Beautiful Way

Doretta Lau at the fourth Art HK

Left: The entrance to Art HK's VIP area. (Except where noted, all photos: Doretta Lau) Right: Artist Gao Weigang, fair director Magnus Renfrew, and Lane Crawford’s Joanna Gunn. (Photo: Art HK)

IT WAS A STORMY START for Hong Kong art week. Just as I left the house for all of Monday night’s gallery happenings, it began to rain. But inclement weather didn’t stop dozens of other art lovers from traveling to the week’s kickoff shows—Wang Keping’s “Eternal Smile” at 10 Chancery Lane and Miquel Barceló’s opening at Ben Brown Fine Arts, in the historic Pedder Building. Comparing itineraries with another writer at the latter space, I discovered that we would hardly have a moment apart from each other. “It’s like we’re on a theme vacation together,” she said.

The next night I was back at the Pedder to catch Richard Prince’s much-talked-about show at Gagosian. In the elevator, I overheard some well-groomed out-of-town ladies talking clothes: “I never wear dresses to gallery openings in LA.” The sartorial analyst confided to her friend that she had bought three new frocks for the fair. Smart. After all, in Hong Kong many women wear full makeup and carry designer handbags to eat at fast food restaurants.

Inside the spacious gallery (which only opened this past January), security was especially high, with men dressed like Secret Service agents milling about and observing the crowd. I’d apparently just missed Takashi Murakami, but international bigwigs like François Pinault, Alberto and David Mugrabi, dealers David Zwirner and Gavin Brown, and artist Zeng Fanzhi were there to eyeball works from Prince’s “Nurse,” “Girlfriend,” “Fashion,” and “Joke” series. Afterward, guests swigged champagne at the Prince fete at FLY, a club on the outskirts of party neighborhood Lan Kwai Fong, where late in the night the DJ played Jessie J’s “Price Tag,” a kind of ironic anthem for an art fair. And then, again, there was the rain . . .

Left: Collector and Art HK advisory board member Richard Chang. Right: Artist Wang Keping, dealer Katie de Tilly, and collector Sir David Tang

The fair’s press conference took place a little after noon the next day at Hong Kong’s main convention center. The sale of the majority stake of Art HK to MCH Group, which organizes Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, and the fair’s position on Ai Weiwei were, of course, hot topics. “Ai is an artist whose work we greatly admire,” said fair director Magnus Renfrew. “And we are very pleased that his work will be on show alongside the work of over a thousand other artists at the fair. I think it’s right that it should be shown in Hong Kong—it’s a great platform for freedom of expression.”

The collectors preview soon followed. Near the entrance, a videographer told Richard Chang, an advisory board member to Art HK, that he should do a TV program on collecting art. “I like to shop for art, go for dinner, and go home to sleep—I don’t like to work that hard,” he joked. He had spent a solid hour touring the fair with two journalists, and he had numerous other interviews to attend to.

The vernissage picked up steam later that afternoon, and the fair’s corridors began to teem with people, including the rare celebrity. As I walked to the VIP entrance, I spotted a phalanx of paparazzi and fans surrounding actor Simon Yam, the charismatic Hong Kong star who’s made his name in films by Johnnie To and John Woo (not to mention that Angelina Jolie vehicle, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider).

Left: MoMA curator Doryun Chong. Right: Artist David LaChapelle; Lars Nittve, executive director of future Hong Kong contemporary art museum M+; and auctioneer Simon de Pury.

This year, with two floors (and 260 galleries—it seemed that everyone from New York and London was participating), it was much easier to see the art, but harder to network; the fragile series of coincidental run-ins so crucial to the fair structure was compromised a bit by all the extra space, and a cash-bar situation meant that the mood in the aisles was slightly subdued. The VIP areas, though, were packed with people drinking champagne, and the alcohol continued to flow at various afterparties. At the LEAP bash, held poolside at the Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai, editor Philip Tinari chatted with Art Basel codirector Annette Schönholzer over wine while other guests did their best to keep the spirit lively.

“I’m going to try get Magnus to jump in with me—though I suspect his tie is too nice,” said writer and curator Melissa Lam, wearing a black-and-white bikini top. Later, she did jump into the pool, and several other people joined her (though not the fair director), with one guest being pushed in fully clothed.

On Thursday, the sun finally made an appearance. It was the perfect day for “A Wedding,” a show opening at Para/Site Art Space. Dozens of artists, including Antony Gormley, Olafur Eliasson, and Cao Fei, had gifted the organization with “wedding presents” to celebrate the occasion. “We’re lucky to have such generous friends,” said Cosmin Costinas, the gallery’s new curator.

A traditional Chinese wedding banquet with over two hundred guests, including Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and MoMA curator Doryun Chong, was held at restaurant Lin Keung Kui for Vitamin Creative Space directors Hu Fang and Zhang Wei. Throughout the evening, they and others presented their gifts to the happy couple. Para/Site’s board members sang a song together in Cantonese. “Singing?” said artist Chow Chun-fai. “This is a really traditional banquet.”

Left: Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. Right: Artists Hiram To and Scott Redford.

As I was making my exit, I ran into star auctioneer Simon de Pury, who reminded me that he was in town for the following evening’s Intelligence Squared debate, also being hosted at the convention center. I was glad not to miss it. The motion for the debate was “Art must be beautiful,” and before the proceedings began, an entry poll was taken, with 90 undecided, 136 for the motion, and 281 against.

The artist Ming Wong—dressed in a turquoise qi pao, wearing full makeup, and carrying a black handbag—began with a story about an expatriate friend living in the city: “He said, ‘Hong Kong is totally captivating. She is like a woman in an expensive fur coat, but underneath she wears dirty knickers.’ So, today I will try to show you how that woman is a work of art, not because of her beautiful, expensive fur coat, but”—pause—“the truth.” To underscore his argument, he began to strip. (We were going to see the truth!) Off came the qi pao. Then a bra. Then a girdle, until he was left with nothing but a pair of black underwear. Moderator Lars Nittve, head of the yet-to-be-built M+ Museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District, drily tapped a glass to indicate that time was up before Wong could remove the last article of clothing.

“Let me put you at ease immediately,” said de Pury, who took the podium as soon as Wong was seated. “I will not be emulating our fantastic Ming Wong.” He began to go over his method on how he’d sway the crowd to vote that art must be beautiful.

“You’re going to have to take it off!” yelled artist David LaChapelle, to much hooting and hollering.

The end result: 9 undecided, 175 for the motion, 380 against. Even though we expect artists and others associated with the art world to be beautiful, isn’t it nice to know that art itself is off the hook?

Left: Artist Ming Wong. Right: Vitamin Creative Space directors Hu Fang and Zhang Wei and curator Tobias Berger.