Refreshing free rein to imagination and creativity
It poured in Hong Kong last week. Temperatures dropped to 14 degrees Celsius and the heavens opened up. But the real deluge that descended on Hong Kong all week was art — Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Central and The Asia Contemporary Art Fair showed concurrently over the week, with three-four public viewing days. Special exhibitions went on at galleries and public spaces across the city. There were free art films on art and the work of artists, talks on all aspects of art and collecting.
Art Basel Hong Kong was into its fourth edition – featured 239 galleries from 35 countries showing over a thousand artists. Art Central is into its second year this year, featuring over a 100 galleries, with over 75 percent from Asia. The Asia Contemporary Art Fair – an art-in-hotels bi-annual at Hotel Conrad was into its seventh year and also featured over a hundred artists. This year’s collective offerings featured works from around the world, especially Asia, and covered diverse genres. There were a good selection of Pakistani and Indian artists. Four Indian galleries participated in Basel, showing Atul and Anju Dodiya, Ravinder Reddy, Faig Ahmed, Ayesha Sultana and Rathin Barman. Only one Sri Lankan showed – Hong Kong-based Kos Cos who took up a room at the Conrad.
More than pop-up fairs for ordinary art lovers, these art do’s are primarily a meeting point for dealers and buyers, the latter being both institutions and individuals who follow these events across the world. There are happenings lined up in Asia throughout this year; Singapore’s Affordable Art Fair opens next month, along with two more big fairs in Taiwan, and another in Hong Kong in May. Asia is now the flourishing art market of the world and Hong Kong has secured hub status with Art Basel, one of the biggest international art events on the calendar. Despite a slump in art sales, millions of dollars exchanged hands at all three fairs. Asking prices in the millions for pieces like monotone canvases featuring slashes and prints of stylized pumpkins, boggle the minds of the art-going public who wonder why any gallery would want to lug two mouldy mirror exhibits or a scratched gold paint splattered working table to show at a premier art show half way across the world. There are stories behind such pieces that if you buy into sort of make sense in a very abstract way. It can also make one think of art as pure indulgence in play not only of the senses but money. Some modern masters – a Picasso, a Motherwell, a Rodin, a couple of Warhols and more were on offer at Basel.
Conrad’s art-in-hotels event, held in Spring and Autumn each year, is more intimate than the other two affairs. There is something organic about walking into a cosy room and finding the artist and his or her canvases inside. The variety was wide – something for the serious collector and for the first time buyer. Kos Cos presented five new pieces and some earlier works. The new works continue to be big bold abstracts with contrasting splashes of primary colour and greys, gestural strokes and detail, as seen in his last exhibition at PubArt Gallery in Hong Kong last year. But his style is evolving, he says, and it’s now leaning more towards the abstract.
Public interest in art has risen in Hong Kong. This year, 70,000 visitors stepped into Art Basel on the three days the fair was open to the public, while 32,000 visited Art Central, marking significant increases over last year’s figures. No figures are available for the Asia Contemporary Art fair, but it was jam packed on the day this writer visited.
News is that the fairs were a success. All three fairs reported good sales. The global art market may be flailing, but not in this part of the world. And artists are continuing to give free rein to the imagination and creativity refreshingly in these jaded times.