DAY ONE: Vernissage & After Party
I arrived in Hong Kong under bad weather conditions, after having been stuck on the tarmac in Pudong for over three hours and missing the private view of the fair completely. I didn't get to the fair until 5:30 so I just did a quick walk up and down the aisles, not stopping into the booths themselves. Almost immediately, I ran into Zain Masud, of Art Dubai, and Robin Peckham, who would be a feature in my IHT article that would come out the next day. We had a quick coffee before Zain and I spent a little time walking the fair and catching up. We parted ways at Leo Xu's booth, who was giddy after a successful run at Frieze in New York and a write up by Roberta Smith in the New York Times. At some point, I heard someone yell my name and turned around to see New York-based art critic Barbara Pollack with her husband. They are really lovely people and it's always nice to catch up with Barbara; hopefully, I'll see more of her when I'm in NYC for the summer. Later, I caught up with Rebecca Catching, who was meeting with local artist Phoebe Man whom she's shown at OV Gallery. I chatted with them and another artist Bovey Lee for a bit until Rebecca and I left to join the Randian team at a Malaysian joint in the neighborhood.
We then headed to the K11 after party in the Grand Hyatt, which turned out to be a disaster, at least when we got there. They had moved it from the pool to the lobby mezzanine on account of the weather so people were standing shoulder to shoulder in a hot (this was Hong Kong. Where was the AC??), too small space. Adrien Cheng, K11's founder, was walking through the party surrounded by HK ladies dressed to the nines in ball gowns and dripping with jewels. Wherever I tried to walk, they seemed to be there in all their satin glory blocking my way. I ran into Aimee Lin of ArtReview, who was headed to the Artsy party at the Asia Society, and artist Zhang Enli with his wife. I told him he should just skip the party but he never misses an opportunity to mingle (odd, since he is so soft spoken and unassuming).
I had enough so I just left without saying goodbye to anyone. Which left me with the problem of how to get back to my hotel. The taxi line outside the Grand Hyatt snaked on forever so I tried my luck at the line outside the convention center. The line was indeed shorter but I quickly realized there were no taxis. I wish the organizers had planned for this kind of situation and provided shuttles to various hotels around the city, not just the Mandarin Oriental (the partner hotel of the fair).
DAY TWO: The Fair
I had blocked out the entire next day for the fair so I could see booths in detail and meet some new people. The slideshow above gives some highlights (and one or two lowlights) from the show. I'm glad to finally be able to show you what MadeIn was working on in their studio. It's a latex & leather bondage cathedral, accessorized with whips, chains, and various other S&M paraphernalia. Here what it looked like in the studio when I visited a couple of months ago:
My cousin joined me later in the day to get her fill of art. She generally does not understand the appeal of most contemporary art but I was glad to see she fully appreciated and got a kick out of MadeIn's cathedral piece. We talked about the new Ai Weiwei music video that debuted the day before; she loved it but could not understand why he had to sing it himself. I say it's just more punk rock that way. We made a little detour to the VIP, where I ran into Bettina again. She introduced me to Daniel Lechner of Cheim & Read; his gallery didn't have a booth this year (one of several who opted out this year) so he was finally able to enjoy Hong Kong like a real tourist.
I always enjoy my time with my cousin. She is one of the most cheerful cynics I know. Our conversations always lead to talk of corruption in China and she has provided me with some enlightening insights in the past about auctions, Chinese officials and the Hong Kong collector. She is a collector herself (of jades and small bronzes) and laments her early years as an uninformed novice who was tricked into buying fakes. She went on to say that the normal Hong Kong buyer doesn't care (Hong Kong was the center of the antiques market many years before it became a contemporary art hub) about what they're buying, which led her to that gem of a quote that is now the title of this post: "They don't actually know anything. They just have money." Which, let's be honest, can be applied to most collectors, be they contemporary art or antique collectors.
My husband finally arrived Thursday night and was able to join me Friday morning to catch up on all the gallery shows in the Pedder Building and White Cube.
Our first stop was Ben Brown Fine Arts, who had marble landscapes by Not Vital (poorly done and not as interesting as traditional furniture that employ the same techniques), portraits by Frank Auerbach, and a back room with Joan Miro works. Next door, Simon Lee Gallery had an Angela Bulloch show, which featured pulsating light boxes and a twinkling constellation installation. Her drawing machine at the fair was a big hit; it reminded me of Roxy Paine's sculpture machines.
Two floors up was Hanart TZ and their fantastic Qiu Zhijie solo show. He continues his exploration of maps and their social & political relevance with new ink paintings of landscapes viewed from a bird's eye view. It seemed that all the scroll paintings could be put together to create one, giant scene.
We quickly stopped by Pearl Lam's space, although I knew what to expect. Their Zhu Jinshi show was already shown in Shanghai earlier this year, and my eyes still glaze over when looking at his thick, bulging canvases in Hong Kong. I admire the gallery's promotion of abstract art but when it's as bland as this, you can't help but be bored. The artist Zhang Huan was walking around the show, being fawned over by the star struck gallery assistant, but he did not seem to care too much about the show either.
Our last stop in the Pedder Building was Gagosian Gallery. They had a big Basquiat show, a timely one after the artist's record breaking sale at Christie's the week before. This was my husband's first time seeing so many of his works in one place and he chided me for wanting to rush through the exhibition. It was admittedly a great selection; my favorite was a small painting of African masks by the door.
Saturday turned out to be my final day of art in Hong Kong. While my husband went to hang out on a boat with some friends from business school, I headed out to Aberdeen, on the southern part of the island, to check out some far flung shows. I started at the Spring Workshop, which had a Qiu Zhijie (again! He was everywhere in Hong Kong!) show using maps again. This time he collaborated with students to create a map of ink and found objects. This was much more conceptual than his Hanart works but was nonetheless a great companion show. Afterwards, I stopped by Pekin Fine Arts, whose space I had seen in its raw form two years ago when Meg Maggio threw a rooftop party during the fair. She had video installations by Fang Lu, absurdist performances which showed the artist putting spaghetti in her hair, painting pig's feet toenails, and spitting what looks like chocolate out of her mouth onto canvas.
I never did find Gallery Exit but at this point, it was raining and I was beyond exhausted. My time in Hong Kong (at least my time spent with art) ended there in Fo Tan (except for my random run-in with Zhang Enli and his wife at the HK airport. He's everywhere!). There were so many more shows I never made it to but I'll be back in Hong Kong in two weeks (my husband's business school reunion). Hopefully I'll have time to see what I missed this time around. Check back for a more critical eye on Art Basel in my next post!