WHAT EXACTLY MAKES A “WORLD”? Maybe a heady topic for an art fair, but that was the one courted by infamous philosopher Lu Xinghua last Friday during a book launch for 3 Parallel Artworlds at Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery. “Alain Badiou once said that we all live in the same world, but one reigned by different logics,” Lu argued. “As a way of drawing equivalences, money has ruled us for the past five hundred years. If we could find a way to overturn the rule of money-logic, we may finally achieve communism.”
I’m not sure if that’s exactly how Badiou put it, but Lu’s speech was a perfect fit for its subject. 3 Parallel Artworlds began as a catalogue for the gallery’s thirtieth-anniversary exhibition in 2014, “Hanart 100: Idiosyncrasies.” A year later, after the addition of articles by Boris Groys, Gao Shiming, and Qiu Zhijie, the book has grown into a chunky, five-hundred-page tome. Lu didn’t neglect to emphasize the value of Hanart founder Johnson Chang’s storied art collection while he continued to elaborate on the concept of the “world” and its complications. Indeed context is key: Nothing could make us realize the ambiguity around our different views of “world,” as well as money’s power to bring together like and unalike, than art fairs.
Yes, art has no national boundaries. Neither do art fairs, especially Art Basel. But that doesn’t mean lines weren’t drawn in the massive sorting last weekend, as galleries and other institutions did their best to lure the (right) crowds to every manner of party, launch, and dinner around Hong Kong. After a spate of openings Thursday night, visitors from the Western hemisphere had trouble distinguishing between two symbiotic vertigos: jetlag and hangover.
Our trip began Thursday morning in Guangzhou, where Olafur Eliasson opened his exhibition “We have never been disembodied” at Vitamin Creative Space’s Mirrored Gardens. After enjoying congee with collectors like Yang Feng and Wang Wei, we strolled into the new galleries designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. Eliasson’s works focusing on space and perception integrated beautifully with the architecture, which had been specially adapted to the local ecology. In one of the rooms, an enormous bronze compass needle hung in the center, bathed in orange light. “If you stare at the needle long enough, you’ll find it gradually dissolving in your vision,” advised Vitamin Creative Space founder Zhang Wei. Alas, we didn’t have time to play hide-and-seek, as our 3 PM ride was taking us to Hong Kong. Though I did feel a little woozy walking out, a foreshadowing of what was to come.
By 6 PM we had already joined the army of art-spelunkers on the ground in Hong Kong. Starting with the “The Tell-Tale Heart” at chi art space, we eventually joined the excruciating long line to get into the Pedder Building galleries and finally walked to nearby Edouard Malingue Gallery, where Wang Wei’s solo show “Two Rooms” had transformed the space into a human zoo. (One could pick up the bananas on the floor and eat them.) I gave myself a pat on the back for making it to the final stop, Dinh Q. Lê’s show at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, just before they locked the doors.
By 10 PM, LEAP’s party at Wai Chai’s famous Pawn restaurant was the gathering place for the Beijing art dogs. Some expressed disappointment at the most recent interior renovations to the hundred-year-old building, but we had to take their word for it, as the limited second-floor space could barely fit the guests. Those lucky enough to score drinks enjoyed them outside by the street fences, a familiar atmosphere that made me think of eating lamb kebab on the sidewalks in Beijing. As I was chatting up Ned Levin, LEAP’s former star translator and now a Wall Street Journal Hong Kong correspondent, UCCA director (and former LEAP editor-in-chief) Philip Tinari suddenly arrived. Looking enthusiastic, Tinari pulled out his phone, gathered the crowds, and tried to take a group picture. “Everyone, try to look a little depressed, please. We don’t work for LEAP anymore!”
On Friday morning, Art Central, a new fair organized by the old ART HK crew and mostly geared to young Asia Pacific galleries, opened for a preview in the white tents at Hong Kong’s Central Harbourfront. Only time will tell if it’ll find its groove alongside Art Basel. Because of the Hanart book launch in the afternoon, we couldn’t attend the preview for UCCA and PYE’s T-Shirts collaboration, and we were also a little late to Art Basel’s private preview, whose change in schedule from prior years had sent many galleries into a whirlwind of preparations. But somehow it all worked out, and, at least to those of us not here for the buying and selling, the fair seemed much neater than last year—and best of all, no flowers or skulls in sight.
Maybe it was Friday the 13th that brought bad luck to M+ curator Yung Ma, who seemed a little dispirited when we ran into him at the fair. “Why now?” asked Ma, who had just lost his phone. At which point the resourceful artist Heman Chong whipped out his backup iPhone 4 and offered it up. My friend and I left the surprised Ma and went off in search of festive chat and refreshments at the Long March booth, usually a champagne reservoir. Long March director Lu Jie generously looked as though he could provide, but as he pulled out the bottle, there was nothing left inside. I guess business was just that good.
It’s too bad. We could have used a drink to steel us through the weekend’s obstacle-course itinerary. On Sunday morning, Mobile M+: Moving Images had an opening at Cattle Depot Artist Village; in the afternoon, we attended the annual Intelligence² Debate, which ended with Christie’s Elaine Kwok and Artforum publisher Charles Guarino scoring the winning points against the motion that “the art world is a boys’ club.” Then there was a viewing at Spring Workshop for “Days push off into nights,” curated by Christina Li, Pékin Fine Arts for an Arik Levy show, and Para Site’s opening for “A Hundred Years of Shame,” or, as the proper Chinese translation has it, “The Edge of the World.” “World” remained the keystone for me, and I asked the curator of the last, Anthony Yung, how his show squared with 3 Parallel Artworlds, which Hanart so articulately delineated as 1) China’s premodern world, 2) China’s socialist world, and 3) the contemporary global capitalist world. “Hanart’s three worlds are too mainstream. You can’t possibly dig our ‘Edge of the World’ out of that, not until the end of time,” he explained in Mandarin with a thick Hong Kong accent.
So I guess “world” is an elastic concept. Especially around an art fair, land of a thousand-million worlds. To use a Buddhist term, it’s the great trichiliocosm. Too bad we only had three days to explore. But in any case, the same old friends will be seen again, in March 2016, still in the Convention Centre.