Skulls and butterflies may as well have been the mantra of ARTHK 10, this year’s edition of the Hong Kong Art Fair. You saw them everywhere, most notably those of the Damien Hirst variety. The artist’s London representatives, Jay Jopling’s
White Cube, organized a special exhibit of Hirst’s works in a separate space alongside their own booth. Billed as one of the fair’s special projects, the exhibit showed a range of his works: one spot painting, an installation of 6000 colored glass stones in a steel medicine cabinet, even The Inescapable Truth, Hirst’s formaldehyde work of a dove hovering over a white skull. Painted skulls hung on the walls, smaller versions of Hirst’s most recent work exhibited at The Wallace Collection. The show also included his butterfly collages, actual butterflies forming kaleidoscopic patterns or suspended on brightly-colored household gloss. Several other galleries within the fair carried more of these butterfly pieces. Hong Kong is the land of labels and logos, and Damien Hirst is the ultimate art brand. Nothing screams ART COLLECTION as much as a flock of these babies hanging on your walls!
But hey, without Hong Kong’s culture of conspicuous consumption we would not enjoy an art fair of this calibre so close to Manila’s shores. Eager to take advantage of the might of the Chinese purse, as well as attract collectors from this side of the Pacific, the titans of the commercial art world came in full force—and brought pieces from significant artists with them. Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, Roni Horn, Subodh Gupta, Antony Gormley, Chuck Close, Gilbert and George, Tracy Emin, Lucian Freud, Murakami, Andy Warhol, they were all there. You also had Picasso and Giacommetti and Henry Moore. Yoshitomo Nara had a solo show at the Marianne Boesky space. They featured his signature wide-eyed “kid-dults” in huge ceramic plates, his latest medium of choice. I did not realize that one of my favorite artists, Yinka Shonibare MBE, had a piece on display until the Vernissage almost closed for the night. I had already walked through
the exit doors when I skimmed through the fair’s catalogue. I ran back in—stilettos and all, in true tai tai fashion — to savor a piece of heaven. Heaven, in this case, being Shonibare’s Woman On Flying Machine, a remnant of his 2008 show at the James Cohan Gallery in Shanghai. For that exhibit, they filled a historic building with his mannequins in varied tableaux, all clad in 18th century French fashions. He uses headless mannequins to hark back to aristocratic guillotine victims. The brightly-patterned cotton used to costume the mannequins migrated to West Africa via the Dutch East Indies, perfect for his commentary on colonialism. What I would give to have seen that! Still, one piece in the flesh sure beats enjoying his work only through Art 21 downloads.
The next day, shod more sensibly in flip flops, I returned to appreciate the fair, and see the half that I missed at the reception the night before. With less people milling about, the kids and I had a great time meandering in and out of the booths. We were lucky enough to catch Tim Marlow, Gallery Director of White Cube, as he took a tv crew around the Hirst exhibit. Tara Donovan’s cube of stacked toothpicks from Pace Beijing proved to be a hit. Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto had a wonderful series of kinetic installations called Long March to
Java. By strategically positioning objects used by a traditional Javanese army, and integrating high-tech effects and sound, he managed to convey the martial advance of a conquering colonial force without the use of figures. Polly Walker had us enthralled. She showed preserved baby birds hanging from tiny balloons inside bell-shaped vitrines; the string of the balloons formed a noose around the birds’ necks. How fascinatingly gruesome!
The Pinoy contingent did us proud! Both The Drawing Room and Silverlens brought artists whose works elicited excitement
from the crowd. Marina Cruz, at The Drawing Room, caused quite a stir with UN/Fold, an assemblage of photos of heirloom baby dresses mounted as diplomas. She debuted this series last year, for her Ateneo Art Awards culminating exhibit. Within an hour of the VIP preview, the piece already had a waiting list. The Primo Marella Gallery of Beijing and Milan also carried Pinoy art in its roster of
Southeast Asian artists. They displayed two Geraldine Javier pieces, small-scale mixed media diptychs, as well as an assortment of Ronald Ventura’s resin scultpure, plus a Nona Garcia painting from the Prague Biennale. Korea’s Arario Gallery had three Leslie de Chavez paintings from his Banana Republic series. They also sold these during the preview. Silverlens exhibited an amazing Bea Valdes
soft sculpture of a white bull’s head swathed in a diaphanous veil. So luxe! A European collector just couldn’t stop talking about it. By the third day of the fair, the ladies from Silverlens had to redo the installation of works in their booth. Collectors had already carted off choice pieces. Other Filipino artists exhibiting in ARTHK 10: Rodel Tapaya, Kawayan de Guia, Kiko Escora, Leeroy New, Gary Ross Pastrana, Patty Eustaquio, Luis Lorenzana, Isa Lorenzo, and Mariano Ching.
Right next door to the Convention Center, at the Grand Hyatt, Sotheby’s set up a two-day preview of the highlights of their upcoming London auctions. The centerpiece of the Impressionist and Modern Art sale, Manet’s self-portrait with a palette, hung alongside Odalisques Jouant Aux Dames of Matisse. The preview also included choice pieces for the Contemporary Art sale, Warhol’s Camouflage Self Portrait and Richard Prince’s Millionaire Nurse, as well as eye popping bling for their jewelry sales.
Christie’s, on the other hand, deliberately set their spring auctions for Modern and Contemporary Asian and Southeast Asian Art to coincide with ARTHK 10. It felt a bit disconcerting to walk into the preview hall, a space filled with mostly paintings, after the variety of media that stimulated the senses in the fair. Here the atmosphere was hushed and formal. Somehow, that made the art feel a bit flat. Jose John Santos III marked his return to the auction circuit with The Closet, another jaw-dropping piece. Geraldine Javier did a rendition of Frida Kahlo in a celestial pose. Akin to the Blessed Virgin, she contemplates a pair of white doves in her hands. Frida stands completely surrounded by jewel-toned blooms. Embedded onto the painting, within gilt-edged frames covered in glass, are Geraldine’s beautifully-embroidered flowers and –what else but?– preserved butterflies.
ARTHK 10 runs from 27 to 30 May 2010 at the Hong Kong Conventions and Exhibitions Center. For more information, visit http://www.hongkongartfair.com