Saturday, 26 March 2016

Art Basel Wrap

One of Kyungah Ham's pieces for Chandeliers for Five Cities
This year's Art Basel seemed to be very much business oriented, though the art displayed seemed to be very colourful. Perhaps the kaleidoscope of colours was a subliminal sign to buyers that despite the gloomy economy, art can cheer you up.

A detail of one of the chandeliers embroidered on silk
The art fair had the same number of exhibitors -- 239 -- though the number of large pieces, called Encounter pieces decreased from 21 to 16. In a way this gave the galleries more room to show their work, and allow visitors more breathing space between stalls.

I didn't go through every single row and gallery this year, but some pieces were favourites.

South Korean artist Kyungah Ham's Chandeliers for Five Cities were entrancing. From a distance they look like photographs of chandeliers, some in motion. But when you look closer, the works have been embroidered.

It turns out Ham wondered how she could get in touch with people in North Korea and somehow managed to smuggle materials and her designs across the border, have them made (each in four pieces) and then smuggled back to South Korea where she put them together.

Vic Muniz's collage of the Golden Gate Bridge
The handiwork is amazing and some wonder if the workers who did the pieces were exploited or not. The work seems to make a statement about excess and wealth, but also the stark black backgrounds seem to show opulence isolated.

Nevertheless, the effect of the embroidery on silk canvas is stunning and amazing, a testament to Ham's determination (she could get into trouble for doing this), and the workers who made these five pieces.

Another favourite is Vic Muniz's Postcards from Nowhere: Golden Gate Bridge at Ben Brown Fine Arts. I prefer his earlier works, when he painstakingly made collages recreating famous works of art, or using unusual mediums like chocolate syrup to make his drawings/paintings.

These days he blows up pictures of postcards to give a representation of a place. Last year it was China -- Beijing and Shanghai, and this piece done last year is of San Francisco.

The SCMP was used to make a political statement!
His works are colourful and creative, sure to liven up anyone's day and one could spend hours examining his works closely.

Then at neugerrieum-schneider, Thai-American artist Rirkrit Tiravanija has an untitled work, but on it in bold letters it says, "Freedom Cannot Be Simulated". The slogan is painted on copies of the South China Morning Post dated between September 26-30, 2014, when the Umbrella Movement began and later resulted in the 79-day occupation of parts of Hong Kong.

Tiravanija has done similar works on other newspapers before too, so he is known for making strong statements. Here he is paying tribute to the students and young people who initiated the movement.

Tatsuo Miyajima (right) with HK artist Samson Young
When you put all these pieces of information together, it makes the work even more poignant. Early on there were extra large white T-shirts with the slogan "Freedom Cannot Be Simulated" on it that were left on two large piles by the piece.

Now there are many people with these T-shirts -- the perfect top for the July 1 protest march...

Finally I had a chance to listen to Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima who created a light installation on ICC building. Entitled Time Waterfall, one could see numbers falling on the facade of the skyscraper, digital numbers changing from nine to one.

He explained that it was counting down to death, with zero being death, but that number is not shown. Miyajima wanted viewers to contemplate life and death, and living in the now.

Time Waterfall last night from the ferry pier
In the past few days I've been watching the installation, and am mesmerized as I see the numbers fall. Some drop slowly like leaves, slowly winding their way down, others plunge down; some are very large numbers, others much smaller. It really does make you think about the cycle of life, how life is short and how we should live with meaning.

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