“CAN YOU MAKE IT DISAPPEAR?”
“Impossible! It is exhibited in a gallery.”
Yolanda Choy Tang, a former reporter, was talking to a friend who saw her in a Wolfgang Tillmans photograph holding up a microphone in a meat market (Hong Kong TV Reporter, 1993). The photo was part of a solo show at David Zwirner’s new Hong Kong outpost in the H Queen’s Building. “It was twenty-five years ago!,” said Tang to Tillmans, who came to greet her during the vernissage. Tillmans had just finished lecturing the press about making one-of-a-kind images: “Many photographers have a sense of inferiority and feel the need to work in series. Why should I restrain myself?” This climate of daily life with flashes of stardom set the tone for a week of events around Art Basel Hong Kong’s sixth edition, which opened on March 29 and ran until March 31.
But Zwirner wasn’t the only one opening that day in the new building designed by homegrown artist and architect William Lim. On the fifteenth floor, Hauser & Wirth inaugurated its new space with paintings by Mark Bradford, who was being interviewed on camera when I walked in. Notably, both galleries appointed directors from Shanghai’s art scene: Leo Xu for Zwirner, and Lihsin Tsai for H&W. “Hong Kong is funny, such a celebrity culture,” observed Tsai.
Whitestone Gallery was showing Dale Chihuly’s colorful glass sculptures. At Tang Contemporary Art, several of Ai Wei Wei’s refugee-themed works were on display. In the Pedder Building, Hanart TZ Gallery staged a stunning exhibition of Inga Svala Thorsdottir and Wu Shanzhuan. On view were almost three hundred of the artists’ pieces, made between 1986 and 2018. Massimo de Carlo had several of Doug Aitken’s mirrored sculptures, while Simon Lee showcased Jim Shaw’s twisted figurative paintings. Seeing the number of people queuing on the streets to enter the buildings, you’d think the whole art world was there. Yet when I arrived to the Art Central satellite fair for its VIP preview, the crowds were practically spilling out of the tents. The fair’s director, Shuyin Yang, was greeting visitors at the door, including collector Uli Sigg (whom I just saw in Beijing); artists Mak Ying Tung and Konstantin Bessmertny; and Magnus Renfrew, founder of the Taipei Dangdai art fair, which is scheduled to open next January.
I later went to the restaurant Zuma, where Gagosian Gallery hosted a dinner for Jennifer Guidi in honor of her solo exhibition of abstract paintings (from afar, they made me think of the Aboriginal Dreamtime; up close, they were more staunch and less evocative). We feasted on sushi, fueling ourselves for a celebratory but exhausting week. Claire Hsu, cofounder and executive director of Asia Art Archive, was there. She told me the organization had invited the Guerrilla Girls this year for several talks—something to look forward to. We then briefly went to the soirée White Cube organized for Anthony Gormley on the rooftop of the Murray Hotel, where I saw the Delfina Foundation’s Aaron Cezar, Bellas Artes Projects’ Jam Acuzar, Tom Tandio (formerly of Art Stage), and an irritable Tracey Emin. I then dashed off to the most exciting party of the night at Happy Paradise restaurant in the Sheung Wan neighborhood. There, entrepreneur Ivan Pun threw a party for the first edition of Ghost:2561, a video and performance triennial curated by artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, which opens in October in Bangkok. At one point, someone shouted “Can I have hip-hop please!?” Artists Ming Wong, Lee Lee Chan, Gala Porras-Kim, Olga Balema, Young Joon Kwak, Yu Cheng-ta, and collector Qiao Zhibing were there and in excellent spirits. Also friendly, but much quieter, was the little gathering at Ping Pong Gintonería, a boîte where Pace Gallery threw a party honoring Yoshitomo Nara.
Tuesday the fair opened to numerous VIPs. “We prefer to focus on Asia for its stability, great collectors, and excitement,” shared dealer Javier Peres, echoing the buzz going around us in both floors of the convention center. Dinner was at Duddell’s, a yearly thing with plates stacked high full of Chinese comfort food, organized by galleries Take Ninagawa, Esther Schipper, Neugerriemschneider, STPI, and Urs Meile. “I spent half of my time in war zones and half in the fashion world,” said former fashion photographer and filmmaker Michel Comte, a dinner guest, who’s now forging an art career for himself. He made five new paintings from sand and pigments in his hotel room because his work hadn’t arrived in time for the fair.
The next day, after a second afternoon of VIP previews, I made time for the first part of a debate titled “Art is For Pleasure Not Politics: Contemporary Art has No Power to Change the World,” organized by Intelligence Squared Asia. The invited speakers were artists John Gerrard, Shirazeh Houshiary, Olafur Eliasson, and Lu Yang. Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, moderated. “For our generation political issues are less interesting,” said Yang, making politics sound like an outdated hobby. The conversation was lackluster and consistently apolitical. I soon left for the Happy Valley Racecourse where ShanghART was hosting a large buffet dinner in a private suite overlooking the grounds. “Enough art, let’s gamble,” cheered dealer Lilian Wu. I was sitting with artist Melati Suryodarmo, who is having her first solo exhibition at ShanghART’s Singapore space. She and I sipped our soup and tried figuring out how to place bets while artist Hu Jieming filmed the racecourse from the balcony. I left Suryodarmo with the Tate’s Clara Kim and went straight to Sing Kee Seafood in Wanchai, only to catch the tail end of Empty Gallery’s dinner for artists Xavier Cha and Jes Fan. Artists Tishan Hsu and João Vasco Paiva were also there. Later, I stopped by the bar Mezcalito to say hi to artist Cheng Ran, who was curating performances there by emerging artists based in Hangzhou. Outside the bar, I ran into Oscar Chan Yik Long. His work is in the K11 Art Foundation’s group exhibition “Emerald City,” organized by curator Venus Lau, which opened that evening.
Thursday, I went to Wong Chuk Hang for the announcement of the participating artists in the upcoming Honolulu Biennial (Hong Kong’s Lee Kit made the roster), and checked out some exhibitions, including Heman Chong’s solo show at Rossi & Rossi, which features punchy and large-scale digital reproductions from Singapore’s English-language newspaper, the Straits Times. I continued “the day that never ends,” as Alexie Glass-Kantor aptly coined it, with a brunch of oysters and cocktails at Carbone, put together for the artists in the “Encounters” section of ABHK, which was curated by Glass-Kantor. Artist Ulla von Brandenburg, whose beautiful and theatrical succession of seven large curtains at the fair, was having an iced coffee at the bar.
I then went to the exhibition “Rehearsal” at Tai Kwun Contemporary, a former police station that will soon become Hong Kong’s Centre for Heritage and Arts. It’s still a construction site, so we had to wear helmets and reflective gear (and in this particular costume I talked to Larys Frogier, director of Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum, on the Herzog & de Meuron–designed stairs). That night, LACMA threw a party at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen. By the time I arrived, they had opened the upper deck, letting guests outside, while some danced with delight indoors. I spotted curator and critic Jérôme Sans, artists Wawi Navarroza and Yan Xing, and “the most important DJ in the world,” according to the cheering Alia Al-Senussi, Seth Troxler. The decor was all very Golden-Age-of-Shanghai.
Eventually, we left for the restaurant Serge et le Phoque, back in Wanchai, where dealer Edouard Malingue was celebrating his artists. That party spilled over into the streets and a neighboring car park. Afterwards, groups of people dispersed to various clubs. The next day the mad cycle started all over again: more shows, more talks, more conversations, more everything.