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Past and present converge at Art Basel

The sixth edition of the Hong Kong art fair will present a more diversified, updated notion of ‘Asia’ while invoking nostalgia and memories

By Dana Ter  /  Contributing reporter

Hsu Yin-ling, When My Words Were Wheat (2017).

Photo courtesy of Project Fulfill Art Space

Adeline Ooi (黃雅君), Art Basel’s Director Asia, says art fairs are held for a simple reason.

“It’s because we’re all stupidly fascinated by art,” she says.

We chat in front of Chinese artist Ye Yongqing’s (葉永青) childlike scribbles of birds in Le Meridien Taipei last month when Ooi was in town to share the gallery list for the sixth annual Art Basel Hong Kong. The fair, which will take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center from March 29 to March 31 next year, will feature 248 galleries from 32 countries, including nine from Taiwan.

Ooi, who has long been a champion for making art accessible to the public, says that there are two important changes in next year’s fair. First is a more inclusive and diversified notion of Asian art. Second is that although artists might be working with new media, many are drawing inspiration from the past.

“The fair is going to run the gamut between super high-tech installations that would cease to work without Wi-Fi or electricity and art that is handmade such as cut-and-paste collage,” Ooi says.


Ooi, who is from Malaysia, explains that “Asia is still a very fragmented concept.” For instance, people are unfamiliar with Southeast Asian art unless they are from the region. Reasons include language barriers that make it difficult to read each other’s art publications as well as a tendency in Western countries to gravitate towards art from China, Japan or South Korea. This is changing, however, with the opening of museums such as MACAN in Jakarta, which displays Indonesian art within an international context.

“We’re drawing a more diverse picture of Asia than what people would normally think,” Ooi says.

One gallery that is complicating the notion of Asia is the Asia Art Center. The Taipei and Beijing-based gallery will be participating in Art Basel Hong Kong for the first time next year and they are highlighting two China-born Taiwanese artists, Chu Wei-bor (朱為白) and Fong Chung-ray (馮鍾睿).

“Artists of their time produced works that were an interesting blend of traditional Chinese, Western and even Southeast Asian techniques,” says Asia Art Center’s Managing Director Steven Lee (李宜勳).

Fong belong to the Fifth Moon Group (五月畫會), an art group founded in Taipei in 1957 known for pioneering modern, creative approaches to Chinese art. While Chu uses linen to create collages that resemble three-dimensional ink paintings, Fong blends Western abstract elements in bright colors with black-and-white calligraphy.

Lee says that while we may take globalization for granted now, the mid-20th century was a tumultuous time that resulted in artists experimenting with new techniques and media to grapple with their changing world.

“If it wasn’t for World War II and the Chinese Civil War, artists like Chu and Fong would not have left China, went overseas and developed the type of art that they did,” he says.

Lee adds, “It’s important to remember their significance and to recognize that these 80-something-year old artists were once very experimental.”


Project Fulfill Art Space also looks toward the past, but in a different way than Asia Art Center. The Taipei-based conceptual art gallery will be participating in Art Basel Hong Kong for the fifth year in a row, an accomplishment which gallery director Lin Pei-yu (林珮鈺) says is both exciting and nerve-wracking.

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