Basel, Switzerland’s third-largest city, is located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet. The modest art show which first took place there in 1970, has since grown to become the world’s leading international modern and contemporary art fair.
Art Basel now takes place annually in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong, drawing members of the art community from across the globe together. It is a platform for new, mid-career and established artists and its reputation for showcasing a consistently high-calibre program attracts an international stream of gallerists and collectors. Here, unknowns can be made and careers canonised.
Hong Kong is the newest of the Art Basel shows, “The leading Asia fair and a major event in people’s art calendar,” says director Adeline Ooi, who has taken the helm for the first time this year. It is a pin in the map for South East Asian arts, and this year will showcase more than 3000 artists across six sectors, spanning all practices: from sculpture to video and everything between.
Art Basel in Hong Kong, with its relative proximity to Australasia, is reflected in strong Australian and New Zealand representation. Nine of Sydney and Melbourne’s key galleries will exhibit over the three-day show.
The show’s Galleries sector showcases world-leading galleries. Melbourne’s Murray White Room and Tolarno Galleries will be here, with exhibiting artists including Ben Quilty, Brendan Huntley and Tim Maguire. Sydney’s Sullivan+Strumpf also brings a strong program of local artists including Sam Jinks and Alex Seton, while Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery’s contribution includes the colourful work of Dale Frank.
The Anna Schwartz Gallery, home to established contemporary Australian artists including Shaun Gladwell and Mikala Dwyer, will also be housed in this sector. For director Anna Schwartz, Art Basel is an opportunity for cultural exchange. “It is always an objective to communicate with others on such occasions,” she says. “We are showing two artists from Beijing: Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen for exactly this reason. It is important to disseminate the work widely and to mix it up with work from other galleries and cultures.”
Melbourne’s Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects is taking part in the Insights sector, which features work developed specifically for the Hong Kong show by artists from the Asia-Pacific region. The gallery will exhibit the work of Yhonnie Scarce, an indigenous artist whose works in glass test the boundaries of traditional Aboriginal art making. This world-famous fair is a major platform for Scarce, says Dianne Tanzer, who is excited to be facilitating this opportunity. “We are very proud to be presenting a significant Australian indigenous contemporary glass artist,” she says. “As far as I know, this will be a first!”
Dianne Tanzer has seen the ways in which Art Basel can foster valuable relationships between Australian and South East Asian artists and galleries. She presented the work of painter Juan Ford during the inaugural Hong Kong show in 2013. “[It] has already paid dividends,” she says. “Juan Ford was picked up by a major Hong Kong gallery. We have also attracted many new Asian clients to our gallery and subsequently our other artists have benefited significantly.”
One area that director Ooi is most anticipating this year is the Encounters sector, which has been curated by the executive director of Sydney’s Artspace. “We’ve got your formidable Alexie Glass-Kantor,” she says, of the former Gertrude Contemporary director who is using her knowledge of the Asia-Pacific region to bring together this series of large-scale sculpture and installation works. “I’m interested to see the way she has thematically designed the sector,” Ooi says. “It’s about flow, it’s about transience and the idea of the meeting place.”
This idea in itself is a prime metaphor for Art Basel in Hong Kong: a place to come together for three days and share, through art, conversations about universal issues (“Mutual concerns and anxieties about the planet, political and personal freedoms,” says Shwartz).
For Ooi, it’s a heartening experience: “There’s nothing like seeing everyone together, under the same roof. For me it feels a little bit like a reunion.”
Art Basel in Hong Kong runs from 15 to 17 March 2015.