Sunday, 18 May 2014

Art Basel 2014 Roundup

In brilliant technicolour, it's Kyoung Tack Hong's Pens. Really.

This afternoon I had just over two hours to check out the last day of Art Basel at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Roy Lichtenstein's artwork on a 1977 BMW 320i
And because of the rain, many people thought it was the perfect way to spend a stormy weekend and so it was quite crowded which was a bummer. However it's a fair not a museum so getting prospective, potential and budding buyers in is more important than crowd control...

In any event the fair overall seemed to be about the same as last year, mostly pieces that intended to shock for photographic purposes (and were Instagrammed or Facebooked right away), while others demanded quiet contemplation or an extra moment to pause and reflect.

Ron Arad's squashed Beetle...
I'd heard from colleagues that the top floor had better art pieces than the main floor so I headed up there first. Outside the hall was a Roy Lichtenstein take on a 1977 320i. Every year BMW brings out a new car and it's fun and gets people thinking about art beyond a canvas.

But we saw another one -- smashed up against the wall at Ben Brown Fine Arts. Called Pressed Flower White by Ron Arad, it seemed very sad to see the vehicle squshed flat, much like flower pressing... the vehicular equivalent...

A Korean artist who caught my attention was Kwang Young Chun with the work Aggregation 14 - AP018 (Dream 5). From a distance the colours are fantastic, warm and bright, undulating and combining. Up close, they're actually Korean mulberry paper that's been made into small bundles and some how woven together or placed together to create texture as well. It's mind-numbing looking at it for too long, mainly wondering how long it took the artist to put it all together!

Detail of Wang Young Chun's intricate work
Fiona Hall's Fleet features some creative takes on sardine tins... kind of makes you think twice about what's in there the next time you buy them in the grocery store. Another fun one is Doug Aitken's fortune. It's a round photograph with broken fortune cookies and in the foreground is a fortune that says: "We need to talk/email me". These pieces are fun, but not really thought- provoking.

However I was blown away by New Zealand photographer Brian Brake's pictures of China in 1957, which was supposedly cut off from the world. He was one of a few foreign photographers allowed into the country, partly because American photographers could not get China visas. As a result his photographs were in high demand.

Variations of sardine tins by Fiona Hall
His photographs of Chairman Mao Zedong up close give an interesting look at the leader in candid and formal moments, from lavish banquets and speeches to private meetings with Soviet officials.

There is a wonderful picture of Zhou Enlai visiting the Soviet Union and he crouches down and his smiling with his arms outstretched to a little child. We don't know how the child responded but we can tell this is Zhou's effort at soft power.

Other striking images are those of the Forbidden City during that time. It must have been in its original state and not at all what it is today, parts repainted and renovated but they claim it is restored... These are fantastic documents of what the palace looked like.
Brian Brake's China in the 1950s

There are also photos of Hong Kong, many taken in Aberdeen of the fishing boats and the fishermen and their families. You don't see that anymore!

Brake was a member of Magnum Photos and shot for magazines like Life, Look, Paris Match and Illustrated. While it's great to know his photos can be seen at Koru Contemporary Art in Aberdeen, the prints are so expensive ($11,000!). My favourite picture is from the Chinese National Museum looking onto Tiananmen Square with the sun's rays creating a brilliant light and dark shadows.

He also photographed Pablo Picasso and is known for his series called Monsoon in India.

Kids were also getting into art at the fair. There were some giant sails hoisted into the air, the canvas filled with blue waves by Chinese artist Xu Qu. And sitting on the floor were children drawing Conquer. Others were led by a guide holding onto a string and trying to identify things he asked them to find in certain galleries.

The Ping-Pong Go-Round was a fun artistic distraction
There was also a giant --and round -- table tennis setup. Players could be inside the circle or outside of it which was great for kids and adults. Called Ping-Pong Go-Round, it was created by Singaporean artist Lee Wen.

So after all that walking and looking at art, one would get tired, no? Or dead?!

There was a piece of art on the floor, featuring a statue of the artist himself lying face down on the floor! Titled The Death of Marat by He Xiangyu, it was quite hilarious watching people's reactions to it. They knelt down to examine the "body" and of course took the obligatory pictures. The shoes are a dead giveaway that the man is a mainlander!

Is a dead man art? Visitors suss him out
Thanks for the memories and see you next year, Art Basel!

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