Runaway Success Of HK 09 Proves That The Chinese Dragon Has Woken Up To Contemporary Art
Joyce Lau writes today in the New York Times that the HK 09 International Art Festival, which took place over the weekend, illustrated better than most art fairs the vibrant arts culture that exists in Hong Kong. The fair, writes Lau, indicates what many Hong Kong watchers have always known, that the city is a magnet for the arts, luxury goods, business, media, and cuisine. With this unique mix of cultures both traditional and transitional, Hong Kong is vying to be the 21st century equivalent of Tokyo in the 1960s or New York or London before that.
For all attendees, the HK 09 Festival illustrated what Lau calls the city’s “quest to become a global hub for luxury goods.” With its proximity to the Mainland, and the increasing ease of travel for Mainland Chinese to Hong Kong (along with the perennial ease for their Hong Kong counterparts), the blending of Hong Kong’s kinetic cultural melting pot with the Mainland’s ever-changing spirit makes this region a must-see for anyone interested in Asia’s unique, exciting energy.
Sales of art, jewelry, antiques and wines have made Hong Kong the world’s third-largest auction market, after New York and London [Note: As we wrote last month]. ART HK 09, which attracted more than 27,000 visitors over the four days that ended Sunday, was as much a trade show as a cultural event.
Lau notes that the HK 09 Fair was unique not only in the inclusion of many big-name Western galleries, like Britain’s White Cube (which displayed works by such British stalwarts as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin), but in its enviable cultural and national range.
[However, the western galleries] were not representative of the participating 110 galleries, chosen from about 300 applicants. There was a wide range, as one might expect from a group of exhibitors from 26 countries.
[The] Asian selection was no longer dominated by the big, laughing Mao faces, neon colors and flying babies of the Cynical Realism movement that first made Chinese contemporary art so hot. Some of the best pieces were rather quiet, like the delicate bronze trees by Wu Jian’an or Xinning Shi’s black and white paintings that play on 20th-century political leaders. Xu Bing, long known for his elegant, clever plays on Chinese calligraphy, had a tiny gold-hued metal cage with a mechanized bird inside.
Magnus Renfrew, the fair’s director, told reporters there were works from 8,000 to 80 million Hong Kong dollars.
Tucked in the back were lesser-known names like Gallery Exit, which had modestly priced ink-on-paper works by Lin Xue, one of the few artists actually based in the city. Others included Simon Birch, a British-born artist, and Konstantin Bessmertny, a Soviet-born artist based in nearby Macao.
“You can’t be a cultural hub without a good local art scene,” said Claire Hsu, founder of the Hong Kong-based Asia Art Archive, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of research materials on Asian contemporary art. “The art fair is a good thing,” she said. “But we’re not going to become a cultural center because of one art fair.”
There was a sense that the art market, affected by the global economic downturn, might offer opportunities for smaller companies, newer collectors and bargain-hunters.
The second Asian Auction Week coincided with the fair, a collaboration among the auction houses Larasati of Singapore, Shinwa of Tokyo, K Auction of Seoul and Kingsley Art of Taipei. Daniel Komala of Larasati called its ambitions “very modest.”
Publicity materials for ART HK 09 used a surreal photo by Zhang Ding, a 20-something not to be confused with a veteran painter of the same name. Some of the components were distinctly Asian and rural: a young Chinese man with a crew cut walking a bicycle, with a horse’s head attached to it, in front of a pile of dried grass. But he’s wearing a showy white tuxedo. In the background are the faint lights of the big city, framed in garish red velvet curtains.
Called “Great Era,” its message — especially when paired with ubiquitous ads, posters and brochures — was clear. Asia may be developing and unrefined, but it is ready to step into the spotlight.