Basel Blooms: Fine art flowers once more at Hong Kong’s foremost art event

By Neil Dolby
Mar 05, 2024

Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 promises to be an extravaganza marking a return to its pre-pandemic glory years. Boosted by a huge uptick in exhibitor numbers, this year’s fair is the perfect vehicle to shine a spotlight on the region’s art scene and beyond, from collectable rediscoveries to works by contemporary practitioners. The social side of the art fest, an inspiring mingling of artists, curators, gallerists, connoisseurs and general enthusiasts, will also be back to its upbeat best within the cavernous environs of the Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Exemplified by a strong presence of galleries from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, more than half of exhibitors operate spaces on the Asian continent. Notable galleries from Australia, New Zealand and India, among other countries, will showcase their artistic talent too. Art Basel will also present a city-wide programme of events and activities in collaboration with galleries, world-class institutions and cultural partners during show week – from 26-30 March including two preview days before the fair itself.

“Our goal is to connect guests from all around the world in our home, Hong Kong, by offering possibilities of collaboration and innovation inspired by art and artists,” says Art Basel Hong Kong Director Angelle Siyang-Le. “As the key strategic cultural hub in Asia and Asia-Pacific, the city plays a more important role than ever in bridging the evolving art landscape across regions.”

Broad strokes

To put this year’s offering into perspective, there is a 37 percent increase in exhibitor numbers compared to 2023. This equates to 243 international galleries including more than 65 names that didn’t pitch up last year, a participation level that matches numbers before Covid took its toll on the event. Galleries from 40 countries and territories across Asia, Europe, North and Latin America, the Middle East and Africa will present artworks spanning all market segments, from 20th-century masters to established contemporary artists to emerging voices that are making waves on the scene.

Organisers promise that diversity will be paramount, with textile art one of the key inclusions. In just two standouts dealing in this medium, London gallery Alison Jacques dedicates its booth to Sheila Hicks’ pioneering use of fabric and thread, and Shanghai’s Bank showcases the works of Bulgarian artist Maryn Varbanov, who influenced Chinese avant-garde.

Return to the fold

Respected names returning after a hiatus include Galerie Lelong & Co. Known for showing works by internationally established artists, the gallery was founded in Paris in 1981 by Daniel Lelong, Jacques Dupin and Jean Frémon, and opened a New York sister space four years later. Also making an appearance are Italian heavyweight Galleria d’Arte Maggiore and Kurimanzutto from Mexico.

Another returnee, India’s Experimenter, won the 2023 Frieze London Stand Prize for best gallery representation. Based on a grid concept, it showcased the abstract works of an intergenerational group of eight women artists in a perfect reflection of the passage of time. Frieze hailed Experimenter’s programme a “pace-setter” for the South Asian region.

Other notable attendees from the Indian subcontinent include Vadehra Art Gallery from New Delhi, and Tarq and Jhaveri Contemporary, both from Mumbai. Tarq will present art by Mumbai-born Sameer Kulavoor that explores the effects of the Indian megalopolis’ urban growth on its inhabitants, while Jhaveri’s space displays paintings, drawings and sculptural garlands that function as decorative devices.

New blood

A total of 25 galleries from across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas will join the fair for the first time. One such is Station, which debuted in Melbourne in 2011 and expanded to Sydney in 2019; it is dedicated to presenting engaging, conceptually-driven exhibitions and bringing Australian contemporary art to an international audience.

Another first-timer, Tim Van Laere Gallery, was founded in Antwerp in 1997 and represents international and emerging contemporary artists. Linseed is not only a newcomer to Art Basel Hong Kong, but also to the art world in general. Launched in 2022, the Shanghai gallery supports a new generation of forward-looking artists from a multitude of backgrounds and invites cutting-edge conversations.

Digital diversity

Digital art – highly prominent during the pandemic years – retains its important presence now the fair can resume human contact and tactile appreciation. Highlights include a presentation by Tokyo gallery Taro Nasu of works by visual and sound artist Ryoji Ikeda, and from Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder of Vienna, an AI-created film conceived by New York-based Miao Ying that was shortlisted for last year’s Sigg Prize.

Among galleries focusing on the 20th-century masters and exceptional historical works, Liang Gallery from Taipei pays tribute to the late abstract painter Hsiao Chin. Axel Vervoordt Gallery, which has spaces in both Antwerp and Hong Kong, participates in the main fair for the first time with a showcase by multi-disciplinary conceptual artist Kimsooja that combines performance, film, photographs and site-specific installation using textiles, light and sound.

Creations and curations

Supplementing the rich line-up of participants is the Discoveries section, where 22 galleries this year have been singled out to present solo works by emerging artists specifically created for the fair. Topics tackled here include urban development and the shifting nature of public space in the modern age.

Embracing 20 galleries, the Insights programme of curated projects spotlights artists from Asia-Pacific active from 1900 to the present day. First-time exhibitor √K Contemporary of Tokyo brings Nankoku Hidai, an influential figure in avant-garde 20th-century calligraphy, to the fore. Taipei gallery PTT Space shows works by the late master Shiy De-Jinn, whose oeuvre openly explored the theme of desire, testifying to his status as a queer pioneer in East Asia.

Close encounters

Last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong saw the return of all special sectors, including Kabinett, Encounters, Film and Conversations. Displayed in a separate section of selected galleries’ booths, Kabinett showcases a record 33 thematically-focused projects for 2024, focusing on modern and contemporary solo presentations from the region.

Encounters, curated for the third time by Alexie Glass-Kantor of Artspace Sydney, is dedicated to large-scale projects and spans 16 artworks, 11 of which were made especially for the fair. An off-site installation by Sydney-based artist Daniel Boyd will be on view at Pacific Place.

Free to the public, the Conversations and Film programmes give audiences a unique opportunity to partake in discussions and enjoy artists’ films in a dedicated auditorium at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. The pick of the latter is probably A New Old Play (2021) by Shenzhen-based artist and filmmaker Qiu Jiongjiong. Presented by Star Gallery of Beijing, it depicts a prominent clown reminiscing about his life, set against the backdrop of China’s tumultuous 20th-century history.