Raves for Art Basel in Hong Kong

More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese
More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese artist Gu Wenda's United Nations: Man And Space (above) used human hair to create national flags; South Korea's Kyoung Tack Hong's Reflection (left); and Polish artist Pawel Althamer's Paulina (below left).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ART BASEL, EPA
More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese
More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese artist Gu Wenda's United Nations: Man And Space (above) used human hair to create national flags; South Korea's Kyoung Tack Hong's Reflection (left); and Polish artist Pawel Althamer's Paulina (below left).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ART BASEL, EPA
More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese
More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese artist Gu Wenda's United Nations: Man And Space (above) used human hair to create national flags; South Korea's Kyoung Tack Hong's Reflection (left); and Polish artist Pawel Althamer's Paulina (below left).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ART BASEL, EPA
More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese
More than 80 citizens and visa applicants were recruited for a yet-to- be-formed utopian state, in an installation (above) by Chinese artist Sun Xun that is a collaboration between Singapore's STPI and China's ShanghART gallery. Varied works: Chinese artist Gu Wenda's United Nations: Man And Space (above) used human hair to create national flags; South Korea's Kyoung Tack Hong's Reflection (left); and Polish artist Pawel Althamer's Paulina (below left).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ART BASEL, EPA

Participating galleries reported strong sales and art collectors loved the fair's varied offerings

The declaration, "Art Blase", was emblazoned on one of the many slogan T-shirts that Australian artist Anastasia Klose showed at the Art Basel in Hong Kong fair. The statement, a witty play of words on the prestigious art fair with roots in Basel, Switzerland, and the public's obsession with the art market, is, however, deeply ironic.

The art world, as well as the wider public, was hardly indifferent to the second edition of the fair in Hong Kong, which ended its five-day run on Sunday.

More than 65,000 visitors, including prominent collectors from around the world as well as museum directors and curators from leading international institutions, such as the Tate Modern in London and New York's MoMA PS1, thronged the art event. Besides art world royalty, the fair also drew its share of curious denizens of the city and students in uniform.

Equally, visitors were impressed by the works of art on show and quick to buy. Many of the 245 participating galleries reported strong sales.

Singapore's STPI, which championed works made by artists during their residencies at the arts centre, closed several deals including a sculptural painting by Filipino artist Ronald Ventura, sold to a private collector for $125,000, and the Spice Moons series of works by South Korean artist Haegue Yang for €42,000 (S$72,000) to MoMA New York.

The institute's collaboration with China's ShanghART gallery on an interactive art installation by Chinese artist Sun Xun, which sells citizenships (at US$13,000 or S$16,250 each) and visas (from US$30 each) to a yet-to-be- formed utopian state, also successfully recruited more than 80 citizens and visa applicants.

Likewise, Mizuma Gallery, with branches in Japan and Singapore, sold more than 80 per cent of its works by last Friday, including a large-scale painting by Japanese artist Amano Yoshitaka for US$250,000.

Gallery owner Sueo Mizuma, 60, said: "This fair is very different from other Asian art fairs. It is more international and collectors come from as far as Europe and the United States. We met so many new collectors and buyers."

The gallery has also participated in the Art Stage Singapore fair. The latest edition of the Singapore fair in January featured 158 galleries and attracted 45,700 visitors.

The spread of high-quality works offered by prominent galleries from around the globe was a reason collectors flocked to the Hong Kong fair.

German art collector Sigi Lorenz, 67, said: "I attend the Art Basel fairs in Basel and Miami often but I have come to Hong Kong because I get to see art and artists that I don't see at the other two fairs."

The absence of sales tax - present in other Asian countries including Singapore - also appeals to art collectors such as Indonesian businessman Sutanto Joso, 60, who stopped by the fair on his way to Indonesia, enroute from business in Europe.

For Hong Kong interior designer Nora Leung, 40, a first-time visitor to the fair, the price tags of some works took her by surprise. "There is a wide variety of art and some works by Hong Kong artists are priced reasonably within my budget of around HK$20,000 (S$3,220)," she said.

Another coup for the fair was the endorsement from the Brown Family Annual Acquisition Fund, a HK$5-million donation by Hong Kong-based philanthropist and artist Rosamond Brown, which allows the upcoming Hong Kong museum M+ to acquire works for its growing collection at the fair over the next decade.

Five acquisitions were made using the newly launched fund, including two paintings by Hong Kong artist Au Hoi Lam from Hong Kong's Osage gallery.

The fair also premiered a new segment on film that comprised works by 41 artists, including Singapore artists Chen Sai Hua Kuan and Ang Sookoon. The films were shown at the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the segment was helmed by Chinese curator, artist and producer Li Zhenhua, who picked works from submissions by galleries showing at the fair.

The fair's Asia director Magnus Renfrew said the film segment, an existing feature at the fair's Basel and Miami editions, is a fitting addition to the programme in Hong Kong, given the long history of the territory's film industry.

Indeed, it was hard to ignore the presence of the fair in Hong Kong, not least because of the commissioned audio- visual installation by German artist Carsten Nicolai, which set the 490m- high facade of Hong Kong's iconic International Commerce Centre on the Kowloon harbourfront pulsing with light for 50 minutes every night over three days.

The buzz of the fair was also felt around the city with more than 150 arts and cultural activities held to coincide with the event, including gallery openings and tours of artist studio enclaves in far-flung corners of the city.

Among the activities was a symposium titled Art And Values, co-presented by the Osage Art Foundation and City University of Hong Kong, which Singapore artist Lee Wen, 57, attended and ended up injured.

Lee, Singapore's Cultural Medallion recipient, was in Hong Kong to show works at the fair with Singapore gallery iPreciation. He attended the symposium last Saturday as an audience member and shared his view about the oppression of an artist friend. He did not name the artist, but the audience understood him to be referring to Chinese artist Chen Guang.

When the event ended, he went to a toilet to relieve himself but suddenly blacked out and awoke almost an hour later with bloodied bumps on his forehead, a bruised left eye and cuts on his left cheek.

He was hospitalised but later discharged and returned to Singapore yesterday. The bizarre episode, which has led to speculation that he was assaulted for comments critical of China, is being investigated by the Hong Kong police.

lijie@sph.com.sg