Published: 09:57, May 17, 2024 | Updated: 10:52, May 17, 2024
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Better than fair
By Faye Bradley

There’s much more to the Affordable Art Fair — which returns to Hong Kong this week — than its accessible price range. Faye Bradley reports.

Fluorescent colors and fantasy themes dominate Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong 2024. (BILLY WONG / CHINA DAILY)

The annual Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong (AAFHK) is back, with a theme that somewhat bluntly states, “I am an art collector.” The idea is to encourage those fair visitors who have been meaning to start a collection of their own to take the plunge, while offering guidance with how to go about it.

As in the previous editions, there is a wide variety of artworks to choose from in the under-HK$10,000  ($1,280) category and nothing costs above HK$100,000. “This price range makes the fair more accessible for first-time art collectors,” says AAFHK Director Regina Zhang. “We have introduced an art consultancy service, including a one-hour tailored art consultancy session and tour.”

This year marks the milestone 25th anniversary of the Affordable Art Fair — a franchise covering 14 cities around the world — and the 11th of its Hong Kong edition. According to Zhang, AAFHK has received 3.3 million visitors and sold over $615 million worth of art since it began in 1999.

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This year’s lineup includes a total of 97 local and international art galleries, with 23 debuts. “Art collectors can expect a diverse range of styles in artworks from Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Macao, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, the USA, the UK, Peru, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, and Cyprus,” Zhang says.

Teddy bears made out of drinking straws by South Korean artist Jung Chanboo. (BILLY WONG / CHINA DAILY)
Irene Lee’s miniature painting of a typical Hong Kong public housing estate compound in the fair’s Young Talents Hong Kong section. (BILLY WONG / CHINA DAILY)
A tree with lenticular leaves created by Ewan David Eason. 

Opportunity for newbies

Han Lu, the founder of 73 Gallery in Qingdao, a coastal city in China’s Shandong province, is one of the exhibitors. She sees AAFHK as an excellent opportunity for novice collectors to start their collecting journey. “Affordable prices can actively transform fair visitors into collectors,” Han says. The relatively low price tags ensure that more pieces are sold. As a result, the fair continues to “empower and contribute to a vibrant and positive development of the art market”.

She adds that the fair serves not only as a platform for budding collectors but also as a means to showcase the cultural charm and fashionable allure of Hong Kong, besides providing an inclusive space for art enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds to come together and appreciate the myriad works on display.

When she is selecting artists to showcase at the fair, Han tends to go for those she thinks are likely to inspire positivity and optimism in the audience. She also prefers to back “those who maintain a spirit of challenge in their works”.

She has a suggestion for the first-time visitors to the fair: “My hope is that they approach the fair with the discerning eye of a panther, carefully surveying the entire venue and absorbing the diverse range of artworks, rather than rushing to make quick selections.”

Algerian artist Ceet Fouad borrows the idiom of Hong Kong’s street art while painting his “chicanos”. He is participating in live painting sessions at the AAFHK cafe. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Observing the trees while cycling through a park in his London neighborhood inspired Ewan David Eason to create Season’s Changes, now on display at AAFHK. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

New horizons

Lindsey McAlister, better known in Hong Kong’s cultural circuit for her theater work, is exhibiting her abstract paintings at the fair for the first time. “My artistic journey has been very diverse,” says the playwright and director who founded the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation in 1993, and has been almost totally occupied with running it ever since.

It was only after she caught the COVID-19 virus this past January, and was isolating at home, that McAlister thought of picking up the paint brush after a 40-year hiatus. “I don’t do well if I haven’t got a creative project on the go, so I got hold of some paint and canvas and just started painting.”

Not too long afterwards, when Kambal Gallery offered to represent her at AAFHK 2024, McAlister says  she “jumped at the chance!”

An Jiahuan’s painting figures among the works brought to AAFHK by 73 Gallery from Qingdao in China’s Shandong province. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Cai Tianmei is driven by the happy surprises resulting from experimenting with Chinese ink. She demonstrates her process at AAFHK. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“My process is nonlinear and intuitive, allowing ideas and aesthetics to emerge organically through playful exploration,” McAlister says. “One choice invites the next in a call and response of visual themes. Several of my pieces have more of a narrative and are inspired by Hong Kong and Asia in general. My other creations aim to capture transient qualities of perception, emotion and imagination through lyrical visual languages.

“Participating in AAFHK as a local artist is an exciting opportunity to showcase my work to a diverse audience,” McAlister continues. “The fair provides a fantastic platform for emerging and established artists to exhibit their creations in a vibrant and accessible setting.”

As someone actively engaged in seeking out and nurturing budding theater talents, McAlister appreciates the Affordable Art Fair brand’s sustained support to new and up-and-coming artists, by providing them with “vital platforms to gain exposure”. “They play a significant role in shaping the contemporary art market and nurturing the next generation of artistic talent, and this is something very dear to my heart.”

Lindsey McAlister is making her AAFHK debut. McAlister picked up the paintbrush in January after a 40-year hiatus, and has been quite prolific since then. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Jonathan Jay Lee’s intensely detailed images of the streets of Sham Shui Po adorn the walls of his Speakeasy Bar: Neon installation at AAFHK. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY) 

Cycle of plant life

Represented by TAG Fine Arts, London-based Ewan David Eason created a set of images depicting a tree in four different seasons for AAFHK 2024. Called Season’s Changes, the work is exhibited as part of the fair’s Special Projects.

An installation in the form of a life-size tree, with hundreds of lenticular leaves created by Eason, appears at the fair’s entrance. “I was inspired by the contrasting colors, stages of growth and patterns within the cycle of trees through the ever changing seasons,” says the artist. He got a chance to observe how the seasons impact nature from up, close on his way to work every morning, as the lane he cycled on went through a park. “There’s something about it that I can relate to and aspire to, as one season ends a new season or growth occurs.”

Eason considers participating in AAFHK 2024 an honor. “The quality of the artworks and exhibitors has been balanced incredibly well in respect of the showcasing of brilliant affordable artworks, which are also very investable.”

AAFHK’s Young Talents Hong Kong section highlights works by seven local artists. These include Scott Chan’s ceramic sculptures,  based on the everyday life he sees around himself in the city, as well as paintings by Apple Cheng. (BILLY WONG / CHINA DAILY)

Celebrating the city

Highlights from the Special Projects section also include Speakeasy Bar: Neon — a homage to the bars in Sham Shui Po. It is possible to sample generic cocktails, designed by Kiyoshi Hoshimi-Caines, at the “bar” of this installation, as one admires Jonathan Jay Lee’s large-scale digital images of street scenes inspired by the neighborhood.

Special Projects also includes a mini-exhibition of Chinese ink art. Called Ink Flows, the show features works by Cai Tianmei, Yi Pang, Li Dongyao, Liu Jia and Zhang Bin. Their works demonstrate how the traditional medium of Chinese ink can be adapted into a contemporary artist’s practice.

Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong Director Regina Zhang hopes that the tailored art consultancy service offered at the fair will help notch up the sales. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Algerian-born Hong Kong-based artist Ceet Fouad has borrowed heavily from the vibrant street art styles of his adopted hometown in Chicanos Sin City. He can be found painting his chicken characters, preferring to call them “chicanos”, at the fair’s cafe.

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In keeping with its tradition of championing emerging local artists, this year too AAFHK has put together an exhibition called Landscape Mindscape. Featuring works by Peony Hung, Irene Lee, Apple Cheng, Scott Chan, Wallis Chung, Edmond Li and Rylee Tsang, the show gives visitors an idea of the diversity of themes, media, styles and creative persuasions Hong Kong’s art scene is likely to reflect in the future.

If you go

Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong

Dates: Through May 19

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