Art Fair Report: Reawakenings
By The Editors
The second edition of Unscheduled (September 2–6) took place in a vacated two-story retail space in Hong Kong’s Central district. Though the location sees heavy foot traffic, the former clothing store posed other challenges for exhibitors, with décor and a floorplan retained from the previous tenant, Topshop. Transparent PVC curtains divided the labyrinthine space into areas that curators Jing Chin-Yin Chong and Clara Wong assigned to 15 galleries. While each “booth” necessitated a unique approach to displaying artworks, some were more challenging to utilize than others, as gallerists pointed out. Edouard Malingue (Hong Kong/Shanghai), for example, was given the staircase, where it was hard to appreciate the details of Eric Baudart’s OTS Series, Untitled (2021), which comprises rippled aluminum sheets.
Making good use of the former personal-shopping lounge’s changing rooms, Blindspot Gallery (Hong Kong) showcased Pixy Liao’s intimate photographs, including the For Your Eyes Only (2012– ) series of close-ups depicting nude bodies. Rossi & Rossi (Hong Kong/London)’s solo presentation of Kesang Lamdark occupied the previous salesfloor. The installation drunk driving in Ihasa (2017), comprising 46 perforated beer cans fixed on a windshield, was on offer for USD 40,000, while Shirt 2 (2013), a fluorescent yellow PVC shirt from a series hung on a clothes rack, was priced at USD 1,800. Kim Young-Hun’s traditional hyukpil paintings made with leather brushes, such as p2001-Electronic Nostalgia (2020), sold for USD 15,300 at the booth of Soluna Fine Art (Hong Kong). Over the Influence (Hong Kong/Los Angeles) found takers for portraits from Alexandre Farto (aka Vhils)’s Residue (2017–19) series, of bas-relief carvings, and screen-print series Vanish (2016), for undisclosed prices. Throughout the event, artist Florence Lam performed her Cut Piece (2021) as part of the Per/Platform Live Art Festival, allowing audiences to snip her hair for USD 1,200 per 2.5 cm. By closing day, Lam had sold 12.7 cm and had pre-orders for five more centimeters.
The 2021 iteration of the Armory Show (September 9–12) was the largest fair to take place in the US since he pandemic began, with more than 150 international galleries presenting physical booths at the event’s new permanent venue, the Javits Center in New York, and another 55 participants in the online platform. New sectors were inaugurated for the in-person event, including one dedicated to solo booths, while the Armory Off-Site program introduced large-scale installations across the city.
Most of the galleries reported robust sales, with Asian artists faring well. Massimo de Carlo (Milan/ London/Hong Kong/Paris) expressed excitement, telling ArtAsiaPacific, “Any doubts about whether it was too early for fairs to return were dissipated by strong attendance of public and promising sales.” Their presentation included Tomoo Gokita’s latest canvases from his first US survey at Dallas Contemporary, such as Fake Hug (2021), which delineates an embracing couple. The works at the booth ranged from USD 3,000 to USD 230,000 in price. A Lighthouse Called Kanata (Tokyo), the fair’s only participant from Japan, moved 15 works in total at undisclosed prices, including the multi-layer glass sculpture Ku-151 (2021) by Niyoko Ikuta as well as Kentaro Sato’s yellow-and-indigo painting evoking the cosmos, Serenity VIII (2020). Kayne Griffin (Los Angeles) placed Mika Tajima’s green-to-purple gradient panel Art d’Ameublement (Matauea) (2021) and Huguette Caland’s 1998 untitled, mixed-media work in US-based collections for USD 40,000 and USD 55,000, respectively. Hung at the center of Tang Contemporary Art (Hong Kong/Beijing/Bangkok)’s booth, Zhu Jinshi’s diptych Splashed Rainbow (2019), with layers of oil paint in pastel colors, was snapped up for an undisclosed price. Wu Wei’s furry paper works, such as the pink Mixed Pelage No.10 (2021), also attracted New York buyers. By the fair’s closing, Yavuz Gallery (Singapore/Sydney) had sold out its booth featuring Alvin Ong’s 108 distorted self-portraits expressing different moods. Most of the works went to private collections in the Americas. Dastan Gallery (Tehran) mounted a solo booth for Meghdad Lorpour, spotlighting his latest, untitled series of landscape paintings with mythological symbols and hyper-realistic sea views. The pieces were priced at USD 3,500–22,000. A major work was purchased by a corporate collection and another went to an important private collection.
After a two-year hiatus induced by Covid-19, Art Basel (September 23–26) returned to the Messe Basel complex, with a total of 272 galleries from 33 countries and regions. As the first in-person, city-wide art event in Basel since the pandemic, the fair required visitors “to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, provide a recent negative Covid-19 test, or be fully recovered.” Tim Blum of Blum and Poe (Los Angeles/New York/ Tokyo) said that, under current circumstances, the fair was “extremely well organized,” and that the gallery’s important onsite sales “perhaps wouldn’t have happened had we not been there.” Among the pieces that the gallery sold were two new paintings by Yoshitomo Nara, each for USD 1.75 million, and Ha Chong-hyun’s white oil-on- hemp abstraction Conjunction 19-71 (2019), which carried a price tag of USD 150,000. Notable sales at the booth of Edouard Malingue, a first-time participant in the European iteration of the fair, included Brook Hsu’s recent green-hued paintings, priced at USD 10,000–22,000 each. Yu Ji’s installation Forager – lunch (2020), which consists of a tilted table and organic and artificial materials such as corals, cement, wax, lead, juice, and dry fruits, went to a buyer for USD 30,000. Ho Tzu Nyen’s R for Resonance (2019), a mesmerizing video riffing on the abstract construct of Southeast Asia, was sold for USD 45,000. Tokyo Gallery + BTAP (Tokyo/Beijing) found homes for paintings by Gutai artists, including an early, untitled oil abstraction by Shozo Shimamoto, as well as a gray 2017 Ecriture painting by Park Seo-Bo, all for undisclosed prices.
Some Asian galleries participated as satellite booths, a strategy that involves onsite volunteers manning the presentation for remote gallerists—as was introduced at Art Basel Hong Kong earlier this year—and received good results. Among them, ShanghArt Gallery (Shanghai/ Beijing/Singapore) noted that, despite the absence of full-time staff, their booth at Messe Basel highlighting Ding Yi’s latest series of abstract works on basswood and paper “attracted more direct attention and interest” than their online viewing room, which showed Liang Shaoji’s silk-based installations. Ding’s compositions were priced between USD 19,000 and USD 500,000. STPI (Singapore) showcased Do Ho Suh’s thread drawings on handmade cotton paper, including Walking Home (2014), which illustrates an anthropomorphized house walking on two feet. The gallery also brought Haegue Yang’s latest Turmeric Sheet Composition (2021), a geometric image made with ground turmeric on handmade mulberry paper. Almost two years into the pandemic and a flurry of OVRs later, physical fairs remain indispensable for both dealers and collectors. Hybrid virtual-physical models with satellite booths overseen by remote gallerists, such as those at Art Basel, might prove to be the best compromise while travel restrictions are still in place.