Blow Up

Doretta Lau at the first Art Basel Hong Kong

Left: Dealer Daniele Balice. Right: Teresa Herrera and MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch.

IN THE DAYS leading up to the first edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, the city made headlines around the world because a giant rubber duck floating in Victoria Harbor—essentially a marketing tool for Hong Kong Art Week—had mysteriously deflated. On social media, the fowl was said to be a victim of the avian flu. Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman had titled his unfortunate piece Spreading Joy Around the World, and indeed the city rejoiced when the duck was revived last Tuesday, the day before the fair’s private view.

That night, many out-of-towners journeyed to the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade, the future home of M+, a museum for visual culture, to see “Inflation!” The exhibition, part of the M+ Mobile project, features seven massive inflatable sculptures—from Cao Fei’s House of Treasures to Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege. Here I saw the first of five women sporting the Skrillex haircut, perhaps a sign that the Art Basel Miami Beach crowd was making headways in Hong Kong. M+ senior curator Pi Li grinned with glee and affixed a sticker depicting Paul McCarthy’s Complex Pile, a giant inflatable poop installation, on my shirt, while collector Uli Sigg talked politics with M+ executive director Lars Nittve and curator Tobias Berger. The crowd clung to what little shade there was and fanned themselves as the sun beat down. “It’s too hot,” Berger said, turning down my request to see the M+ curatorial team bounce around Sacrilege.

Left: Artist Simon Birch and LiMeng DeBakker. Right: Dealer Nicole Schoeni and artist Hung Keung.

We were whisked to Central just in time for a flurry of openings. At Pedder Building, a sign indicated that the queue to enter, whether via the elevator or front stairs, would be thirty minutes. “What is this, Disneyland?” someone asked. Those in the know stuck to the back staircase on Theatre Lane and journeyed up to the exhibitions at Lehmann Maupin (“Writings Without Borders”), Simon Lee (Angela Bulloch), Ben Brown Fine Arts (“Not Vital”), Pearl Lam (Zhu Jinshi), Hanart TZ (Qiu Zhijie), and Gagosian (Basquiat). I wondered if they made Stella McCartney and Wendi Deng Murdoch take the back way in too.

The throngs continued to grow at 50 Connaught Road Central, where White Cube founder Jay Jopling held court with the Chapman brothers and Kate Moss amid a swarm of revelers. Farther upstairs, Emmanuel Perrotin was showing Takashi Murakami and Xavier Veilhan. In a room with a Murakami-designed carpet and opulent flower arrangements by florist Azuma Makoto, Perrotin hosted a casual dinner—so casual that it was flooded with crashers, and even guests had to scramble to find a place.

Early morning on Wednesday a storm swept through the city. The Hong Kong Observatory reported more than 18,000 lightning strikes. For the first time since 2010, the government administered a black-rain warning—Hong Kong’s version of a snow day. Precipitation levels were predicted at three inches per hour, and everyone was told to remain indoors. The art world was unfazed by the inclement conditions. Stock market trading was delayed until 1 PM, but Art Basel’s private view started promptly at noon.

Left: Dealer Nicole Schoeni and artist Hung Keung. Right: Mai Chow and artist Simon Birch. (Photo: Samantha Wong)

At the allotted time, collectors strolled through the gates, making their way through the 245 galleries at a leisurely pace. No mad dashes; a sense of order and tranquility pervaded. If only the prior night’s openings had been so measured! “Most of the major Asian collectors have shown up,” said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. “We have many more collectors from mainland China than last year. But also what’s great about it is we’re seeing so many of the younger generation of Western collectors, both from Europe and even from America.” Spirits were high among dealers, too. “I wish I had opened my space in Hong Kong,” said Daniele Balice, showing in the city for the first time. “This is the fair I want to do every year.”

The quality of the pieces was high but left little room for surprises. (“Safe” was the keyword.) One dealer in the Discoveries sector confessed that, during install, she had looked at the surrounding booths and decided to tone down her offerings. Another dealer whispered that one of the blue-chip galleries had mounted a piece with a Christie’s sticker still on the frame.

So the vernissage was a rather subdued affair, despite the appearance of movie stars Louis Koo and Sandra Ng, as well as Henry Tang, former chief secretary for administration of Hong Kong, and his wife, Lisa Kuo. After a long day of viewing art, many took refuge in the brassy new VIP area before heading off to various dinners, like the one Georg Jensen and Dior organized for Artsy. The weather might not have delayed the fair, but it did force the Modern Media and K11 afterparty to be relocated from the Grand Hyatt Poolside to the hotel’s interior. At 10 PM, the small space was packed tight as can be, and hosts Adrian Cheng and Thomas Shao could hardly circulate among their guests.

Left: Artists João Vasco Paiva and Nadim Abbas. Right: Dealer Agnes Lin with artist Wilson Shieh.

The next day, Arto Lindsay’s Paper Rain parade took us on a junk ride from Wan Chai to Central, eventually evolving into an exuberant collaborative performance with musicians, dancers, and artists—a highlight of the Art Basel public activities. As a light drizzle fell, Lindsay turned to me: “Now it’s going to rain!” Apichatpong Weerasethakul filmed from the middle of the procession and the performance culminated in a concert by Otomo Yoshihide.

We stopped by the one-night-only Keith Haring and Retna exhibition at the Apex in Central Plaza before running off to Asia Art Archive’s dinner at the new private members club Duddell’s and a party at the intimate nightclub Fly hosted by collector Richard Chang and Dee Poon. When I arrived, the club was at capacity (no one seemed deterred by the cash bar), and the crowd was gyrating to early-aughts tunes. Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew and I gazed upon the Dionysian scene before us. “Hong Kong is the right place,” he affirmed. “It’s going to keep happening.” Hayward Gallery curator Cliff Lauson, who was visiting the city for the first time, said, “My colleague is going to Basel, but I chose to come to Hong Kong.” And the night wasn’t over yet. We decided to stop by Wun Dun, artist Adrian Wong’s Absolut Vodka bar installation. As the evening wore on, things got dramatic, with a man cutting himself on a champagne flute while outside two others got into a fistfight. I heard it was over art—no joke.

By Friday, everyone was looking a little bleary-eyed, but turnout for the Intelligence Squared Asia debate back at the convention center was strong. The motion this time around was “The market is the best judge of art’s quality.” Amy Cappellazzo of Christie’s and LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch argued for, while artist and writer Matthew Collings and Rirkrit Tiravanija were against. “I haven’t done a debate since I was ten years old and I was talking for the existence of UFOs,” said Tiravanija. “I fabricated everything, and we won.” The final tally from the audience? Twenty-five percent for and 73 against, with 2 percent undecided. It seems that even in the midst of a headstrong, popular art fair, the market has some limits.

Left: Yuko Hasegawa, curator of the Art Basel Encounters sector and chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Right: Gagosian Hong Kong director Nick Simunovic.

Left: M+ senior curator Pi Li, M+ curator Pauline Yao, and Guggenheim Museum Asian Art curatorial fellow Lyn Hsieh. Right: Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija with artist and writer Matthew Collings.

Left: Artists Leung Chi-wo and Sara Wong. Right: Art consultants Birgid Uccia and Silvie Seidlitz.

Left: Collector Deddy Kusuma. Right: Intelligence Squared director Yana Peel and Stephen Peel.

Left: Collectors Henry Tang and Lisa Kuo. Right: Curator Tobias Berger, collector Uli Sigg, and Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew.

Left: Artist Heman Chong with dealers Amanda Wilkinson and Anthony Wilkinson. Right: Dealer Johnson Chang.

Left: Dealer Jay Jopling, Kate Moss, artist Jake Chapman, and Rosemary Ferguson. Right: Paul McCarthy's Complex Pile. (All photos: Doretta Lau)

Left: Musician Arto Lindsay. Right: Collector Hallam Chow with artist Sun Xun.

Left: Actor Shawn Yue. Right: Artist Angela Bulloch and dealer Simon Lee.

Left: Georges de Tilly and Katie de Tilly, director of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. Right: Kevin Poon, dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, and Edison Chen.

Left: Alex Borer and Art Basel Director of New Initiatives Annette Schönholzer. Right: Artist Adrian Wong.

Left: Hayward Gallery curator Cliff Lauson, White Cube Hong Kong director Graham Steele, and Dee Poon. Right: Curator and artist Josef Ng and artist Hiram To.

Left: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and artist Ming Wong.

Left: Intelligence Squared director Yana Peel and UCCA director Philip Tinari. Right: Musician and artist Kung Chi-shing during the Paper Rain parade.