Can going global make a razzle-dazzle art fair more local? We are set to see with this year's upcoming Hong Kong Art Fair, kicking off May 17th. Just a little over a year ago, the MCH Group, the owners of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, purchased a 60% stake in the company that runs the Hong Kong fair, giving them a formidable monopoly over the global art fair circuit.
Will this takeover lead to the McDonalds-ization of the circuit? Perhaps just the opposite. As Art Basel co-director Marc Spiegler put it: "We have no desire to do the same show three times a year. There will be certain qualities that are the same, but the shows will naturally reflect their environment. We don't want 'Groundhog Day.'" Of course, Spiegler's intentions make good business sense. Since much of the assumed audience of the fair will have been to one if not both of the other Basel extravaganzas, they won't want to circle the globe yet again for a repeat performance. Instead of the HK Art Fair striving to appear more global as it must have felt compelled to when it first got off the ground, the pressure now is to showcase something that can't be had anywhere else. As it seems to be often as of late, Asia is the answer.
YU Youhan, A Pocket Western Art History about Mao - 'Foreign Mao', 1999, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 127cm; Image courtesy of Shanghart Gallery, Booth 3A09.
What exactly can we expect to define this extra-"Oriental" approach? For a start, more than 50% of the booths will be represented by Asia-based galleries. Or, galleries hailing from "greater Asia" as the application call suggested, "broadly defined as including Turkey to New Zealand and the Middle East to the Indian sub-continent." Broad indeed! The fair is also featuring two special sections called Art Futures and Asia One. Art Futures focuses on galleries established in or after 2004 and who propose to showcase artists thirty-five-years-old or younger, while Asia One features solo exhibitions by artists of Asian origin. However, the artists may currently live and work anywhere. While the radical inclusiveness of the Fair's definition ensures that there will be some excellent artists, I'm left wondering what an artist from Turkey and an artist from New Zealand who both moved to New York when they were two will have in common as Asians. But enough about the commercial.
Yumiko Utsu, Octopus Portrait, 2008, C-type print, 35 x 28 cm, From an edition of 10, © Yumiko Utsu, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary.
The line-up of educational functions offered in conjunction with the fair is formidable in scale and ambition and not to be missed. Top on my list would be the ongoing "Backroom Conversation" series put on by Asia Art Archive, which features multiple lecturing luminaries as well as a series of conversations about tough topics that affect primarily the non-Western art world. There is also the very intriguing "Art HK Private Museum Panel" which may shed light on the recent proliferation of private museums across Asia, "broadly defined."
If the Baselization of Hong Kong next week does end up defining a greater global focus on Asian art, well Gan Bei to that!
(Image top right: Jiang Pengyi, Luminant: BTV (A) Beijing, 2008, Light box, 180 x 240 cm (Edition of 3), 79 x 100 cm (Edition of 8), Archival inkjet print, 90 x 125 cm (Edition of 3); Image courtesy of the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Booth 1x11, ASIA ONE, Hall 1.)