Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 Delivers on Quality Despite Slowing Market

by | Mar 29, 2024 | Art Fair Coverage

Mr Doodle at Pearl Lam’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 © Pauline Loeb 

243. It is the number of international galleries that participated in this 11th edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, the largest fair in Asia, which has returned to pre-pandemic scale. A fair rich in diversity and quality, which, despite some beautiful seven-figure transactions from the day of the opening, didn’t perform, from the dealers’ perspective, as well as the previous year, pointing to a slowing global art market.

There was a palpable excitement on March 26th, just minutes before the ‘First Choice’ opening, exclusively reserved for the wealthiest clients and a few lucky ones. What a joy to discover the fair almost alone, before it opened 4 hours later to VIPs. A much larger fair, with a 37% increase in exhibitor numbers compared to the previous year, spread out over two floors of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

In ‘Galleries’, the core sector that represents the heart of the fair, Gladstone Gallery’s booth already stood out because of the sound—quite unsettling, I must say—of bees buzzing in Anicka Yi’s hanging installation. The center of the stand was occupied by a bronze, concrete, and cast iron chair by Sarah Lucas, whose purpose was clearly not to accommodate anyone! Four small and delicate electroplated copper plates by Matthew Barney adorned one of the walls, while another featured a still life by Anicka Yi—again—made of tempura fried flowers under plexiglass.

Gladstone Gallery Art Basel Hong Kong

Gladstone Gallery’s booth, featuring Sarah Lucas, Robert Rauschenberg, Matthew Barney and Anicka Yi, at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 © Pauline Loeb

Another stand that I really liked was that of Ben Brown Fine Arts, which brilliantly mixed mediums and eras. A family of sheep by François-Xavier Lalanne was grazing in front of a stunning mixed media collage by Vik Muniz after Pablo Picasso. A canvas by Awol Erizku, very street art, with its actual basketball hoops, was in vibrant dialogue either with a large embroidery by Alighiero Boetti or with these two characters standing on a wildly and unrealistically colored sea by Ena Swansea. The standout piece of the stand was undoubtedly this blue hippopotamus bathtub, created in 1973 by François-Xavier Lalanne. Executed in blue resin, a material rarely used by the artist, it contained a sink in its mouth and a bathtub in its belly. I would have gladly sunk into a nice bubble bath in it!

François Xavier Lalanne

François-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008), Hippopotame I, 1968-1971. Polyester resin, fiberglass, brass, copper, and iron, Ben Brown Fine Arts at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 © Pauline Loeb 

To keep things fun, the Pearl Lam Gallery, based in Hong Kong and Shanghai, had dedicated a corner of their stand to artist Mr Doodle by displaying three of his canvases hung on his own wallpaper: a visual effect guaranteed. I also really liked the antique gilded wood mirror that Ryan Gander draped with a very realistic faux fabric in marble resin, which was presented at the Galerie Mennour stand. At the Arario Gallery stand, it was the three canvases by Korean artist Lee Jinju that particularly moved me, especially “Visible 5,” which depicted a tightly framed face-off against a black background, where an intruding hand had slipped in.

Ryan Gander

Ryan Gander, ‘I be… (lxvi), 2024. Antique mirror, cold cast marble. 148 x 99 x 25 cm. Galerie Mennour © Pauline Loeb

The Encounters sector

The “Encounters” sector, curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, featured 16 large-scale installations, with 11 pieces specially commissioned for the exhibition. This sector explored the theme “I am a part of all that I have met” and included works that delved into replication, evolution, simulation, and traditional folk art from various artists across the globe​

Imagine Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, George W. Bush, and even Bin Laden as wise and innocent 7-year-olds. Now, place them on a playground. Creepy? A bit, indeed! But it’s undeniably thought-provoking and didn’t leave any visitors of the Encounters section untouched, myself included. This installation, ‘Once Upon A Time’, consisting of 6 hyperreal sculptures, is crafted by Beijing-born artist Li Wei and showcased by Tang Contemporary Art. A few meters away, the Hong Kong-based conceptual artist Mak2 was presenting ‘Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy’, which featured two replicas of the De Sarthe gallery stand, connected top to top—one faithful, the other dirty and decrepit. The artwork aimed to lead visitors to ponder the place of humans and the concept of the passage of time.

‘Once Upon a Time’, Li Wei, showcased by Tang Contemporary at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 © Pauline Loeb.

Unlike other editions of Art Basel where the large-scale pieces are gathered and isolated—the Unlimited section in Basel is even in a different building—in Hong Kong, they are completely integrated into the fair, spread out over the two floors among the stands. This totally changes the experience because it allows visitors to discover them as they wander around and better appreciate their often spectacular scale. 

Mak2, Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy, Art Basel Hong Kong 2024

Mak2, ‘Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy’, De Sarthe’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 © Pauline Loeb

The Discoveries sector

The Discoveries section, dedicated to emerging contemporary artists, is renowned for spotlighting the avant-garde and providing a launching pad for future art stars. Among the 22 participating galleries, which presented solo or duo shows, I was particularly taken with two presentations. The one from the Tokyo-based gallery Waitingroom featured an installation by Fuyuhiko Takata, where filmed models dressed like Japanese salarymen gleefully cut fabric off each other’s suits in a homoerotic play on male masculinity, projected on a large screen in front of a pile of dismantled suits. At the Phillipa Reid stand, the central sculpture of ‘Awake’ took the form of a distorted, trapezoidal wooden bed frame. Its hollowed-out mattress allowed for the perfect insertion of the artist – Mohammed Z. Rahman, who stood next to it, wearing coordinated pajamas.

Fuhuhiko Takata, Waitingroom at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024

Fuyuhiko Takata, Waitingroom at Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 © Pauline Loeb

Art Dealers Interviews

Two more interviews than usual, but there was so much to see! From painting to sculpture, modern to contemporary. We start at Almine Rech, where Thibault Geffrin, the director of the London gallery, introduced me to a wall sculpture by Yayoi Kusama depicting a yellow pumpkin with black dots, so emblematic of her work. We stay with wall installations in the Kabinett section at Greta Meert with a set of pieces by Magali Reus, made from traffic signs. We continue with young artists with Korakrit Arunanondchai at the C L E A R I N G stand, with a mixed-media work combining denim, inkjet print, canvas, and acrylic paint. The large Mexican gallery Proyectos Monclova presented a superb geometric piece in woven wool by Eduardo Terrazas. Change of atmosphere with figurative works. A large canvas by Zaam Arif at the stand of New Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery and a still life by Giorgio Morandini from 1948, presented by Galleria d’Arte Maggiore.

How Much Does It Cost?

For once, I unintentionally chose four contemporary paintings. It was impossible to overlook the huge and magnificent canvas ‘Senza Titolo’ by Mimmo Paladino (2006) at the Cardi Gallery stand, offered at $800,000. It was also hard to resist the composition by Fiona Rae, full of color and delicacy, which Galerie Nathalie Obadia was offering at $100,000. I was very moved by this canvas by Yang Ping, which I would have liked to purchase for the tidy sum of $230,000 at Massimo de Carlo. Finally, a work by the Japanese artist Mika Tajima, valued at $90,000, whose lovely gradient of colors reminded me of Rothko’s poetic work.

Sum it up, I'm in a rush!

  • When? | March 28-30, 2024
  • Where? | Hong Kong
  • Atmosphere | Chic & select
  • Curator’s pick | The Encounters sector
  • Featured Gallery Gem | Pearl Lam
  • Spotlighted Artists | Mak2, Mr Doodle
  • For Whom? | Wealthy Asian collectors

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