Sunday, 15 March 2015

A Quick Visit @ Art Basel

Yoshitomo Nara's works were popular this year
We interrupt our coverage of Xiamen to report back on the first day of Art Basel. The international art fair has moved up its dates from May to March to be included in the mix of the Hong Kong Arts Festival and Hong Kong International Film Festival. It's a lot going on for one month!

Michael Zavros' photo-realistic still life
The place was already buzzing just before 2pm, lots of young people in their hipster outfits, young women, some in heels anxious to impress and toting designer bags, mostly Hermes, while some guys dressed up for the occasion in a summer suit complete with a pocket handkerchief and sneakers.

I bumped into a few colleagues and even Amber culinary director Richard Ekkebus with his wife and daughter, perhaps getting a bit of artistic inspiration for his next culinary creations?

To be honest I spent about two hours at the show, passing by much of it quickly. There were many pieces that were either ill conceived or not executed well that marred the effect of the work.

A few pieces were in the "what's that all about?" category, such as a lime green cutout of a grizzly bear on its hind legs and a scarf wrapped around its neck, a head of a deer covered in glass balls mounted on the wall like a trophy, and a massive damaged paper lantern dangling from the ceiling looking like a reject from Ikea.

There is a rat under this sculpture of plastic!
There were some big names in the show this year -- particularly Yoshitomo Nara and his little girls with subversive-looking facial expressions, Yayoi Kusama with her dotted pumpkins, this time a massive sculpture, and mainland Chinese artists like Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun.

While there were also works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, it was nice to have a bit of Matisse thrown in, like this simple yet elegant drawing called Portrait de femme.

To me it seemed like hyper-realism was back in force, with a few artists painting super photo-realistic works on canvas. The paintings by James White particularly caught my eye, with interesting still lifes from inside a hotel room bathroom, while Michael Zavros had beautiful floral paintings, including one of white lilies arranged in a large shell with its reflection below.

A bunch of blue bloated goats...
The works of Georgia Russell don't photograph well behind plexiglass, but she takes coloured pieces of paper and cuts them up into thin strips and plays with them and it looks dynamic, intricate and delicate all at once.

Claire Morgan had some intriguing pieces that involved taxidermied animals -- one called On Top, where a duckling peers down from a tower made of torn plastic. Another named Underwhelming has a rat underneath an oval-shaped sculpture made of ripped bits of coloured plastic. Perhaps an environmental theme here?

Another animal themed work was by Malia Jensen called Perfect Circle, where ceramic cats are lying on their side, with their front paw on the next cat, forming a nice circle. However, we had to wonder about Yang Maoyuan's "They" are coming to Hong Kong, featuring animals blown up into big balloons. The one with three blue goats was disturbing!

Sharp-suited cats looking bug-eyed by Lei Xue
Lei Xue's Cat Subway was fun, though the presentation was slightly off. Viewers first see these cats dressed in shirts, jackets and ties, and staring out into space. But behind them is the reason for their bug-eyed appearance, a short video, a beautiful watercolour animation of goldfish. Now if only the video were presented differently so we could understand why the cats are looking gobsmacked..

I continue to be blown away by Brazilian artist Vic Muniz (who is represented by Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong). I missed his show last year, Postcards from Nowhere, so these pieces were new to me.

Vic Muniz's take on the Forbidden City
He is best known for his collages and he continues this here, taking Chinese cities, including Hong Kong, cutting up postcards and other images and putting them on top of famous landmarks, like the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Great Wall, and the skylines of both Shanghai and Hong Kong. They are colourful and dynamic, presenting another take on these places.


  1. Didn't realize you, too, had missed last year's Art Basel - Hong Kong!

    Re this year's: Vik Muniz's take on the Forbidden City caught my eye too but didn't notice some of the other works you discussed.

    BTW, miss Takashi Murakami's smiley flowers. All I saw of his this year were the skulls and mushrooms!

    1. Hi YTSL -- I was at Art Basel last year! Here's my blog post on it:

      Yes Takashi Murakami has moved on! No more smiley faces! A collector's item now!