Art Basel in Hong Kong: Fair still on track to open amid calls to boycott the city and strict coronavirus restrictions
Art Basel in Hong Kong (ABHK, May 21-23) will be very different from its predecessors, but what matters is that the show continues. “It just goes to show why we have made Hong Kong our home,” says ABHK director Adeline Ooi. “We are a success because of Hong Kong, the city and its people.” Collaboration is essential – Fine Art Asia will host an eight gallery pavilion within ABHK and Art Central will operate simultaneously in the same venue, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.
Exhibitors are down from 242 to 104, of which more than half (56) are satellite booths, a response to restricted travel. While in April, the Hong Kong government raised the possibility of lifting restrictions on arrivals from mainland China, that did not happen and the two-week quarantine remains in place. Ooi said: “The list [of galleries] is wide, not just Asian. However, 72% of attendees have spaces in Asia, up from 52% in 2019. It’s time for Asian artists to shine – this edition will feature paintings by Thai provocateur Rirkrit Tiravanija inspired by Philip Guston, at the Gladstone Gallery, while that the Arario Gallery immerse yourself in Korean experimental art of the 1970s.
Hong Kong’s art scene has united around navigating the 2019 pro-democracy protests and suppressing them, followed by the pandemic. This year, the institutions are organizing a more extended art week, allowing for social distancing. Para Site shows Curtain (until July 25), a large-scale project in partnership with the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai. Hong Kong Art Museum New Horizons: Ways to See Hong Kong Art in the 80s and 90s (until April 24, 2022), includes a recreation of Para Site’s café in 1998, as well as works by pioneers such as Ellen Pau and May Fung. Tai Kwun Contemporary presents a collective exhibition of contemporary art in ink Ink city and Portals, stories and other journeys, a partnership with Asia Art Archive (both until August 1).
The fair faces yet another crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong, with a work by Ai Weiwei removed from the opening exhibition of the M + Museum amid growing calls from pro-Beijing lawmakers for the art is politically harmonious. Ooi says it hasn’t crept into the fair yet: “It doesn’t make sense to guess. We didn’t do anything different this time. One of the factors is that we are not in the public domain, we are a business, a market platform. “
As for the viability of Hong Kong, she said, “In the long term, let’s see. We are always excited about the M + and the Palace Museum ”, which are opening this year after long waits. “What is important to me is that in the artistic ecosystem, no one has left. If anything, more galleries are coming in, and the auctions and logistics companies are still there. Ooi rejects calls to boycott Hong Kong to protest the crackdown. “Hong Kong has been through so much, we have to stand together and work together … Just denigrating is not productive,” she said.
The venue for the fair, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, is partly owned by the Hong Kong government. Asked whether Art Basel sees this as a problem, given the government’s firm approach to pro-democracy protesters and the crackdown on free speech, a spokesperson for the fair said: “Hong Kong has been hosting Art Basel since 2013. Since then, the city’s art sector – including its institutions and galleries – has grown tremendously and we believe that Art Basel has played an important role in this continuous development, bringing together the local arts community every year and connecting the Hong Kong art scene with a global audience.In addition, we have been able to generate new business in Hong Kong galleries and in the ecosystem city-wide artistic scene. Every business operating in Hong Kong is subject to local laws and in this regard, Art Basel is no exception. “
• Art Basel in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, May 21-23