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Friday, November 27, 2020, 18:01
Fair return for art lovers
By Joyce Yip
Friday, November 27, 2020, 18:01 By Joyce Yip

Fine Art Asia opens today, giving HK galleries to have figured in this year’s canceled Art Basel Hong Kong a second chance. Joyce Yip reports on the highlights from the show.

Presented by de Sarthe, Andrew Luk’s Horizon Scan series of installations change color in response to the movement of LED lights. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Those who were disappointed with the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong in March because of the pandemic, now have something to look forward to. Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel kicks off today, running until November 30 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Showcasing 22 Hong Kong-based galleries that have exhibited in previous editions of Art Basel Hong Kong, the event is being held as part of this year’s Fine Arts Asia fair. 

Willem Molesworth, the director of de Sarthe Gallery and vice-president of Hong Kong Art Gallery Association, says this physical fair is long overdue and an indication of “everyone’s fatigue from the online model”.  

“This format makes sense because people want it; they crave to see art in person,” says Molesworth. 

Hong Kong Art Gallery Association’s “Unscheduled” exhibition in which 12 local galleries showcased an artist each back in June laid the foundation for Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel, he informs. 

“When Art Basel Hong Kong was canceled back in March, Hong Kong Art Gallery Association made a statement about how the committee will pull together,” says Molesworth. “‘Unscheduled’ was much smaller than Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel but it was very successful; and the Art Basel team assisted in whatever way they could. They were wowed that we made it work.” 

The unseasonal mini art fair “injected a lot of energy into the art scene, in a meaningful, impactful kind of way,” he adds.

Contemporary by Angela Li is showing Lyu Shanchuan’s paintings that try to capture a state of great turmoil. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Lee Bul’s Perdu series of mixed media paintings, presented by Lehmann Maupin, is an attempt to underscore the dichotomy between artificial and organic forms. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Texture and materiality

Although current travel bans mean only a fraction of the turnout at previous Art Basel Hong Kong fairs will visit Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel, a number of Hong Kong galleries jumped at the opportunity to show their artists at an art fair in a physical space. Most of them were tired of exhibiting mainly two-dimensional pieces through online art fairs. Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel gives them a chance to show art that is created across different media and interactive in nature, or, as the director of Lehmann Maupin gallery, Shasha Tittmann, says, “works that are best experienced in person — the kind of pieces that don’t garner as much visibility online because of their texture and materiality”.

“Physicality,” she says, “is key” to the art showing at Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel. 

Toggling between two and three-dimensional art are paintings by Antony Micallef, represented by Pearl Lam Galleries. Slapping on layers of heavy paint on the canvas, using impasto technique, is the artist’s hallmark. Regarded as a modern Expressionist and one of the finest painters in contemporary art, Micallef talks of challenging the physical limitations of two-dimensional portraits, highlighting the “palpable essence of the material.”

Levy Gorvy is showcasing a rarely-seen abstract oil painting by the master painter Zao Wou-ki at Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Liu Jianhua’s porcelain sculptures, presented by Pace Gallery, create a new visual experience by manipulating a highly fragile material. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Shaping, from Edouard Malingue Gallery, meanwhile, is a video projection with sound variables by Luxembourg-born artist Tse Su-mei. A trained cellist, Tse is known for weaving meditative, musical tales by combining video, installation and sculpture. 

10 Chancery Lane has set up a sculptures-only booth with bronze and wood works by Wang Keping and gravity-defying bamboo sculptures by Laurent Martin “Lo”. Mimicking Chinese calligraphy strokes, the latter’s works resemble organic silhouettes of plants and fishing rods while Wang’s wooden shapes highlight the material’s grains, knots and branches – features that would be hard to pick up when viewed on a digital screen in online viewing rooms.

Pace Gallery’s “Spirit of the Material” exhibition is a serious attempt to celebrate the tactility of materials that go into art. The show includes two works from Liu Jianhua’s “Lines” series, creating new visual experiences and emotions out of porcelain while still retaining a sense of the fragility of the material. 

“The result engages a widening of expression that aims to stir the audience’s perception and comprehension, and to redefine the meaning of reality,” says Liu.

Perrotin Hong Kong is presenting an eight-meter canvas by Brooklyn-based artist Eddie Martinez, the largest the artist is yet to exhibit.

Zhong Wei’s mixed media artworks, presented by de Sarthe, are a comment on the information overload on the internet. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Wu Didi’s extra-fine brushstrokes are expected to help soothe frayed nerves. Presented at Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel by Contemporary by Angela Li. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Dystopian images

Art exhibited in online viewing rooms this year have been, unsurprisingly, rather gloomy. The emotions expressed in them often have to do with fear, a longing to escape, and a despair caused by watching deaths, oppression and the old familiar world collapse. These themes seem to have been carried over to the physical space as well. 

For instance, Lyu Shanchuan’s fast, passionate brushwork, figuratively representing a state of great turmoil, figure in Contemporary by Angela Li’s offerings, titled “Unsettling Stillness”. By contrast Wu Didi’s extra fine brushstrokes attempt to soothe anxieties brought on by COVID-19 and provide space for self-reflection and meditation. 

Lehmann Maupin is presenting a series of mixed media paintings by South Korean artist Lee Bul. The idea is to delineate biomorphic and cybertronic forms using acrylic paint and mother of pearl to underscore the binaries of artificial and organic, conceptual and material — themes gallery director Tittmann believe will resonate with Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel audiences.

“Interestingly enough, Lee Bul has long explored the tension between ideology and imperfection, and the freedom of existing in between. The series we are exhibiting is titled Perdu, meaning ‘lost’ in French,” she says. 

Cube Study (Remake) by Tse Su-mei inspires a contemplative mood in viewers. Brought to Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel by Edouard Malingue Gallery. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The art gallery, 10 Chancery Lane, is offering gravity-defying bamboo sculptures by Laurent Martin “Lo” at Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The show is an attempt to draw attention to the information overload people are faced with in the present time. “We are inundated by content. Curation is essential, and I think it’s a positive sign that there are only 20 exhibitors in Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel. It gives space to each exhibitor and the opportunity to stand out,” says Tittmann. 

Molesworth has chosen Zhong Wei and Andrew Luk’s paintings based on the ideas of destruction, violence and the incessant information flow on the internet, as de Sarthe’s offerings at Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel. 

“Technology only amplifies or worsens tendencies for us as a species: We consume more, control more, envy more. Zhong Wei depicts this by throwing heaps of information on the canvas — it’s all very overwhelming, very much illustrating the speed and amount of information we receive in mere seconds,” says Molesworth.

“After a whole year of online viewing rooms, I want to make sure that the art we’re displaying looks great when viewed in person.” 

Wang Keping’s wooden creations, presented by 10 Chancery Lane, draw attention to the material’s physical features. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Given a locals-only audience who cannot be expected to make major purchases in the time of an economic downturn, Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel could be seen more as an expression of optimism rather than a profit-oriented enterprise. Still, participating galleries seem happy to have a chance to reconnect with a living, breathing audience. 

Molesworth points out that the collectors who visit Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel will be very different from those of Art Basel Hong Kong. “So I am not super optimistic about it, but it’s still really very exciting,” he says. “Dealers and collectors did appreciate the online format and loved the fact that they could view art from the comfort of their own homes, but it really does not replicate or even come close to the experience of seeing an art fair in real life. No way.”

If you go

Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel

Fine Art Asia

Dates: Nov 27 to 30, 2020

Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, Hong Kong


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