Somewhere in the middle of the convention center’s Level 3, where half of the participants of ArtHK 12 have been spread out, geometric forms made from black metal twinkle from the ceiling. They hang like lanterns, in a circle that encompasses the gallery’s space. Olafur Eliasson delivered the best experience of the day with his Sound Galaxy, a series of lamps that, like a mathematical progression, take on increasingly more complex shapes. The piece’s title has nothing to do with sound as something heard. It refers to the accepted and established, the indisputable. You begin to view it from the two simplest forms, three-dimensional triangles, that when combined, take on the shape of the third piece, a star with nine points. The lights reflect patterns described by the gallerist as “chaos from order and precision.”
Under Eliasson’s installation, Ai Wei Wei’s dollops of black porcelain dot the floor. Oil Spills is a commentary on the destruction of the environment through a medium so associated with China. So Ai Wei Wei too.
It would have been better, of course, had Eliasson and Ai been installed in their own separate spaces. Somewhere quiet where they could have been properly contemplated. But such is the nature of an art fair, especially one as busy as ArtHK, that one could not escape the bustle that surrounded the booth of Berlin’s neugerriemschneider (say that again?). Sooner or later, you get jostled to remind you where you are.
While this year’s fair had lined up more participants, a revitalized layout made it feel more compact. As in the past, the fair had been divided into sections. Aside from the main galleries and Asia One, the two more exciting sections were ArtHK Projects and Art Futures.
For the first time in the five-year history of ArtHK, they brought in a curator to oversee the special installations. Ms. Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator of the Musem of Contemporary Art Tokyo selected the works for ArtHK Projects, large-scale pieces that broke up the grid of galleries on both floors of the fair. She chose a diverse set from established artists, almost all a treat to see: Yayoi Kusama’s Flowers That Bloom At Midnight, Daniel Buren’s Photo Souvenir: From Three Windows, colours for 252 places, work in situ, and another powerful Ai Wei Wei. Cong juxtaposes the Chinese government’s official denial of any knowledge of schoolchildren killed during the 2008 earthquake against the names of the more than 5000 victims, some of them as young as three years old, who died due to poorly-constructed school buildings.
To qualify for Art Futures, newly established galleries, none of them operating for more than six years, had to bring in artists who did not exceed the age limit of 35 years old. This section provides opportunities for emerging artists to exhibit at the fair. It allowed me to experience work beyond the art world superstars that abounded elsewhere. I loved Filib Schuermann, brought in by Swiss gallery Rotwand. His dense colorful drawings and light boxes resulted from his musings on Dante’s Inferno. Another set of drawings that I enjoyed just as much, equally dense but devoid of the color and festivity, hung on the walls of Copenhagen’s David Risley Gallery. British artist Robert McNally used graphite to render apocalyptic scenes and industrial wastelands.
All in all, I found that the big galleries from New York and London sought to challenge their audience more than in the past. Less Hirst and Warhol, more Louise Bourgeois and Gilbert and George (my favorite duo, so I’m not complaining!), plus lots of Gerhard Richter and Georg Baselitz too. Sikkema Jenkins opted to fill their space with Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s photographs of appropriated images made from ephemera, Manet’s Folies-Bergere barmaid put together from a collage of magazine images, or color blocks from crushed pigment. At Paul Kasmin, a huge David LaChapelle poked fun at the art world’s biggest names with his image of works by Koons, Murakami, and Hirst all piled up in a flooded room, perhaps a collector’s basement? I also noticed a lot of videos, several screens playing Bill Viola.
Indian artists also figured prominently, Rina Banerjee in particular, also several works by Mithu Sen and Jittash Kallat.
One of my two favorite discoveries: at Timothy Taylor Gallery, a group of Lee Friedlander photographs originally shot for Harper’s Bazaar in 1964. The New Cars 1964 were for a magazine feature on the car models of that year. Friedlander travelled all over America to photograph the automobiles in unglamorous settings, viewed against a diner’s window, for instance, or in the middle of an empty drive-in movie lot. His unconventional photos did not meet the approval of the magazine’s editors, who chose not to run them. The photographer found them recently, and decided to print them. Today, we enjoy his wonderful work — all done without Photoshop’s help.
Mel Bochner’s exploration of the English language made me laugh at loud. His embossed words on handmade paper at New York’s Two Palms turns Roget’s Thesaurus into a tool for visual art. His work confronts us with the words we use everyday, illustrating how dynamic language is, highligting its vitality.
Once you tired of the art, you could always start eyeing the Hello! magazine-worthy crowd. I saw the Miller sisters, Pia Getty and Crown Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, looking over a Yayoi Kusama, while Lady Helen Windsor peeked out from behind her husband’s backroom. When I started noticing celebrities more than the art, I knew even I needed a break from the fair.
I found myself in Pedder Street, and decided to scope out the three galleries inside the picturesque Pedder Building. Ben Brown Fine Arts had Alighero Boetti, while Simon Lee featured Sherrie Levine. But the show I felt most worthy of the side trip was at Gagosian, where Andreas Gursky’s photographs played with scale to entrance. The gallery’s head honcho, Larry Gagosian was even around, taking some of his VIP clients on a personal tour.
Typhoon-scale winds and blinding rain put a damper on the rest of the evening. Unable to make it to Osage at Kwun Tong and their event with Roberto Chabet’s works, I fought through the crowds to make it home on the MTR. Taxis had disappeared, apparently washed away by the rain. A bowl of hot soup restored equilibrium, and put a close to this year’s ArtHK adventure.
For more information on the ArtHK 12, visit www.hongkongartfair.com