Departures: How to Experience the Best of Hong Kong Art Basel


Just in time for the annual citywide fete, writer Liddy Berman breaks down how to make the most of this glittering art world capital.

Departures Magazine
March 23, 2018
By Liddy Berman

Jumping into Art Basel Hong Kong is like leaping into a whirlwind–the delights visual, culinary, and artistic flash by in a dizzying array that stimulates and overwhelms. It’s no surprise this thriving financial capital, long celebrated for making and breaking fortunes, is fertile ground for the similarly free-flowing art market. Beyond the fair, Hong Kong offers a paradise of unparalleled shopping, acclaimed restaurants, fabulous hotels—and the breathtaking “Symphony of Lights,” a nightly multimedia extravaganza that sets the harbor ablaze with kaleidoscopic bursts of color. To navigate the myriad attractions of ABHK, now in its fifth year, we’ve curated a few insider tips on making the most of the week’s cultural highlights.

The main event—the fair’s VIP opening—unfolds on Tuesday, March 27, but the real festivities begin with Monday night’s parade of gallery openings in Central. Follow the surge of art lovers through the Pedder Building’s many celebrated galleries before turning your steps towards H Queen’s, a hotly anticipated new glass-sheathed tower that was built to house A-list art tenants including David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, and Pearl Lam Gallery (among others). Then, follow the harbor lights to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, where Sprüth Magers and Skarstedt Galleries jointly present new paintings and drawings by market darling George Condo.

Courtesy of the artist and the gallery

Start your Tuesday with a seaside stroll through the first edition of the Harbour Arts Sculpture Park, a new venture jointly curated by Tim Marlow of London’s Royal Academy and Fumio Nanjo of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum. Recline on Hank Willis Thomas’ Ernest and Ruth benches; face the future with Tony Oursler’s AI-inspired projections; or bathe in Wong Chi-yung’s light waves before exploring the variations on traditional rock gardens presented by Bosco Sodi, Zhan Wang, and Zheng Guogu. Channel your inner Cinderella as you investigate Yayoi Kusama’s iconic, and aptly named, Pumpkin: big, and your inner Prince Charming as you consider Mark Wallinger’s White Horse, then anoint Gimhongsok as your fairy godmother for his trash-into-treasure transformation Bearlike Construction. Conveniently, you now find yourself in front of the Hong Kong Convention Center just in time for the VIP launch of Art Basel, so close your eyes, take a deep breath, and dive in.

Jessica Hromas for Art Basel

The Heavy Hitters: The international mega-galleries have staged a major Asian invasion, their new flagships opening with startling speed across Hong Kong’s high-end high rises. They bring their biggest and best to the fair, competing to cram the most art-world stars onto their walls. Check out the big names at Gagosian, Pace, Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, and White Cube, where museum-quality artworks by established masters like Louise Bourgeois mingle with fresh offerings from younger generation talents including Roni Horn and Rashid Johnson.

The Close “Encounters”: The fair’s perennially crowd-pleasing “Encounters” program, brilliantly curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, consists of twelve large-scale sculptures and installations spread across the fair. As you wander the aisles, look out for Indian artist Subodh Gupta’s sushi conveyor belt, Ryan Gander’s empathy-evoking automaton-like sculpture, and Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan’s sharply beautiful and faintly ominous kinetic bladed wing sculptures.

Jessica Hromas for Art Basel

The Far-Flung: One of the most exciting aspects of this fair, particularly for American and European viewers, is the presence of many Asian and Australian galleries that rarely show at Western art fairs. Drop by Roslyn Oxley9 for a taste of contemporary art Down Under, peek into Tehran at Dastan’s Basement, or discover significant New Zealand artist Colin McCahon’s works at Auckland’s Gow Langsford Gallery. For a look at the local titans, learn about Korean minimalism (“Dansaekwha”) at Seoul’s Kukje Gallery, and allow the calming monotones and skillful paper crafting of quietly innovative works to soothe your overstimulated eyes. Expand your understanding of contemporary Chinese art at Long March Space’s mini-retrospective of painter Yu Hong, one of China’s most acclaimed living female artists, whose innovative works are inspired by classical masters and techniques from both Eastern and Western traditions. Further develop your feel for the Hong Kong art scene at hometown hero Pearl Lam’s booth, where Zhu Jinshi transforms ordinary household objects into the extraordinary in his “Apartment Art” series. Finally, find the ultimate far-flung fusion at Kurimanzutto, where Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco presents a new body of works inspired by his study of Japanese and Balinese artistic practice.

Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

The Kabinett of Curiosities: The “Kabinett” sector of the fair focuses on solo artist presentations, often designed to fill in gaps in the art historical record and bring to light overlooked but important works. Here, the intrepid visitor can transition from viewer to participant: Yoko Ono invites her audience to sit down and reflect, literally and figuratively, in the large oval mirror in her installation, “MIRROR IMAGE,” at Galerie Lelong’s booth, while 10 Chancery Lane Gallery opens the “Frog King Calligraphy Shop,” created by Hong Kong iconic conceptual artist Frog King, where you can channel your own inner artist and try out some new shades in the “Froggy Sunglasses Project.”

Whether you come back on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or every day, intersperse your fair-going with visits to some of the city’s top cultural institutions to round out your experience. This year, the Asia Society’s Zen architecture and smooth lines play host to “Love Long: Robert Indiana and Asia,” where Indiana’s Pop Art icons are juxtaposed with works by Asian artists that further Indiana’s exploration of the interaction between words and images. Continue exploring the permutations of text in art at the Thursday evening opening of the Hill Art Foundation’s first public show, a groundbreaking Chris Wool exhibition that seeks to expand appreciation of this American master abroad.

Jessica Hromas for Art Basel

Like Hong Kong itself, ABHK week presents an astonishing variety of possibilities that can be tailored to captivate your senses. Regardless of how you balance your time between the world-class art, food, shopping, and hotels, one thing is certain: you will always leave this city—and this week—satisfied, stimulated, and eager to return for more.