Space Odyssey

Kate Sutton at the 2nd Art Basel Hong Kong

Left: Artist Trevor Yeung. Right: Artist Agus Suwage at Yallay Gallery. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

“HONG KONG has nowhere to go. Between the river and the sea, you can’t just add another suburb,” artist Lam Tung-pang declared, turning to the stalwart audience who showed up for Art Basel Hong Kong’s Saturday Salon. “We have to make use of the spaces we have.” His panel’s topic was “Artist Networks,” but it focused more on the twin pillars of real estate and finance than on social relations. To most of the crowd, Lam was known as one of the cofounders of the Fotanian Open Studios, the January festival that canvasses the burgeoning art scene of the industrial Fo Tan district, where studios have been slotted into still-functioning factories. His copanelist, fellow Fotanian Chow Chun Fai, chimed in: “We have to make use of the existing spaces. It’s not about finding abandoned buildings or constructing new ones; it’s about learning to coexist and to share the resources that we have as a community.”

As Hong Kong’s art world swells, so does its geography. The parallel program from Art Basel Hong Kong sent sedans darting across the island, from the understated havens of Wan Chai and Sheung Wan to the up-and-coming warehouse districts like Fo Tan, Chai Wan, and Wong Chuk Hang, where artists and galleries are making use of what’s there—be it loft spaces, modest offices, or dank parking lots.

Left: Critic HG Masters with filmmaker Julia Trotta and artist Isaac Leung. Right: Singapore Art Museum curator Susie Lingham with curator Kim Ong. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

My first real venture from the confines of the convention center was Thursday’s luncheon for the Tate’s Asian Pacific Acquisitions Committee. Hosted by 10 Chancery Lane’s Katie de Tilly at the hillside home of patrons Elaine and Anto Marden, the meal was held poolside, over a long, elegant table stretched down a covered terrace. “Black rain” clouds brooded across the valley, but an exquisitely non sequitur mariachi band kept things cheery, serenading dealers Matthias Arndt and Glenn Scott Wright, the Armory Show’s executive director Noah Horowitz, and a quartet of Indonesian artists—S. Teddy Darmawan, Lie Fhung, Eddi Prabandono, and Dwi Setianto—in town for one of what would be several showcases of art from the neighbor state. I slipped into a seat beside Manila-based collector Jam Acuzar, who had just launched Young Patrons Asia, a network of collectors under forty. “We’re not tied to any one institution,” she said. “I just thought it would be helpful to have this community.”

After lunch, I headed to the South Island District to bear witness to another kind of community. Pékin Fine Arts, Blindspot, Cat Street, Rossi&Rossi, and Gallery EXIT are just a few of the institutions who have set up outposts in the loading docks and forgotten fifteenth floors along Wong Chuk Hang Road. I caught the opening of Yallay Gallery’s “Today and Tomorrow,” a concentrated survey of Indonesian showstoppers, including Agus Suwage, Agung Kurniawan, and Entang Wiharso. “Everyone is looking to the Indonesian market these days,” sighed the exhibition’s curator, Rifky Effendy. “But maybe it’s better we talk about the art?”

My next stop was Spring Workshop, the plucky (plush) art space and multidisciplinary residency program founded by the inimitable Mimi Brown in collaboration with curator Defne Ayas. Its latest exhibition, “The Permeability of Certain Matters,” combines work by recent residents Christodoulos Panayiotou and Philip Wiegard. The former’s photographs of artificial bouquets—the result of two months’ research into the fake flower industries of China’s Guangdong province—hung on wallpaper that Wiegard adapted from an eighteenth-century German motif and then produced using a mini “sweatshop” of thirty children, ages eight to fifteen. (“The pattern requires a certain delicacy and dexterity that only kids’ fingers have,” he explained.) The children followed a reduced workday with breaks and a lunch, and received compensation at rates higher than Hong Kong’s minimum wage. “I wanted to draw attention to the child labor situation here, but then the kids really seemed to enjoy it, like it was camp or something,” Wiegard confessed. As if on cue, a pigtailed participant already halfway out the door paused, looked back at us, then up at her mother, and then dashed across the room to fling her arms around the artist’s legs for one last hug.

Left: Singapore Tyler Print Institute's Emi Eu. Right: Adviser Mark Hughes with filmmaker Isabel Marden. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Whatever warm fuzzies I might have had quickly dissipated that night at Galerie Perrotin’s shindig at the notorious Dragon-i, consistently rated the “#1 Nightclub” by the kinds of people who care about #1 Nightclubs. Elbowing through the jungle-themed flora, I reached dealers Daniele Balice, Sam Chatterton Dickson, Tom Hunt, and Silvia Sgualdini just in time to catch Brooklyn-based burlesque queen Narcissister take the stage, naked but for a full-on Afro wig, a creepy Barbie’s-Friend-Christie mask, and a merkin. As the stereo pounded out “I’m Every Woman,” the performer conducted a baffling reverse-striptease. “I know I’m supposed to be turned on,” one dealer groaned. “But all I can think about is hygiene. She just pulled that skirt from her ass.”

More sex would be served up bright and early Friday morning, when Para Site hosted a brunch viewing of “Ten Million Rooms of Yearning: Sex in Hong Kong,” a multivenue group exhibition that diagnoses the city’s anemic libido and prescribes a heaping dose of dick. From Hélio Oiticica’s late-1970s slideshows of rent boys in Ninhos to William E. Jones’s 1998 The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography to Nguyen Tan Hoang’s recent Grindr reapings Lookimazn, the works were overwhelmingly phallic, if not outright man-on-man. Among the welcome exceptions were Yau Ching’s affair with a ghost in I’m Starving, 1998; Chien-Chi Chang’s Double Happiness, 2003–2009, a quietly brutal body of photographs detailing arranged marriages between Vietnamese girls and Taiwanese men; and Hito Steyerl’s Lovely Andrea, 2007, which documents the artist’s quest to track down an old fetish photo of herself, taken when she was in college.

Left: Artists Dwi Setianto, Lie Fhung, Eddi Prabandono, and S. Teddy Darmawan. Right: Curator Rifky Effendy at Yallay Gallery. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

The Sex and the City theme would continue through dinner that night. At the Asia Society’s Jockey Club Hall, collector Hallam Chow and ShanghART teamed up to celebrate New Women, the five-channel film by Yang Fudong, who joined in via Skype, a knee injury having prevented him from attending. Chow prefaced the dinner with a toast to “the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and companions” in the room, while the slide show shuffled between black-and-white stills of boudoir nudes. I may have been seated among the enviable coterie of Opera Gallery’s Anastasia Stewart Chunilal, dealer Anna Ning, and writer Luluc Huang, but somehow all those cherry-blossom breasts on screen had me feeling less than empowered.

Across the island, Chai Wan Nites was in full swing, with crowds massing in the empty parking garage where Ryan McNamara was to debut Score, a performance commissioned by patrons Yana and Stephen Peel. The invitation warned that the event would be “HOT in every way,” but I hadn’t braced myself for the steam bath inside the packed space, where artists, dealers, and dates tried to smile off the sweat rolling down their brows. “Just go with it!” shrugged Protocinema’s Mari Spirito as we angled for respite amid the few fans.

Left: Spring Workshop's Mimi Brown with artist Haegue Yang. Right: Erica Dubach, former mayor of Cao Fei's RMB City, at Para Site. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Just then, a truck full of solemn, sweat-suited men and women turned into the garage and began to plow a path through the party. The passengers slid out the back and onto pedestals that appeared suddenly amid the crowd. A woman’s voice came on over the loudspeaker, delivering instructions in English and Cantonese (the eponymous “score”), which the twenty dancers dutifully performed, stripping down to bodysuits emblazoned with social-column shots of Yana Peel. The twenty choreographed sections—alternating between camera-ready poses of aggression, seduction, and self-destruction—touched on contemporary party posturing from the all-too-familiar step-and-repeat of “Text and Judge” (exactly what it sounds like) to “Disappear” (the dancers crawled under their pedestals) to “Sullen Das Kapital Confetti Throw” (we all know those people) to the even more mind-boggling “Beyoncé while Rihanna, Rihanna while Beyoncé” (I could try to explain, but I still haven’t come to terms with it).

Unsure how to afterparty properly once everyone’s signature moves had been revealed as posturing (who thought “Text and Judge” could get more self-conscious?), we skipped the crowds at the Absolut Bar and ducked around the corner to the home of curators Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero. Artist Trevor Yeung and M+ curator Pauline J. Yao stretched out beside McNamara and his exhausted dancers, who lay across the overlapping rugs, their shoulders involuntarily dipping along to “Sunny” and “I Will Survive.” “Here,” someone said, handing me a bottle of wine pilfered from the parking-garage bar. What was that about learning to coexist and share resources? It doesn’t matter. I think this place is growing on me.

Left: Artist Sun Yuan at Duddell's. Right: Artists Christodoulos Panayiotou and Philip Wiegard at Spring Workshop. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Collector Elaine Marden at the Tate luncheon at her home. Right: Collector Jam Acuzar with dealer Matthias Arndt. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Curator Hou Hanru. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Curator Inti Guerrero and Sharjah Biennial curator Eungie Joo.

Left: Collectors Yana Peel and Valerie Chow. Right: Spring Workshop's Mimi Brown and Asia Art Archive's Claire Hsu.

Left: Protocinema's Mari Spirito. Right: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler with Para Site's Cosmin Costinas at Para Site. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Artist Zhao Liang at Duddell's. Right: Artist Chen Wenbo at Duddell's.

Left: Artist Ryan McNamara and dancers. Right: A performer in Score. (Photo: arrestedmotion)

Left: Dealers Sean Kelly and Meg Maggio of Pékin Fine Arts. Right: Dealer Katie de Tilly. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Collector Stephen Peel at Score. Right: Opera Gallery's Anastasia Stewart Chunilal with collector Hallam Chow at the Asia Society's Jockey Club Hall. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Narcissister performs at the Galerie Perrotin party at Dragon-I. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Collector Alan Lo at his restaurant Duddell's.

Left: Artists Chow Chun Fai, Lam Tung Pang, and Leung Chi Wo. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Art Basel's Magnus Renfrew.