Navigating the Fair: Highlights of Art Basel Hong Kong


EMERGING ARTISTS

A consistently rewarding feature of each Basel fair is the “Discoveries” sector, devoted to emerging artists. The sector is also an opportunity for up-and-coming galleries: Of the 25 in Discoveries, 12 are new to Hong Kong this year.

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A painting by the Bangladeshi-British artist Rana Begum.

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Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary

Among the highlights are a series of works by the Bangladeshi-British artist Rana Begum with the Jhaveri Contemporary gallery, in Mumbai, India, whose sharp-edged, colorful paintings and sculptures combine aspects of constructivism, minimalism and the aesthetics of Islamic art and ritual she absorbed as a child. Another entry is an assemblage-based work called “Towards Pure White” by the Indian artist Astha Butail with Galleryske in Bangalore, whose suggestive and finely wrought objects recall the crisp, seamless craftsmanship of Martin Puryear or Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

Participating galleries are chosen by a committee, based upon specific project proposals, said Adeline Ooi, Asia director for Art Basel, who added, “This is the sector where we need to expose as much as possible what’s going on in the sense of the international discourse.”

HANDBAGS AND DEAD DICTATORS

The “Encounters” sector at Hong Kong is dedicated to larger-scale works of what in most contexts would be described as public art. At Hong Kong, 16 of the 17 installations in the sector will sit under the same roof as the main “Galleries” sector, placed throughout walkways that traverse and divide the two main exhibition halls — what the sector’s curator, Alexie Glass-Kantor, refers to as “meridians.” (One of the installations, Joyce Ho’s “On the second day, Saturday, your three minutes,” will be in a separate, hidden space beyond the main floor.)

Although Encounters does not technically have a theme, Ms. Glass-Kantor said she was organizing this year’s program around the concept of time. The second meridian, which examines the politics of time, seems particularly compelling. Included are a striking and disturbing series from 2009 by the Chinese artist Shen Shaomin (Osage Gallery) involving hyper-realistic recreations of the corpses of five dead Communist dictators. Also on display will be an arrangement of 180 replicas by the young Filipino-British artist Pio Abad (Silverlens) of the black Asprey handbag carried by Margaret Thatcher.

“For so many of us at the moment, the Chinese proverb and curse ‘May you live in interesting times’ is one that carries additional weight,” Ms. Glass-Kantor said, adding, “I don’t think you can avoid in any way the kind of social, cultural and political implications of the times in which we find ourselves.”

A FILMMAKER’S PHOTOS

Abbas Kiarostami, who died last year, was among the most widely acclaimed filmmakers of the last 30 years. But he was also a photographer, and his photography reflects the influence of his early training as a painter.

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A photograph from Abbas Kiarostami’s “Snow Series.”

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Abbas Kiarostami, via Rossi & Rossi

A display of his photographs from 2002, “Snow Series,” will be presented by the Rossi & Rossi gallery as part of the fair’s new “Kabinett” sector, and comprises numerous black-and-white images of snow-shrouded landscapes. Moody, stark and deliberately composed and executed, they recall the high formalism of f/64 Group photographers like Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston, who sought a purity of form that sometimes verged into hyper-realism or abstraction.

About his photography, Mr. Kiarostami said that it was “apparent that my photographs are made of the same substance as my dreams.” “Snow Series” is an intimate view into the direct, minimalistic and rigorous aesthetic vision he pursued to transcendent effect in his films.

NEW TO THE MAIN SECTOR

The main Galleries sector of the fair comprises nearly 200 exhibitors, the overwhelming majority of which have presented at Art Basel Hong Kong before; among those showing, only nine have not.

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An example of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s hexagonal mirror and reverse-glass painting.

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Courtesy of the artist and The Third Line, Dubai

Because the more established galleries will, as always, offer an overwhelming supply of art that is good and not so good (but, above all, commercially viable), a few of the newcomers are worth a look. The Third Line gallery of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a regular for several years at smaller fairs like Frieze and the Independent, will present works by the Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, whose mirror-based mosaics and sculptures and reverse-glass paintings were the subject of a traveling retrospective presented in 2015 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The German-based Galerie Buchholz is another notable addition, bringing to Hong Kong an impressive array of work by artists, including Isa Genzken (the subject of a big 2013 retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art), the German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans and the Vietnamese-Danish sculptor and conceptual artist Danh Vo.

CINEMATIC DIVERSIONS

The nearly 40 films in Basel Hong Kong’s film program — which is focused mostly on short works — will be screened in Theater 2 of the convention and exhibition center.

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Tony Leung in Ho Tzu Nyen’s film “The Nameless.”

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Courtesy of the artist

Hong Kong has a rich and complicated cinematic tradition. Ho Tzu Nyen, a Singaporean artist, captures some of that history and complexity in his experimental film “The Nameless” (2015), which tells the story of Lai Teck, the secretary-general of the Malayan Communist Party from 1939 to 1947 who was also a triple-agent spy. One of three feature-length films in the fair, it is scheduled to screen on March 22.

Mr. Ho tells Teck’s story by stitching together various clips of the Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, the star of films like “In the Mood for Love” and “The Grandmaster,” by the director Wong Kar-wai — an approach that nods, Mr. Ho told Quartz last year, to “Hong Kong cinema’s fixation of a double identity.”

Li Zhenhua, the program’s curator, said he did not see a “very direct connection” between the films and “the art market thing.” But given the increased tendency of contemporary artists to embrace a multimedia approach to art-making, the program does serve as a kind of bellwether, he said. “I would consider it as more or less a kind of not-for-profit touch to the whole fair,” he said of the program, “while also giving a little hint of the future of where the art market will be.”

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