’re just looking at the whole booth)
2019

If you want to sound smart, say: “Post-Internet anthropocene” then quickly move on, unless you are nostalgic for a past none of us actually had. Lu Yang is one of the more celebrated artists of the moment, but this feels like an utter exploitation of our youth.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 4/5 (feels like a piss take)

Siah Armajani
100 and One Dead Poets
2016

Oh yeah, we used to do this to make our Chinese compositions seem longer.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 1/5 (lovely)

Maurizio Cattelan
Hollywood
2001

You had one job, mate!

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 1/5 (we love how profound this picture feels)

Laure Prouvost
This Means Tableau
2019

If I had this hanging in my living room, I won’t have to goat to work anymore. It holds answers. To what questions? Dunno.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 1/5 (stunning in its naiveté) 

Do Ho Suh
Fuse Boxes, London Studio, New York Home, Studio & Corridor
2019

If his gauzy fuse box can’t “shock” you, the price of it literally will!

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 2/5 (delicate, but a bit hard to bond with)

Francesco Vezzoli
Neo-Rococo Portrait of Nicki Minaj as Madame Barbe de Rimsky-Korsakov,
2011

Overheard: “OMG is that like Cardi B? Or Nicki Minaj…? I can’t tell…” Yup ,that sums it up, really.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 4/5 (not ironic enough, just tacky)

Jeff Koons
Birkin Bag Black (Shelf)
2014
Bag Donated by Sofia Coppola

Imagine buying this and trying to explain it…

“Art, okay?” – blank look
“Jeff Koons, okay!” – blank look
“Bag used to be owned by Sofia Coppola” – blank look
“Lost In Translation?” – blank look
“You know, that racist film starring Bill Murray that made the Japanese all look like clowns?” – blank look
“Ok, the mirrors behind were free.” – “Ahhhh…they could have been a bit bigger?”

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 4/5 (this is Jeff being Jeff)

Nina Beier
Works from Automobile Series
2018

Jaguar Land-Rover’s quality control issues continue to plague the car company. Vehicles are being delivered too small to fit real humans, and the gift-with-purchase standard fit hair just seems to be out of control.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 4/5 (we almost stepped on the art)   

Qiu Shijie
Five Centimeters from the Ground
2016

An unsuccessful attempt to escape the art fair.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 3/5 (yeah, okay.)

Samson Young
Music While You Work
2018

This guy took ugly sneaker culture and supersized it over a bumper car.
That’s it’s off-white makes it worse.
Truly the most horrible thing on show.

Hou Wat Dat Rating: — 5/5 (bluff who?)

Final Thoughts

Big. Busy. A E S T H E T I C. And having an energy that we can’t recall from local art fairs.

There were China tour groups being dragged around by a man with a flag, families with kids running around, lots of lone individuals with tote bags and hypebeasts making “content”; but most evidently, there were people here to buy – most gallerists were taken up with customers at their booths.

Observations?

1) Hypebeasts doing silly things with the art to get that IG shot.
We saw some “influencer” back her ass into a painting, only to get told off by the gallerist, and that triggered said influencer into a Mandarin tirade that was lost on everyone. Jia lat.

2) The “vaporwave” A E S T H E T I C look is creeping into art gallery collections.
It’s that late 2000’s interpretation of a dystopian 90’s look: primary shapes, bright colours, early internet graphics, digital avatars. that sort of thing. We don’t know what to think about it and it caught us by surprise given the high brow nature of art, but it is a cultural phenomenon that has come from the ground up and legitimately is the language of a new generation of artists. Interesting to see if it stays or dies.

3) A more obvious demonstration that art fairs are really huge supermarkets to shift work.
The art on show needs to be sold to pay for the very pricey booths at these fairs; Booth fees run into the tens of thousands. This is art that is being flogged for a crucial commercial return. A knock-on effect is that the art is really not shown in its best light; all of it crammed in a tight booth, mostly lacking context and ultimately diminishing the work’s power. The art world, of course knows this, but the man on the street may not contemplate this compromise.

So, impressive? Yes or no?

Yes. Definitely more impressive than any art fair we’ve seen locally. Here, you get a proper taster of how big a money machine the art business can be. But as someone wryly put it to us one evening – “If you think this is impressive, you’re actually looking at all the stuff that didn’t sell in Europe, and it gets sent here in hopes that it finds buyers.”

So, seems like a trip to Europe is in order! Feels like a rabbit hole worth falling into.

Find out more about Hong Kong Art Basel here.
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