From There and Back Again

Alpesh Kantilal Patel around Art Basel Hong Kong week

Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

THE WEEKEND BEFORE the seventh edition of Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK), a smattering of related exhibition openings and events lit up the city. On Friday night, at Para Site, executive director Cosmin Costinas, who just days earlier was announced as the new director of Kathmandu Triennale, greeted visitors with his characteristic good cheer and signature elegant scarf wrapped around his neck. On Saturday night, Mimi Chun, founder and director of Blindspot Gallery, opened a solo show by Lam Tung Pang. Chun told me she didn’t want the exhibition to be lost among the many offerings the following week. (Full disclosure, I had been invited to take part in a conversation with the artist at the opening.)

The dinner following the opening brought together a veritable who’s who of Hong Kong’s art-world ecosystem: Jane DeBevoise and Susanna Chung of Asia Art Archive; Vita Wong-Kwok of the arts consultancy Art-Partners; independent curator David Chan; M+ curator Tina Pang; artists Sim Chan and Yuk King Tan; and Tobias Berger, head of arts at Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station of Hong Kong. Of course, ABHK was not far from anyone’s mind. Chun noted that despite the fair’s unquestionable prestige, it hasn’t really done much for any of the artists based in and around Hong Kong. I often hear this in Miami, where I’m based and where, of course, Art Basel has been around for almost two decades.

Also prior to ABHK’s kickoff, Eaton House was screening British artist Robert Crosse’s short films, as well as the performance Dear Samuel, the result of his month-long residency as part of Both Sides Now V, the fifth edition of the partnership between Videotage (HK) and Videoclub (UK). Crosse’s films often deal with elderly and intergenerational queer relationships. While in Hong Kong, the artist spent a lot of time with city’s aging queer community. During the conversation with Travis S. K. Kong after the film, Crosse said he is aware he is an outsider and had not fully resolved visually how to represent Hong Kong’s queer community, including many members who are not fully out.

Dinner for the opening of Lam Tung Pang’s exhibition at Blindspot Gallery. Left, from front to back:  Lesley Kwok, Vita Wong, Mimi Chun, David Chan, Susanna Chung, Tina Pang, Nick Yu, and Sim Chan. Right, from front to back: Leung Wing Yee, Yuk King Tan, Alpesh Kantilal Patel, Lam Tung Pang, Jane DeBevoise, Abby Chen, Tobias Berger, and Chris Gradel.

The day before ABHK opened, I caught a number of jam-packed gallery openings. Edouard Malingue Gallery opened a show of the latest chapter of Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s stunning work The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia, 2012–. I saw Abby Chen, the newly appointed chief curator of contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, conversing with collector Rudy Tseng about building up the museum’s contemporary art collection. I bumped into dealer Jessica Silverman, also in from San Francisco, art-world anthropologist Sarah Thornton, and Boon Hui Tan of the Asia Society. Thornton noted that “Hong Kong is the original global city. . . . An ethnographer’s paradise.”

On my way to the first of two days of VIP previews of ABHK, my hotel concierge asked if I would share a taxi with another gentleman, since we were both going to the same destination. Once in the car, I discovered I was sharing a ride with Italian dealer Franco Noero. He looked ready to tackle the next few days. In the short trip to the convention center, we managed to discuss the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 and speculate what will happen in 2047, when the “one country, two systems” constitutional principle that allows Hong Kong to be fairly autonomous expires.

At the press preview, Marc Spiegler said that this iteration of the fair is truly “the most global,” given the 242 galleries from 35 countries and territories. Surprisingly, Spiegler also said that he wanted to balance his excitement by noting the many hardships galleries are facing worldwide. That day, I caught a glimpse of actor Alexander Skarsgård walking around the aisles, bumped into RoseLee Goldberg and Kathy Noble, founder and curator, respectively, of Performa, and also saw Maria Balshaw, director of Tate art museums and galleries, and Anne Barlow, director of Tate St Ives, walking around together. During a break, I spied legendary auctioneer Simon de Pury, who looked debonair even wearing black jeans. The night before, he served as auctioneer at the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) gala, which Skarsgård also attended.

Simon de Pury at convention center.

That evening, I joined independent curator Ying Kwok at an incredibly lively reception hosted by the Sunpride Foundation, during which the follow-up to the groundbreaking 2017 LGBTQ exhibition focusing on Southeast Asia would be celebrated. The next show, “Spectrosynthesis II – Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia,” will take place in Bangkok this fall and will be curated by Chatvichai Promadhattavedi, the former director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. While there, I spoke with one of the founders of Para Site, Sara Wong. She explained that when she graduated from art school in the early 1990s, there really wasn’t a contemporary art scene in Hong Kong. This is what gave rise to Para Site. In contrast, she noted that ABHK, in particular, had radically altered both the awareness of art school students of the international art world and the possibilities of making a living as an artist. Some dealers, she said, were representing artists before they even graduated. Wong did not take a stand on whether this was a welcome development.

The following two days of the fair, I attended a number of fascinating panels, during which Okwui Enwezor, the art-world titan who recently passed away, was often invoked. At the panel “Institutional Practice Is Creative Work: A Roundtable on Leadership,” Doreen Sibanda, the director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, commented that Enwezor effectively had put the continent of Africa on the contemporary art map. The moderator, Hans Ulrich-Obrist, who acted more like a game show host (which was annoying or endearing, depending on who you spoke to), asked each of the panelists to describe their “nonlinear” career trajectories. Cofounder and executive director of Asia Art Archive Claire Hsu went as far back as the moment her parents met: on a plane. As an educator, I wondered how to teach students to think differently—a trait that all the panelists shared. Or is this even possible? During the panel, I caught up with Mari Spirito, who knows a thing or two about putting together panels, having organized them for Art Basel Miami for many years. Spirito had just come from Beijing, where she organized the Beijing Art Summit as part of Gallery Weekend Beijing, which was strategically scheduled to unfold just prior to ABHK.

“Bodyworks: Performance and Practice” panel at Art Basel. From left to right: Wu Tsang, Sonia Khurana, Victoria Sin, Juliana Huxtable, and Melati Suryodamo.

Attendance at the panels was light (regrettably, given the excellence of the content) except for at “Body Work: Performance and Practice,” moderated by Wu Tsang. The panel included an international and intergenerational roster of artists, including Victoria Sin, Juliana Huxtable, Melati Suryodarmo, and Sonia Khurana. Tsang began by apologizing: Though it is tiring to define “performance,” she said, she was going to ask the artists to explain their relationships to the term. Huxtable gave one of the most fascinating responses, explaining how performance art’s “liquid and fluid relationship to form and content” is why she’s often drawn to it as a mode of thinking. At one point, Sin pointed out that funding for performance artists remains either nonexistent or paltry. One can only hope that a wealthy collector happened to stumble upon the panel and hear their plea. Interestingly, collaboration was thrown out as an important feature of performance, and a variant of the term “alliance” was invoked as crucial at the “Institutional Practice” panel, too.

Two final highlights, one art, one not: Sprüth Magers’ exhibition bringing together the work of eight female artists—five of whom appeared as part of Monika Sprüth’s Eau du Cologne (1985–89), a series of publications and exhibitions dealing with feminism and power—was excellent. And before my flight departed, I got a text message from Josheen Oberoi of Tyler Rollins Fine Art, who convinced me to take one last adventure—visiting the Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon. There, I saw toy cars for sale that reminded me of Nina Beier’s surreal remote-control-car-cum-wig at the Metro Pictures booth. Indeed, walking through the various booths, I could not help but think I was back at ABHK.

Abby Chen and Rudy Tseng at Edouard Malingue Gallery opening.

Robert Crosse and Travis S. K. Kong in conversation at Eaton House. Photo: Videotage.

“Institutional Practice Is Creative Work: A Roundtable on Leadership” panel at Art Basel. From left to right: Antonia Carver, Claire Hsu, Yana Peel, Doreen Sibanda, and Pawit Mahasarinand.

Wyng Foundation team at their new exhibition space: from left to right: Vivian Fung, Monica Fu, Samuel Wong, Tse Lam Hei, and Luna Chan.

Josheen Oberoi at Tyler Street Night Market.

 “Spaces of Interaction: Developing Platforms and Making Communities” panel at Art Basel. From left to right: Natalie King, Anne Barlow, Qudsia Rahim, Sangeeta Thapa, and Lu Peng.

Louise Lawler, (Bunny) Sculpture and Painting (adjusted to fit, distorted for the times), part of Sprüth Magers’s exhibition “Eau de Cologne,” ground floor of H Queen’s building.

Sunpride Foundation celebration. From left to right: Issac Chong, Ellen Pau, Patrick Sun, Mandy Wong, and unidentified guest.

Claire Shea and Cosmin Costinas in front of Candice Lin’s Metamorphosis in Space (2013) at Para Site Gallery. Photo credit: Kee Foong.

Nina Beier, Automobile, 2018, at Metro Pictures booth.

Artist Danh Vō and dealer Monica Manzutto of Kurimanzutto. Photo: Alvin Li.

Artist Nadim Abbas and curator Lauren Cornell. Photo: Alvin Li.

Artist Parker Ito and dealer Olivia Barrett of Château Shatto. Photo: Alvin Li.

Artist Tao Hui, dealer Mathieu Borysevicz, and dealer Esther Schipper. Photo: Alvin Li.

Artist Wu Tsang, Antenna Space's Simon Wang, and artist Xinyi Cheng. Photo: Alvin Li.

Curator Robin Peckham, K11 Art Foundation artistic director Venus Lau, artists Sara Wong and Leung Chi Hom, and artist Shuang Li (clockwise). Photo: Alvin Li.

Dealer Ash L'Ange of Herald St. Photo: Alvin Li.

Dealer Kibum Kim of Commonwealth and Coucil. Photo: Alvin Li.

Dealer Paul Soto of Park View. Photo: Alvin Li.

Dealer Dominique Lévy and her son Samuel. Photo: Ruishi Ge.

Dealer Henrietta Tsui and artist Zhang Yanzi. Photo: Ruishi Ge.

Dealer Johnson Chang Hanart. Photo: Ruishi Ge.

Pace’s president and CEO, Marc Glimcher. Photo: Ruishi Ge.

Gallerist Balice Hertling. Photo: Alvin Li.

Gallerists Vanessa Carlos and Sadie Coles. Photo: Alvin Li.

Head of arts at Tai Kwun Tobias Berger and curator Susanne Pfeffer. Photo: Alvin Li.

LACMA director Michael Govan, entrepreneur Dino Sadhwani, Princess Alia Al-Senussi, and UCCA director Philip Tinari (clockwise). Photo courtesy UCCA.

Michael Elmgreen and NTU CCA Singapore director Ute Meta Bauer. Photo: Alvin Li.

Musician Yen Tech. Photo: Alvin Li.

Musicians Fotan Laiki and Antony. Photo: Alvin Li.

Musicians Kelvin T and Fotain Laiki. Photo: Alvin Li.

Nowness's Jim Demuth and Sinclair's Elly Porter. Photo: Alvin Li.

Sadie Coles's Kate Wong and artist Viktor Briestensky. Photo: Alvin Li.

Serpentine Galleries CEO Yana Peel and artistic director Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Photo: Alvin Li.

“Sunpride reception 1”
Sunpride Foundation celebration. From left to right: Joyce Ng, Patrick Sun (founder and director of Sunpride Foundation/ Executive Director), Shuyin Yang, and Ying Kwok.

The panel “Permanent or Temporary. Now or Forever. What Is the Role of Time in Art?”, organized by Spire Properties in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Arts, London. From left to right: Tim Marlow, Ying Kwok, Willi Dorner, and Paul Cocksedge. The lounge, where the conversations were held, was wrapped in blue and red fabric, Cocksedge’s site-specific installation, Spectrum.