HONG KONG — The 10th edition of Art Basel Hong Kong hadn’t even kicked off and the major takeaway of the city’s art-centric week was obvious.
With its mask mandate dropped on March 1, the metropolis, a key part of China’s Greater Bay Area, was already awash with jet-setters returned for Art Basel and adjacent events spanning across fashion, culture and architecture. “Hong Kong is finally back,” Adrian Cheng declared at the opening dinner of the “City as Studio” graffiti exhibition at K11 Musea.
On the VIP preview day of Art Basel Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, collectors from mainland China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Europe and North America jockeyed for artworks with local high-rollers.
Angelle Siyang-Le, director of Art Basel Hong Kong, said while the fair is no bigger than the pre-pandemic size, which was about 240 participating galleries, the “enthusiasm for returning to the show is incredibly high throughout the region.”
Lorraine Kiang, cofounder of the Hong Kong and Shanghai-based art gallery Kiang Malingue, said the overall vibe at the fair “has been very exciting, with lots of interest and inquiries.” Her gallery brought arguably one of the most eye-catching works to the fair: Nabuqi’s large-scale “Fountain: Night Garden.”
“There is a lot on offer. The two floors of the fair can be overwhelming at times but visitors have been coming back to explore and see as much as they can. The business has been strong and we are meeting also new collectors, which is a sign of an excellent fair,” she added.
For art collector Alan Lo, cofounder of the Yenn and Alan Lo Foundation and the Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant Duddell’s, the busy fair “goes to show how important a cultural hub we are.”
“From M+ to independent nonprofits like Current Plans, Hong Kong has an amazing ecosystem with a strong locally based collector base. We celebrated that at our show at Duddell’s featuring works from five Hong Kong-based collectors including New Museum trustee Evan Chow and M+ design, Chu Foundation founder Lawrence Chu and M+ design and architecture council member Stefan Rihs,” Lo said.
He added that “Whilst some, not all dealers are present, Art Basel Hong Kong has presented a strong show with a good amount of transactions made in the first couple of days. I particularly like Commonwealth and Council’s Kenneth Tam’s solo presentation and Shinro Ohtake’s works at the Take Ninagawa booth. Our foundation purchased a work by Jes Fan from the Empty Gallery during the first hours of the fair.”
Multidisciplinary artist Oscar Wang, who recently launched a limited run of teapots with Daniel Arsham, said the fair provides a great opportunity to see “so many people gathering and exploring what’s new. Connecting with other creatives and catching up was very motivational.”
His favorite piece at the fair was a kinetic sculpture with eight video screens, a polished aluminum metal exterior, and an internal aluminum frame, accompanied by a non-fungible token called “Heaven/Hell” by Mike Winkelmann, professionally known as Beeple.
Just An Idea founder Sarah Andelman remarked on the heavy footfall that marked “a real return of the collectors from the Asian market, from China to [South] Korea” and described this Art Basel edition as “a good fair with a good panel of galleries.”
In addition to her perennial favorites Tokyo and Taipei-based gallery Kaikai Kiki, cofounded by Takashi Murakami, and Japanese gallery Nanzuka, she “found it interesting that the space between galleries was used to showcase installations, including a happening where the artist encased participants in bamboo scaffoldings, a feature that always stuns in Hong Kong.” She was referring to a work titled “The Constructor” by Indonesia-based artist Mella Jaarsma.
Purchases also proceeded at a brisk pace, if the conversations at social events were anything to go by, with collectors debriefing on what they’d managed to snap up.
“They’re all gone,” quipped Wesley Ng, cofounder and chief executive officer of tech accessories brand Casetify, when asked what he’d set his heart on. Owing to the artist collaborations the accessories brand is known for, he wouldn’t go into particulars.
Fair-goers dressed to impress, toting their rarest Hermès Birkin or Kelly bags.
Retailers and fashion labels hosted a slew of activations during the week.
K11 Musea, for example, unveiled China’s first major exhibition of graffiti and street art ahead of the art fair. The exhibition, curated by Jeffrey Deitch, famed collector and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, features 100 works by more than 30 leading artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Futura, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Kaws.
It made for a “very fun and energizing week,” said interior architect André Fu, whose recent projects include The Claridge’ spa in London, the Maybourne Bar in Los Angeles and the Artus K11 residences in Hong Kong.
Across the harbor at the luxury shopping mall Landmark in Central, a basketball court with warped wooden floors was erected at the atrium. This turned out to be an artwork titled “Double Technical,” by the Ameircan artist Tyrrell Winston.
“A lot of my work deals with what I call embedded history. So it’s these objects that I’ve come across that are found or used. And a lot of the places that I’m exploring are in metropolitan areas in Detroit. These abandoned gyms, and sometimes the ground at the basketball courts have started to change, and they’re not used anymore. You can’t really play on that. And I wanted to make it work. For that, you could play on it. It’s almost a carnival act. It’s playful, but it’s also dark in this way that the art world rarely plays with the artwork,” Winston said.
The art and retail concept continued at Landmark’s Gen-Z-facing retail space Belowground, which saw part of the space being transformed into a locker room where further artworks, a series of limited-edition merchandise, and a special capsule collection with Benjamin Edgar were on offer.
Meanwhile, Prada Frames, a symposium conceived by Milan and Rotterdam, Netherlands-based design studio Formafantasma and backed by Prada to explore the complex relationship between the natural environment and design, was brought to M+, Hong Kong’s museum of visual culture. The two-day event spotlighted architect Jacques Herzog’s approach to architecture, sea preservation and material circularity.
There was also art — of the wearable kind — with “A Journey Through Gems,” an auction of Lorraine Schwartz jewels marking the first physical event outside of the U.S. for Joopiter, the digital-first auction platform founded by Pharrell Williams.
Among these were emerald earrings worn by Angelina Jolie, a diamond and rock crystal scalloped bracelet donned recently by Blake Lively, and a host of Schwartz’s portrait-cut diamonds set in rings and loose gemstones, including an electric blue 20.30-carat Brazilian Paraiba tourmaline and a 5.27-carat fancy intense blue internally flawless oval diamond.
After a private viewing of the jewels, a panel discussion between Schwartz, Williams and executive vice president of the Gemological Institute of America Tom Moses was organized as part of the “Open to Art” initiative put in place by HSBC, with the support of Swire Properties.
Jewelry from Williams was also included in the sale, such as a sizable yellow gold ring set with a 16-carat fancy yellow heart-shaped diamond. Williams later said it was time to let others enjoy these designs that had been significant to him.
Ask about how to choose jewels, Williams took the lead by saying that “if you like it, if it does something to your beating heart — and you can afford it — you should have it. That’s what it should really come down to.”
He went on to advise would-be collectors to “really educate yourself about many artistic disciplines, different artists, artisans and industries,” and “learn more about these individuals, their lives, what makes them tick, how much of their lives go into their work and how much [that work] is going to affect the world.”