It is difficult to write critically about art fairs. News coverage on fairs is generally about business transactions or art celebrity gossip, and the mountains of images that galleries supply defies category or interpretation. Yet the age of the art fair is upon us, and their influence in the art world is unquestionably growing.
Last weekend saw Young Art Taipei (台北國際當代藝術博覽會), a hotel fair for contemporary art that has become a local pop phenomenon. This weekend, Hong Kong will see the biggest art fair ever in the region with Art Basel Hong Kong. Success at these events is mainly related to statistics on total sales, visitors and media coverage.
Art Basel Hong Kong results from the purchase of the Hong Kong Art Fair — a young, rapidly growing fair established in 2008 — by the world’s largest art fair, Art Basel. It becomes Art Basel’s third international hub, along with the mother fair held every summer in Basel, Switzerland, and Art Basel Miami Beach, which focuses on North and South America. Art Basel Hong Kong brings a cachet of old-world art establishment to the status-hungry new money of Greater China. It couldn’t be a better fit.
Celebrity sightings in Hong Kong began by the middle of last week. Supermodel Kate Moss, Russian tycoon and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovic, artist Takashi Murakami and LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch were all seen at pre-fair events.
CNN and BBC World devoted major coverage to a new work in Hong Kong by Ai Weiwei, Baby Formula 2013, which was made from almost 2,000 tins of baby formula and meant as a critique of China’s miserable record on food safety.
Though half the galleries at Art Basel Hong Kong are regional, top international galleries include Gagosian, David Zwirner, Pace and White Cube. As one of the fair’s special projects, British artist Jeremy Deller has created a full-scale inflatable sculpture modeled on Stonehenge.
ART FAIR SPECTACULAR
Young Art Taipei may be small beans by comparison, but it similarly shows how contemporary art is fast becoming a form of ticket-selling pop entertainment that is at least on par with indie music or arthouse film.
The three-day art fair, held at the Sheraton Taipei from May 17 to May 19, drew 6,000 visitors, the vast majority of them young people. Art works on display at 61 galleries (39 from Taiwan, 17 from Japan, four from China and one from Singapore) was poppish, cartoony, tech-inspired and surreal. With most artists under 45 years old, it perhaps sheds insight into how a young generation views itself.
For this is a generation with its own pantheon of master artists: Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Makoto Aida and Yayoi Kusama. Their influence was ubiquitous at Young Art Taipei, but even so, art directly inspired by cartoons, manga, superheroes and other pop culture icons seemed to be at a relative ebb this year. One exception was the oil paintings of Iron Man by Kent Koeng Tan (陳傑強), a bit of kitschy fan art crassly timed for the release of the latest Iron Man film in local theaters.
Also at Young Art Taipei, there was graffiti art, street art, pop chinoiserie, fascinations with pattern and texture, geometric art that reflected a digital, technology-driven world, and no shortage of representations of nymphettes, seductive females and sexualized girls. There was a major emphasis on technique and individual style, and often works felt like illustration or graphic design. There was little that was confounding or “hard to get,” and nothing you could call conceptual art.