Art Basel Hong Kong Prepares for Its Mega Return
By Alex Yiu
Since its inauguration in 2013, Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) has anchored Hong Kong Art Week, and stood its ground throughout several difficult years of the pandemic. This year’s edition of ABHK returns the mega event to its pre-pandemic scale as the largest art fair in the Asia-Pacific region. From March 28 to 30, ABHK will lure 243 international galleries from 40 countries and territories to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre—just topping the number (242) in its 2019 edition. The strong turnout signals the market’s strong-willed confidence that Hong Kong, the third-largest art market after New York and London, will attract collectors and institutional representatives from around the world.
While this year’s ABHK marks a triumphant return for the fair, it will also be a touchstone for China’s postpandemic art market. The lackluster performance of the world’s second largest economy has already overshadowed recent Hong Kong auction sales, and offshore markets like Singapore have recently picked up, as anxieties about US-China relations weigh on Hong Kong, due to its closer ties with Beijing in recent years. Despite this, whether collectors from more emerging economies like those in Southeast Asia will fill this gap is yet to be seen. ABHK remains the primary art fair in Asia for Western bluechip galleries to bring premium artworks from established and emerging artists from around the world—and its feed the demands of collectors from the wider Asia-Pacific region.
In the halls of Art Basel Hong Kong, the Galleries sector will see more than 200 participants. Contemporary and postwar artists working in textiles will be prominent in several booths. Shanghai’s ten-year-old BANK gallery will bring Bulgarian fiber artist Maryn Varbanov’s large-scale tapestry soft sculpture, Bleu Mise en Rapport (1978), as well canvas works of abstract lines and splashes by Tang Song, a member of the ’85 New Wave to their booth in ABHK. (Varbanov was recently featured in M+’s 2023 exhibition, “Madame Song,” about his wife Song Huai-Kuei’s legacy.) The Manila-based gallery Silverlens will join ABHK for the very first time after its expansion to New York City in 2022, showcasing works by artists of the Filipino diaspora and from Southeast Asia, such as Pacita Abad, who painted on quilted surfaces and was collector of textiles, abstract-expressionist painter and sculptor Carlos Villa, and Yee I-Lann’s tikar fabric which she made with undocumented communities in Sabah. At the booth of Rossi & Rossi, Nepal-based artist Tsherin Sherpa will present a new set of carpet works that the artist produced together with traditional rug makers in Kathmandu. Sherpa’s works tackle the erosion and fetishization of Himalayan culture both in and out of the region. The centerpiece will be a mixed-media installation of a carpet loom and an unfinished rug made with wool, silk, allo fiber, and cotton from Tibet, China, Nepal, and India.
ABHK selected 22 galleries to present solo presentations of emerging and up-and-coming artists for the Discoveries sector in 2024. Bangkok CityCity Gallery is bringing the works of Nawin Nuthong, born in 1993, who is known for his exploration of history and cultural media. Nuthong interweaves mythology and pop-culture references from video games, film, and comics through a wide range of mediums. Fine Arts gallery, from Sydney, will present a new installation work by Busan-born artist Yona Lee, who makes stainless-steel sculptures resembling extended angular handholds. Lee’s work in Discoveries iterates the viewers’ spatial awareness with utility objects like lamps, umbrellas, and tubular structures that navigate and confront spaces of control and connection. Tabula Rasa Gallery, of London and Beijing, is presenting Hong Kong artist Lee Kai Chung, who developed a practice based on publishing, public engagement, and archive-making. Lee’s project, titled “Tree of Malevolence” (2024) centers on his research into “collective banality,” in reference to the moral concepts explored by German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt, through a multichannel video installation inspired by human intelligence stories from the Cold War.
The 20 galleries in the Insights sector will mount solo presentations of artists from Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries. Flowers Gallery (London/Hong Kong) will spotlight the Mongolian artist Jantsankhorol Erdenebayar, whose works look into the formation of social taboos, rituals, superstitions, and seek to create dialogue between the present and Mongolia’s modern history and ideology. The Dubai gallery Lawrie Shabibi will feature sculptural installations of Emirati artist Shaikha Al Mazrou, known for her experimentation and expressive materiality. Al Mazrou’s works articulate the tension and the interplay between form and content and an intuitive acknowledgment of the material’s physical properties. At Hafez Gallery from Jeddah, the Saudi-British artist Filwa Nazer will present works centering around questions of emotional identity. Recently, the artist employed has textiles and sewing techniques to investigate corporeal relations to the spaces we occupy, revealing tensions within through processes of experimentation.
ABHK would not be complete without the Encounters sector at ABHK, this year featuring 16 large-scale projects—curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, the executive director of Artspace in Sydney—under the theme “I am a part of all that I have met.” Highlights will include a new work by Hong Kong-based artist Mak2, Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy (2024), a large-scale installation of two fair booths connected top to top, presented by de Sarthe Gallery (Hong Kong). Sullivan+Strumpf (Sydney, Melbourne) will present Yolŋu artist Naminapu Maymuru-White, of the Maŋgalili clan, Yirritja moiety, with her new installation Larrakitj Forest (2024) composed of several oblong vessels referencing cultures and traditions from the artist’s community in Northern Australia. Ota Fine Arts (Shanghai/ Singapore/Tokyo) will present Singaporean artist Ming Wong’s Friendship First (2024), a sculptural installation consisting of two semi-spherical surfaces for the projection of archival footage relating to the era of “table tennis diplomacy” between the US and China in the 1970s.
Beyond the galleries and artist presentations, “Art for the Oceans” is a fundraising partnership between Art Basel and the environmental organization and network Parley to promote the awareness of plastic pollution, climate crisis, and extinction of species, introducing artist-designed surfboards and upcycled ocean bags by artists including Ed Ruscha, Pipilotti Rist, Bharti Kher, and others. In the fair’s Conversations program, the internet-celebrity artist and meme specialist Cem A, also known on Instagram as freeze_magazine, will lead a special edition of the discussion panel Crit Club, with artists including Kara Chin, Jitish Kallat, Wang Tuo, and Steph Huang to debate: What is more important, the artist or the artworks? Viewable from the convention center, the 65-by-110-meter M+ Facade will present a brand-new film, Sparrow on the Sea (2024), by Chinese artist and filmmaker Yang Fudong, screening nightly from March 22 to June 9.
While ABHK is the headliner, Art Central offers a more lowkey art-browsing experience, with many more local and under-the-radar galleries. It will return to a big tent on the Central Harbourfront with 95 exhibiting galleries, the fair hosts a creative program of installations, talks, videos, and performances. In addition, a new gallery sector called Neo, under the direction of its 2024 curatorial advisor Enoch Cheng, has selected 11 galleries and 15 artists to participate in their Art Central debut. The new alternative boutique art fair, Supper Club, debuts at the historic Fringe Club in Central on March 25 to 30, bringing 20-plus galleries together in a showcase curated by Anqi Li.
At museums and nonprofits around Hong Kong, visitors can check out the ongoing “Shanshui: Echoes and Signals” group exhibition from the M+ Collections and the site-specific presentation of “Primitive” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, opening on March 15. The longtime nonprofit art space Para Site will host two exhibitions: “Soft Breath,” a new iteration of Hong Kong artist Trevor Yeung’s solo exhibition from London’s Gasworks from March 16 to May 19; and Aki Sasamoto’s newly commissioned performance and moving-image works in “Sounding Lines,” from March 16 to July 28. In Central, Tai Kwun Contemporary has the group exhibition “Green Snake: women-centred ecologies” in its galleries, as well as the annual Artists’ Night, in which details have yet to be announced. The Centre for Heritage, Art & Textile (CHAT), at The Mills in Tsuen Wan, will stage its fifth anniversary show, “Factory of Tomorrow.”
Elsewhere in the city, along with myriad gallery exhibitions opening the week of the fair (more on those soon), from March 8 to April 6, The nonprofit residency organization HART Haus will stage a group exhibition, “Collective Light: From Legacy to Future,” on the ground floor of Central’s art building H Queen’s, including sculptures, digital installations, and videos by So Wing Po, Carla Chan, Chila Kumari Singh Burman, Raha Raissnia, and others who draw inspiration from Zaha Hadid’s architectural practice. The recently reopened independent art space Current Plans in Wong Chuk Hang, presents a solo exhibition of Magdalen Wong, “SOUR PUNCH,” staging Wong’s site-specific installation consisting of videos and kinetic installations, in which the artist takes inspiration from the image of a clown, opening on from March 23. These, plus myriad gallery exhibitions, will keep visitors and residents busy throughout the month.
Stay tuned for more news and recommendations from ArtAsiaPacific ahead of Hong Kong Art Month.
Alex Yiu is associate editor at ArtAsiaPacific.