Henry Little’s Art Basel Hong Kong Diary

The Art Team find Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene humming with expansion during Art Basel week in Hong Kong. 

The visual arts ‘ecology’ of Hong Kong has, until recently, been market focused and consistently blue chip. For commercial galleries expanding their presence in Asia Hong Kong is the natural destination to open. While Ben Brown Fine Arts has operated in Hong Kong since 2009 (and as such is considered the elderly statesmen of the city’s gallery scene), Gagosian, White Cube, Pace, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Simon Lee and Lévy Gorvy (among others) are all relative newcomers. And for nearly fifty years the auction houses have been the primary conduit through which both local and international audiences experienced art in the city: Sotheby’s held its inaugural Hong Kong sale in 1973, Christie’s in 1986. Which, in tandem with the contemporary accumulation of top tier commercial galleries, meant that art in the city is almost inevitably presented first and foremost as a saleable object.

Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts (image: author’s own)

Tai Kwun 

We may be at something of a tipping point in this respect, however, with publicly orientated spaces for contemporary art beginning to flourish in the city. Para Site, established in 1996, has long been one of the city’s few independent, non-profit organisations but the long-awaited M+ Museum has been hampered by ongoing delays to construction and is now slated to open in 2020. Yet one of the most exciting developments for the city is the newly inaugurated Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, combining dedicated ‘kunsthalle’ spaces for contemporary art, performing arts venues, historic displays and a cluster of bars, light eateries and restaurants.

Tai Kwun – “big station” in Chinese – is located in the immaculately renovated Central Police Station Compound comprising three distinct and historically protected sites: the Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. Nosing around the cramped former prison cells is a striking contrast to the brand new ‘white cube’ Tai Kwun Contemporary, designed by veteran museum architects Herzog & de Meuron, while out in the prison yard are major public commissions including Lawrence Weiner’s HARD STONES FLOATING WITHIN FOLDS OF SOFT EARTH HERE & THERE.


Axel Vervoordt 

For commercial galleries the character of their physical space is such an integral part of their identity that I’ve always felt the unwaveringly homogenous units in the newer H Queen’s Building and, to a lesser extent, the Pedder Building, undermine this vital principle of gallery branding. The newly opened South Island Line, which makes the formerly industrial district of Wong Chuk Hang on the south side of Hong Kong Island accessible from Central / Admiralty in a brisk 20-minute MTR ride, presents fresh opportunities to find premises with expansive footprints. Boris Vervoordt – an art dealer whose main outposts include a former distillery and malting complex in Kanaal, outside Antwerp – have been quick to respond to this development by relocating from their first Central Hong Kong gallery. Spread over two light filled floors with crisp, concrete lined rooms, the new Vervoordt space dwarfs even the largest of the Central galleries. We may expect further dealers and contemporary spaces to follow suit in the area bringing new character to Hong Kong’s art scene.

Kimsooja, Untitled, 1991, 7 metal rings, wire and used clothes, d. 181 cm (image: courtesy of Axel Vervoordt Gallery)

Pierre Huyghe 

One of the recent exhibition highlights in London was Pierre Huyghe: UUmwelt at the Serpentine Gallery. A rich, complex and visceral experience (including a populous, tactile mass of flies), the artist mined the institution’s history to become part of the show. The normally white walls of the gallery were sanded down to reveal the successive layers of white and coloured paint from exhibitions over decades of the Serpentine’s history. With soft spiral patterns like kooky infographics, the subsequently autonomous works – one of which was on display at Chantal Crousel’s booth at the main fair – are quietly and poetically beguiling. Seeing this artefact of the exhibition in Hong Kong – Timekeeper (Drill Core) Serpentine (2018) – so recently after visiting the show in London, which closed barely a few weeks before in early February, was a reminder of the now almost instantaneous connectivity of the global art market.

Galerie Chantal Crousel: Pierre Huyghe, Timekeeper (Drill Core), Serpentine 2018 (image: author’s own)

Cover image © Art Basel
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