Art Basel Hong Kong will be served in several ways

No one has ever said that it will be easy to organize an art fair on site with a complex network of travel restrictions and quarantines related to Covid.

For the Art Basel Hong Kong, which takes place from Friday to Sunday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, part of the solution are satellite booths or fairgrounds, which are served by representatives from Hong Kong, for art dealers who cannot attend in person.

The concept returns this year after debuting at the fair last May. More than half of the approximately 130 dealers use satellite booths.

“Hong Kong was the first in our group of fairs that we canceled in 2020, and it was the first to return,” said Mark Spiegler, global director of Art Basel. The fair currently has reruns in Basel, Switzerland and Miami Beach and adds a new event – called Paris +, by Art Basel – in October.

Mr Spiegler attributed the success of the satellite booth to last year’s Hong Kong trade fair. But the art world is still thriving on face-to-face interactions, and buyers are accustomed to seeing dealers in the flesh – often gallery owners themselves. Mr. Spiegler was not entirely sure that people would flock again an event that relied so much on local surrogates.

“My logic was that now that physical fairs are happening again, the satellite booth may not be as attractive,” he said. But he noted that with satellite booths, which rose from 55 last year to 74 this week, the concern is unfounded.

“It’s not the preferred way for people to buy or sell art, but it has proved effective,” he said.

It credits the strength of the Asian market. “People are playing a long game,” he said. “Dealers have invested a lot of time and money to make the Hong Kong market work.”

Mr Spiegler said he would not be in person at the convention center, but Adeline Owie, Art Basel’s director for Asia, plans to attend after her quarantine.

“This time it’s seven days, not three weeks,” Ms. Ooi said in an email, citing her hotel quarantine after returning to Hong Kong after a trip earlier this month. “It’s certainly not for everyone, but I’m also beginning to appreciate this experience of self-isolation.”

She said the organizers have improved the experience for people who cannot attend, especially in connection with the virtual version of the fair.

“We’ve expanded and refreshed our virtual tours,” Ms. Owe said.

Renowned collector Jens Faurschou, whose Faurschou Foundation has private museums in New York, Copenhagen and Beijing, has been an active patron of Art Basel Hong Kong in recent years.

“I have an absolute masterpiece there,” he recalls of Liu Wei’s large “Don’t Touch” installation (2011), which he purchased from Beijing’s Long March Space. Made of cowhide, it is a model of the Potala Palace in Tibet, once the residence of the Dalai Lama.

He expressed a typical collector’s point of view when he said he was not excited about a virtual fair, but would check it out anyway. “It is almost impossible to travel to China,” he said, noting that he had not been to his own museum in Beijing for more than two years.

Ms Ooi acknowledged the challenges that remain. “Our galleries in Shanghai, which is still closed, have faced significant difficulties in transporting to Hong Kong,” Ms. Oi said.

One of them, Capsule Shanghai, came up with a decision: since the work on their satellite cabin was scattered, they were sent directly from cities that do not face the same restrictions. “We are trying to be faster than Covid,” said gallery founder Enrico Poloto of the need for quick thinking.

Mr Polato spoke by telephone from his home in Shanghai, located in the same complex as his gallery, where he remained in solitary confinement.

His presentation at the In Between Fair includes four artists: Cai Zebin, Gao Yuan, Liao Wen and Douglas Rieger.

Mr. Rieger is represented by “Cigarettes” (2021), wood sculpture, upholstery foam, vinyl, steel, epoxy, magnets, sawdust, rubber seals and paint.

“It’s about uncovering traces of human gesture, both in painting and in sculpture,” Mr Polato said of the overall selection. “All artists work in the boundary space between reality and imagination.

Another dealer using the satellite concept, Anna Ebgie of Los Angeles, said she had a great experience with it last year.

“They really come together for you,” she told the fair’s organizers. “We prefer to be there, but we will participate in any way.”

Her booth will include paintings by Los Angeles-based figurative artist Alec Egan, including “Fruit Bowl with Bird” (2021).

“The work is intertwined, like chapters in a story,” Ms. Abgie said of Mr. Egan’s paintings.

Ms. Abgie said that although she had sold some of the works in advance to Asian collectors – “You must have some security,” she said – the presence of her gallery on the floor of the convention center was valuable.

“I still think the exhibition is good,” said Ms. Abgie. “I run a gallery in LA, and the proximity and vastness of the Asian market makes me want to invest more there.”

Chambers Fine Art with branches in New York and Salt Point, New York, is sharing a booth with a local dealer, Anna Ning Fine Art from Hong Kong.

“We didn’t do the fair last year because there was too much uncertainty,” said Dan Chen, a gallery partner and director. “But we decided to decide this year. We have collectors and friends in Hong Kong that we wanted to get involved with, and that’s one way to do it.

Chambers will feature about half a dozen oils from Beijing-based artist Guo Hongwei, including Laughing at This World 3 (2021-22). The works are part of a series originally inspired by videos that went viral on social media during Covid’s initial blockade in China.

“They bring humor and frivolity to be closed,” Mr Chen said.

Pascal de Sart, who founded his gallery in Paris in 1977 and moved to Hong Kong in 2010, has a local dealer’s perspective on the recent art scene there.

“We were all very anxious to get into it, but last year’s fair was wonderful,” said Mr de Sart. “We saw an influx of local people we had never seen before. Most of them have never bought art before. ”

De Sarthe Gallery sold nearly 30 works during the 2021 fair, including a large installation that went to the K11 Art Foundation. Although Mr de Sart will not be on hand – he has been traveling since December – his local staff will be.

The stand’s presentation, Utopian Reality, includes work by Zhong Wei, Lin Jingjing and the artist known as Mak2.

“They are all commenting on reality versus unreality,” Mr de Sart said.

Mak2’s “Home Sweet Home: Gang 1” (2022) from a series of triptychs that began in 2019, reefs of the video game The Sims. Each of the three panels was painted by a separate artist, who Mak2 finds on the Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, and the unpredictability of the result is part of the idea.

“Most young people have a virtual and real life, especially in Asia,” said Mr de Sart. “Everything is allowed in virtual life.”

Invoking Internet culture may feel appropriate, given that some people will only experience Art Basel Hong Kong online. The audience of the convention center will be, like last year, more local Hong Kong crowd than usual.

“No one really knows what’s new and normal,” Mr Spiegler said of the international world trot, which was once the default regime in the art world.

Based on the Venice Biennale, as well as other recent art fairs, “I don’t see a reduced appetite for travel,” he added. “I see a desire to make up for lost time.”

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