Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Art Basel Report

A spherical Volkswagen Beetle
Vik Muniz's ode to van Gogh with flowers
The first year of Art Basel taking over Art Hong Kong started off ominously with a black rainstorm warning on Wednesday.

There's been a lot of hype about this giant fair taking over a locally produced one. Galleries and artists were keen to be associated with such a large institution, but locally some worried if our own artists were going to get enough exposure, with the potential of being overshadowed by a corporate fair run out of Switzerland.

Fun colourful graphic prints
YTSL and I checked out the fair this afternoon and we were quite surprised by the relatively low turnout, or was it because there was a massive rainstorm this morning? It was pretty much gone by early afternoon though.

In any event we wandered the main hall in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai and sadly we were not impressed.

For the most part, many of the pieces seemed pretentious and trying to hard to be "art", others looked like semi decent ideas, but not enough thought was put into the execution.

There was a giant black inflated castle-like installation, suspended by ropes and had an S&M kind of quality to it with zippers, chains and studs. The work is called Play (210301) by MadeIn Company in Beijing.

A suspended inflated Goth-like castle with S&M connotations
We also saw a Volkswagen curled up into a ball called Beetlesphere and a replica of the ruins from the original Summer Palace painted shiny black called 11 Degree Incline by Zhuang Hui and Dan'er.

For a little levity, there was a cute installation of giant yellow inflated tubes like punching bags, all lined up together and with people moving through, them it generated the same kind of look as fish going through anemone.

Having fun interacting with giant inflatable art
Things got markedly better on Level 3, which was smaller, but has higher quality works. The usual crowd pleaser and hot artist these days is Japan's Yayoi Kusama with her polka-dotted... everything. She has a bizarre outlook on things which may explain her residency in a mental hospital, but also she does do so graphically outstanding work. We also saw only ONE Takashi Murakami work, a caricature of the artist and his dog Pom on a pile of colourful skulls, his latest theme.

Yayoi Kusama has an eye -- for everything polka dots
There was also a work by Liu Jianhua, featuring a giant ceramic plate with a headless and armless woman in a qipao kicking up her high heels on a bed of roses. This artist started doing these pieces over a dozen years ago in his commentary on the Chinese becoming materialistic and losing sight of moral behaviour.

Other interesting works included two cartons of mainland Chinese cigarettes and two bottles of maotai that seemed to be "breathing". Perhaps the cigarette cartons would be even better if they emitted black clouds of smoke...

We liked Polly Apfelbaum's colourful graphics that were also embossed, and Damien Hirst's butterfly works, though not the ones with the real butterflies stuck onto the canvas... that was too morbid.

"Breathing" cigarettes and maotai, for what reason?
Photographer/artist Vik Muniz continues to amaze us with his intricate art work. Last time we saw him create collages of famous paintings and photograph them and the blow them up large. Now he has recreated well-known works again, this time painstakingly arranging flowers together before photographing them. Amazing.

A gorgeous line drawing by Henri Matisse
Picassos were around... if you could find them. They were mostly drawings, and Miro's work emerged too, perhaps Spain trying to boost its economy by selling some of its famous artists... however we loved this simple yet elegant drawing by Matisse.


  1. Re Yayoi Kusama: it's not all dots... or rather, there was one work I distinctly remembered that looked like it was peppered with dots but when I looked closer, I came to the realization that they were representations of sperm... ;b

  2. Well she is best known for her polka dots, but yes that sperm piece was... quite vivid!