IMMATERIAL ART BASEL
Talks, panels, and performances in Hong Kong, by Robin Peckham
The art fair in Hong Kong, now falling under the Art Basel umbrella, has succeeded for a number of reasons, perhaps chief among them the transparent market infrastructure of the city and the reputation for pragmatic mercantilism it has accumulated as a British entrepot. But as much as the rule of law has encouraged an internationally viable market structure, it has also made Hong Kong a rare hub for scholarship, particularly of the Anglophone variety, for much of Asia. Long before the launch of ArtHK and the establishment of a commercial gallery market, Hong Kong was home to non-profit and largely discursive institutions like Para-Site Art Space and Asia Art Archive. Both of these streams exist in parallel, and both are quite unique in greater China. The city might lag behind Beijing and Shanghai in terms of the artist population and facilities as centers for production, but, when it comes to exhibiting, selling, and interpreting art, Hong Kong is now the prime site.
Sitting, as I write, in the inaugural Hong Kong panel of the Art Basel Conversations—and, in fact, the first ever official Art Basel event in the city, I am reminded by Philip Tinari of the role late art writer and general art world connector Jonathan Napack played in bringing the fair to Asia. Napack occupied a fascinating niche in terms of balancing these scholarly and commercial aspects of the art scene, and clearly recognized that the market system of galleries, collections, and fairs would ultimately encourage a culture of conversation and critique that was sorely lacking just a decade ago. Although he passed away too early in 2007, Napack would have been gratified by the way this holistic ecology has begun to come together with Hong Kong as its center...