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[From the Scene] Art Basel Hong Kong heralds city's comeback after pandemic

March 21, 2023 - 23:50 By Park Yuna
Visitors view art on display at Hauser & Wirth's booth on Tuesday at Art Basel Hong Kong. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

HONG KONG -- Returning after four years, Art Basel Hong Kong has pumped energy back into the city, attracting art lovers from around the world who swarmed the booths at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Tuesday,

“The city never stood still during the pandemic. It continued to push the boundaries and innovate. In fact, the cultural landscape in Hong Kong has continued to grow from strength to strength,” said Noah Horowitz, CEO of Art Basel, at a press reception Tuesday, the official opening day of the leading art fair for modern and contemporary art.

“Despite the challenge of the pandemic, the Asian art market has also remained resilient with greater China counting for 20 percent of worldwide sales by value and ranking as the second largest regional art market in the latest edition of Art Basel and the UBS Global art market report,” he added.

"Solitude of Silences" by Gim Hong-sok is on display as part of Encounter at Art Basel Hong Kong on Tuesday. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Some 177 galleries from 32 countries, including 22 first-time exhibitors, are participating in this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong which runs through Saturday. Art Basel Hong Kong is one of the four Art Basel sites, which include Basel, Miami Beach and Paris.

Although the number of participating galleries is down from the 242 in 2019, it still reflects a huge interest in the art fair, considering the applications were accepted before the pandemic restrictions were lifted in January, according to Angelle Siyang-Le, director of Art Basel Hong Kong.

“We are very happy to come back to Art Basel Hong Kong this year. I hope to see many art fairs in Asia thrive more for both Korean artists and galleries in the region,” said Lee Hyun-sook, founder of the Kukje Gallery, a leading art gallery in Seoul that is one of the 12 Korean galleries participating in Asia’s largest art fair. The gallery is presenting works by Dansekhwa master Park Seo-bo, leading contemporary artist Yang Hae-gue, pioneering painter Choi Wook-kyung and prominent sculptor Gim Hong-sok.

Gallerygoers in Hong Kong on Monday visit Tang Contemporary Art, which is showing "Jigger Cruz: Resembling Utopia." (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Hauser & Wirth, a major contemporary and modern art gallery, which operates 18 galleries in Europe, the US and Hong Kong, reported that it had sold six paintings as of 1 p.m. on the first day of private viewings on Tuesday. “On Being Blue,” a painting by Angel Otero, was sold to a prominent museum in Asia, according to the gallery.

"Encounter," a special section featuring 17 large-scale artworks by prominent artists, has also returned for the first time in four years. The exhibition is curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor who curated the Australia Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022.

“The work ‘Solitude of Silences’ by Gim Hong-sok can be interpreted differently now in 2023, because things change real-time,” said Glass-Kantor of the Korean sculptor’s installation work from 2019 that is featured in the "Encounter" section.

The energy stirred up by the gathering of artists and collectors was palpable well before Tuesday.

An opening performance at a party held at M+ on Monday welcomes visitors to Hong Kong. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

On the eve of its official opening, galleries were in full swing with visitors from out of town. The city’s latest museum M+, which opened amid the pandemic in 2021, added to the celebratory atmosphere with a party that began with a dragon dance performance.

“A lot of mainland collectors are back for the first time after four years, and I think there is strong and incredible energy surging in. I think it is going to be a great fair,” said Christina You, China representative of Gagosian on Monday, ahead of the private viewing of Asia’s largest art fair.