SCMP Hong Kong 2010

State of the art

Sunday, 06 June, 2010, 12:00am
Tex: John Batten

An art fair is the art world’s circus, and there was much razzmatazz and tight organisation at last week’s Hong Kong International Art Fair, or ARTHK10, which kept the crowds rolling in. Organisers counted 46,115 visitors, an increase of 65 per cent from last year’s event.

With 155 galleries exhibiting, collectors from the region and further afield flew in for both the fair and the many auction houses that co-ordinated their seasonal sales. It is difficult to pin down exact sales figures, but many of the galleries said there was great interest in both high-end and niche areas, with collectors buying carefully. Taiwanese collectors, for example, snapped up the compelling video work and exact optical kinetic pieces by rising star Wu Chi-tsung of Taiwan’s Chi-Wen Gallery.

Alternatively, the abundance of Damien Hirst butterflies at the fair suggested a bin-end sale offering just for the Asian market, after recent muted overseas auction prices for the artist. I suspect buyers were not persuaded, and much of Hirst’s work was returned – though The Inescapable Truth, a formaldehyde work by Hirst that created much excitement, was sold by White Cube for GBP1.75 million (HK$20 million).

New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery was the standout of the high-end galleries: its simple display of two stellar Roy Lichtenstein paintings and a tightly hung set of Campbell Soup (after Andy Warhol) paintings by appropriation artist Richard Pettibone was top-class. Many of the high-end galleries merely offered mid-range examples of work by name artists; the crowds that flocked to the fair were intrigued, but collectors used these examples to benchmark prices.

Louise Bourgeois (who died last week), Kiki Smith and Anish Kapoor were all, however, represented with museum-quality pieces.

At last year’s fair photography was in abundance, with works by Edward Burtynsky, Atta Kim and Hiroshi Sugimoto on prominent display. This year, photography was sparsely represented except for Candida Hofer.

Dominating and impressive were the sculpture, construction and installation pieces. Most galleries showed three-dimensional pieces, giving the venue the flavour of a sculpture park. Right at the fair entrance was Tang Contemporary Art gallery artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Ne Travaillez Jamais, a wall of bricks and a pair of high-rise office towers built in wood, replicating China’s construction boom. This simple interpretation deepens as the audience sees birds flying within each tower – and the connotations of bird-cage/prison reinforce the mainland’s unforgiving urban sprawl, which places secondary importance on a sustainable environment and notions of a safe home.

In contrast, Sydney’s Grantpirie gallery featured Iranian/Australian artist Hossein Valamanesh, who achieved the optical trick of a ladder both disappearing and elongating itself by fixing it to a mirror on the venue’s ceiling. Eagle-eyed members of the public appreciated this effortless work by walking past and under the ladder, with the changing angle of the view creating the witty illusion.

Hung Keung’s winning entry at the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial Awards 2009 was a moody, black-and-white, multi-channel video installation, Dao Gives Birth to One, featuring small Chinese characters that replicate, swarm and congregate – building up different screen formations that verge on entire blackness. Placed inside a long narrow fair booth, the video exudes a stifled impressiveness and has a completely different feel from the monumental impression seen at its current Hong Kong Museum of Art screening.

Seen in a small room in a remote corner of the fair, a daily marathon performance was slowly acted out by Hong Kong artists Doris Wong Wai-yin and Kwan Sheung-chi. Replicating aspects of their own relationship and reflecting 1950s social behaviour (as portrayed on the big screen at the time), the artists acted out a single, but different, scene of ‘sadness’ each day, without a break, throughout the fair’s opening hours. Their live performance was simulcast in an adjacent room using a black-and-white movie chiaroscuro effect with accompanying, poignant music. It was an extraordinary performance.

The Creek, an installation by film director Baz Luhrmann and painter Vincent Fantauzzo, featured a narrow, darkened candle-lit room with a painting depicting a scene after a car accident. What could have been reverential was overwhelmed by its preciousness and the bustle of a busy art fair.

London galleries Green Cardamom and Man&Eve each exhibited astonishingly intricate and affordable works on paper. From around the world there were gems among the misses; Helsinki’s Galerie Anhava exhibited mature abstract paintings by Marika M?kel? and constructivist work by Matti Kujasalo. Shanghai’s Eastlink Gallery showed the effete and alluring sculpture of Yu Fan. Hong Kong’s Gallery Exit showed careful paintings by Sarah Lai. Tsang Kin-wah’s profane wallpaper was on display at Beijing’s Pekin Fine Arts.

Silverlens Gallery from Manila exhibited the up-and-coming Mariano Ching, while Nadi Gallery of Jakarta showed the hand-carved sculpture of Yuli Prayitno and pure abstraction of Gede Mahendra Yasa.

ARTHK has become an informative, yearly one-stop chance to consider what the art market has on offer.

John Batten is a member of the International Association of Art Critics – Hong Kong

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