words JIM MORRALL
Comparing Art Basel in Basel to Art Basel Hong Kong is like, well, comparing Basel to Hong Kong.
The fittingly short, sharp tenure of this second year in Hong Kong lasted just five days. Hosted in the city’s central exhibition centre over two floors, much of Hong Kong was tellingly unaware of the volume of contemporary art installed in that space.
Those who did visit spoke of a scaling back of installation and a focus on painting, etching, photography and small sculpture. I can’t imagine there is enough room anywhere in Hong Kong to replicate Basel’s mazes of rooms dedicated to single installations that transcend us into the artist’s head. I can’t imagine, either, that the contemporary art market in Asia (or more topically, the Chinese mainland) is ready for it.
On the other hand, a couple of initiatives within the show shone a spotlight on artists from Asia.
One recurrent theme amongst them was the urban environment, nature and the human place within. Protests in favour of protecting the environment from industrialization have recently gained momentum in China, and the cities of Asia need no introduction as some of the densest conurbations in the world.
Nostalgic Chinese landscapes on closer inspection were not steep cloudy mountains and waterfalls, but polluted dense cityscapes and highways rising higher than ever into the sky. Children played in fantasy maquettes and twisted etchings of a minimized Tokyo, turning the constraints of childhood in the concrete jungle on their head. Fantasy sea creatures, clouds, a tree of life made of plumbing gear and densely repeating blobs of oil in Fibonacci patterns felt like a portrayal of a digital hyper nature. The sacred mountains and temples of Chinese lore broke free as an angry punk.
Irony and humour are immediately visible but also run deep. As the world’s most efficient industrialised communities question the result of progress, the artists mentioned here are expressing their thoughts not through expressionism or subversion, but meticulously studied motifs and honed technical skill.
For more on Art Basel Hong Kong see https://www.artbasel.com/en/Hong-Kong