Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 makes a welcome return

By Serene Fu

Following last year’s cancellation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Art Basel Hong Kong returned to the re-invigorated Asian metropolis from 19-23 May. Featuring 104 galleries, including a parallel online platform to complement the physical event, the fair managed to overcome a range of challenges presented by the global state of affairs.

Sakarin Krue-on, A Tablebearer's Tale, 2021
Tang Contemporary Art

In order to circumvent lockdowns and travel restrictions, nearly half the exhibitors took part in the so-called satellite booths staffed by Art Basel representatives. As such, international galleries could still curate their Hong Kong booths remotely and connect with the robust regional art market.

Sculptures by Giulio Paolini
Alfonso Artiaco / ITALIANS

The pandemic also helped foster a collaborative spirit as many galleries teamed up to share booths. ITALIANS, a personal highlight comprising a large booth of eight leading Italian galleries supported by the Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong, examined the evolution of Italian art from the post-war era to the present. It featured diverse works from exponents of Arte Povera Giovanni Anselmo and Michelangelo Pistoletto through to conceptual artists such as Giulio Paolini. Hic et nunc (Here and Now), a 2020 piece by Paolini, showcases an hourglass held by a male hand and there’s a glimpse of blue sky evoking timelessness.

Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020-2021
de Sarthe

With more booth space to display works this year, several exhibitors opted to curate solo and group shows simultaneously, and there was no lack of eye-catching monumental installations. Among these, US-born Hong Kong artist Andrew Luk’s post-apocalyptic landscape installation, Haunted, Salvaged, recently acquired by K11 MUSEA, HK’s leading cultural-retail destination, caught much of the public’s attention. Featuring large pink orb-like mobiles hovering over a wasteland populated with towers of old electronic devices stacked on top of one another, the work contemplates climate change, pollution such as electronic waste, and other human impacts on the environment.

Isamu Noguchi, Mountains Forming, 1982-1983 (left), Damien Hirst, Ordinance, 2018 (right)
White Cube

As travel restrictions also affected the arrival of overseas collectors, Online Viewing Rooms (OVRs) were set up to cater to these key players. Additional online initiatives of Art Basel Live included a range of daily broadcasts, live-streamed events, virtual VIP walkthroughs, and Conversations.

Martin Boyce, Our Love is like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours, 2003
Esther Schipper

Most visitors embraced the scaled down fair as they could spend more time browsing booths. After two years of separation and anticipation, everyone happily adjusted to the new digital normal, (scanning QR codes more than ever and instantly jumping onto a chat with the overseas gallerists through a standby Zoom meeting).

Works by David Shrigley
Stephen Friedman Gallery

In short, the Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 edition is testament to the continued importance of cultural activities and the art market. The fair’s new trailblazing initiative also demonstrates its adaptability during this period of uncertainty and change.

Zhang Yanzi, Mask Series, 2020