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  • Apr 02, 2024

Highlights from Art Basel Hong Kong 2024

AAP editors share their thoughts on a number of works from the first large-scale, in-person edition of Art Basel Hong Kong since 2019. 

Installation view of KANG SEOK HO‘s works at Tina Kim Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024. Courtesy Tina Kim Gallery, New York.

Solo showcases at Kabinett focused attention amid the busy halls of Art Basel Hong Kong this year. You could look deeply into a pair of irises belonging to two closely pressed faces in Kang Seok Ho’s Untitled (2017) at Tina Kim Gallery or admire the late artist’s renditions of fabrics and clothes from his Get Up series (1999–2021). A trio of large textile based paintings by Pacita Abad, including the riotous colors of Typhoon (1990) and the batik-clad figure of Dalang Sesudah Pertunjukan (1995) showed her love of local craft cultures worldwide. The textile exuberance ran to Alison Jacques’s whole booth presentation of the color-thread obsessed Sheila Hicks whose Talking Sticks (2021-23) of thread-wrapped sticks of colorful yarn spoke, abstractly, to the many global cultures where textiles form the social, community bindings. Rossi & Rossi’s survey of the woven wall works and sculptures by Kathmandu-based Tsherin Sherpa merged the artist’s Tibetan-Buddhist-derived iconography with the production potentials of a revitalized weaving industry in Nepal, with his massive woven dragon rug Stairway to Heaven (2024) in the Encounters sector stretching ten meters into the sky. BANK/MAB Society showcased Maryn Varbanov’s textile practice with a trio of purple and pink frizzy wool columns and three thickly tufted wall sculptures. The husband of Song Huai-Kuei (aka Madame Song), Varbanov was a pioneering figure of the textile arts and, after the M+ show about her life, it was great to see more of his works in person. The strong Insights sector offered many opportunities for in-depth looks at an artist’s oeuvre. The abstract paintings of Mohsen Vaziri Moghaddam, who incorporated sand onto the surfaces, and experimented with sculptures that could be reconfigured into numerous shapes were showcased by Dastan Gallery. Rin art association spotlit Keiji Usami’s three versions of the painting Brake: Big Flood (2011–12), centered around figures from Leonardo da Vinci, protest photos from Time magazine, and the recent impacts of the tsunami following the Tohoku earthquake.


ANTONI TAPIES, Duat, 1994, mixed media on wood, 2.5 × 6 m. Courtesy Mayoral, Barcelona.

Art fairs can be overwhelming at the best of times. With thousands of works on display—from large-scale, kinetic installations to small photographic prints—they can appear at once daunting, tiring, and absurdly impressive.

Barcelona’s Mayoral Gallery made a powerful statement on Level 3 with the late Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies’ 2.5m x 6m work Duat (1994). Billed as “mixed media on wood,” it is undoubtedly much richer and more complex. The title refers to the afterlife in Greek mythology, and the work is a culmination of a decades-long career from the preeminent master of abstract and avant garde painting. Three wooden shutters (one open, one partially closed, one slammed shut—all supposedly representing The Underworld) are fixed directly onto the flat plane, the surface of which is comprised of sand, onto which Tàpies has scraped and made holes with his fingers, and scrawled various words and symbols, much of which are hard to decipher. His ubiquitous crosses (mathematical or religious, he never explicitly revealed) complete a work of great power, majesty, and mystery. Open your minds and use your imagination, Tàpies implored.

Down on Level 1, Seoul-based gallery Johyun featured three works by second-generation Dansaekhwa artist Lee Bae. Brushstroke 28 (2024), a large-scale work of charcoal oil on mulberry paper has a quiet resonance—meditative precision and control, Zen-like movement and grace, command of stroke and gesture, all blacks and grays and whites—and is a work of subtle transcendence.

Across the corridor at Thomas Dane, who could not be both amused and challenged by Filipino-American artist Paul Pfeiffer’s video The Long Count (Thrilla in Manila) (2001). A screen the size of a postcard displayed the infamous boxing match from 1975 between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Here, however, Pfeiffer is more interested in the act of looking and of public spectacle, especially ones involving violence and the Black and Brown body. Utilizing early video editing technology, Pfeiffer meticulously and painstakingly removed the two fighters, frame by single frame, leaving only their ghostly apparitions as the two men dance and shuffle, punch and block. Only the rapturous, sweaty, braying crowd can be seen. Spectators watching spectators watching spectators, blood-thirsty and pepped-up by the mega-event. A fitting metaphor, perhaps, for a major art fair.


Installation view of FUYUHIKI TAKATA‘s Cut Suits, 2023, single channel video with sound: 6 min 12 sec, at Waitingroom’s booth, Art Basel Hong Kong, 2024. 

This year’s edition of Art Basel Hong Kong presented solid and well-developed works, particularly in its Discoveries section. Presentations incorporating video revealed how artists configure historical moments and fictional narratives to reflect the human condition, from personal stories and queer expression to colonial memories. Shenzhen artist Tan Jing reiterated works from her previous exhibition, “Inlet of Arid Dreams” (2023) at Rockbund Art Museum, in the booth of Mangrove Gallery, presenting a scaled-down version of her video installation Nook of A Hazy Dream (2024) with sound-narrated video projecting onto new embossed glasses, telling the story of an imaginative character inspired by her grandfather of Thai-Chinese heritage. Other works, including the scent-emitting Floor Tiles and Flowers (2023) and the talcum powder-infused installation The Souvenir (2024), added a layer of olfactory experience that recalls memories of her grandfather. 

At the booth of the Tokyo gallery Waitingroom, the Japanese artist Fuyuhiko Takata installed the presentation “Cut Pieces,” including his Yoko Ono-inspired video work Cut Suits (2023), featuring six suited-up salarymen cutting each other suits in a humorous manner that evolves homoerotic mood. The large screen of Takata’s work turned the gallery’s booth into a spectacle and attracted passersby to stop and gasp through titillation. 

In the wake of the newly enacted law on national security, Beijing/London gallery Tabula Rasa tested the city’s limited freedom of speech by presenting London-based Hong Kong artist Lee Kai Chung’s archival-based video work series Tree of Malevolence (2024). Listening through the speaker that resembled a stethoscope-like shape, the video in the installation tells the fictional story of a Cold War counter-intelligence agent with references to colonial archives and newspaper titles cutout on the wall, recalling the city’s colonial memories and geopolitical tensions which remain latent in the present. 


DEW KIM, Shackles, 2023, mixed media with metal and silicone, 40 × 54 × 15 cm.

Hold on to your pearls, because sex took center stage at ABHK 2024. At Empty Gallery, Taro Masushio’s black-and-white series Untitled (Youth) re-examined photographs that the Japanese artist shot nearly 20 years ago, at the Folsom street fair in San Francisco, the world’s largest queer and fetish event. Masushio’s works capture intimate, explicit moments of leather-clad youths and old-timers alike, including a close-up shot of a penis and cock ring that sold on the second day. For a young Masushio—a recent American immigrant who hadn’t reckoned with his sexuality—the event was pivotal in shaping his queer identity. However, returning to the photographs two decades later, the artist found that their resonance had waned. Cropping and abstracting the images from their initially utopic context, Masushio questions the meaning of “pride” post-identity politics. 

Also exploring ideas of gender and sexuality was Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, a Sri Lankan-born, Sydney-based artist known for his eclectic and provocative sculptures. Sullivan + Strumpf presented four of his colorful ceramic works from 2024 (Bi Head with Protrusions, Warrior Figure with Third Eye, Warrior Figure with Fish, and Warrior Figure with Horns) which integrated neo-expressionist depictions of Hindu gods with campy details such as golden genitalia. The resulting sculptures are at once humorous and referential, breaking with the typical austerity of contemporary art through a playful, yet thought-provoking presentation. 

Perhaps most sexy of all, however, were Seoul-based artist and metalsmith Dew Kim’s mixed-media works at Various Small Fires. With a practice centered around the intersections between religion, art, and identity, Kim juxtaposes Christian iconography with allusions to sexual proclivities such as sadomasochism. While his work The Holy Wound (2024) appeared like church steeples from afar (complete with crucifix- and rosary-esque details), upon closer inspection the three-tiered sculpture was full of sexual imagery: metal nipple clamps, a pierced, flesh light-like silicone centerpiece, chains, spikes, and so on. One was left contemplating the overlap between Christian purity culture and BDSM, which both, at the very least, recognize the tantalizing convergence of pain and pleasure. 


Installation view of HR GIGER‘s, Harkonnen "Capo" Chair, 1981, at Mai 36’s booth at ABHK 2024.

From the surreal to the horrific, the works on display at ABHK inspired fantastical imagery, particularly through the art of Singaporean-British artist Kara Chin, Chinese painter Rao Fu, and legendary Swiss visual artist HR Giger (all of whose works were situated on Level One). Chin’s solo presentation at the Discoveries sector titled “Shh the Film is Starting” (2024) explored the end of the world through miniature crafts of a modern day cinema left desolate. Trash and sporadic signs of greenery litter the cinema, suggesting viewers were witnessing the aftermath of an apocalypse. Accompanied by Chin’s signature ceramic works, the presentation embodied the idea of how “the fears of the future can influence the present.”

 Taipei-based Mind Set Gallery showcased its group show “Voyage,” including the oil paintings of Rao Fu. As the days went by and Fu’s paintings were replaced with his other works, it became evident that the artist was in high demand with collectors. Rao’s sprawling landscapes, filled with dream-like imagery in the most vivid of colors, make it hard to look away, arresting our gazes with epic works such as Lost in Paradise (2024). Inspired by both his heritage of Chinese landscape paintings, along with German Expressionism and Romanticism, his paintings reconcile the dualities of life, both the good and the bad. To Rao, one can only be whole if we embrace life as it is, with all its complexities.           

The Harkonnen “Capo” Chair (1981) by the father of the Xenomorphs was on show at the Swiss gallery Mai 36. Since his 1979 film Alien,  elitists have claimed HR Giger is a mere illustrator, and he never received deserved artistic acclaim. Mai 36 seeks to rectify that with bringing in three works of Giger, one of which is the commanding Harkonnen Chair made for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s non-existent film Dune. Originally designed for the film's villain, it is now a piece of pop culture history that never was. Made out of aluminum as the “skeletal structure” and painted over in glossy black, the throne of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen tucked in a little corner of the booth is still able to inspire awe for the disturbing genius of HR Giger. 


MARILYN MINTER, Thirsty, 2023, sculpture, stainless steel, urethane, projector, speakers, pump, and water. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin. 

Because of the trend in modern and contemporary art to abstract everything, recognizable figures have become rather taboo. Yet, some of the most celebrated artists in the past century have revived the old tradition of figurative art and reclaimed it as unmistakably contemporary.

Lehmann Maupin brought three works by American artist Marilyn Minter to ABHK in the Kabinett sector, including the multi media sculpture Thirsty (2023), where saliva, hair, teeth and dirt appear glossy, as if captured in a fashion magazine. Minter seeks to blur the lines between pretty and dirty, real and fictional in her works by giving a dream-like quality to the most real and mundane details of the human body.

In a less noticeable corner of David Zwirner was the small scale portrait The Hero (2024) by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. At first resembling the style of Dutch Golden Age paintings, the work was in fact more like a scriptless and characterless actor in a Beckettian play. Try as we may, viewers could never meet his gaze, which seems to drift right past; his enigmatic expressions appear equally hopeful and desperate, and the bright colors of his shirt contrast sharply with the dull background, gesturing at some unknown drama.

Colored by a totally different tone is American artist Alex Katz’s Eyes Closed (Grisaille) (2004), presented by Thaddaeus Ropac. Katz’s oil painting is aptly compared to a close-up in cinema, where emotions are hinted at by the dancing lights on a woman’s face. At the same time resembling a billboard and a Renaissance sculptural relief, Katz’s painting merges past and present into one. 


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