Does Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture bring good luck? How else to explain its ubiquitousness at ArtHK 11, this year’s mega edition of Asia’s most important art fair. LOVE abounded, in red and blue, bronze and taupe, in life-sized and desktop versions. It even spurred a knock-off in crushed chrome from a Korean artist, prominently displayed by the fair’s entrance.
Andy Warhol’s omnipresence made more sense. Two weeks ago, a self-portrait sold for US$32.6 million, setting a record for Warhol self-portraits. A much smaller one could be had at the fair, priced at a mere US$ 5.8 million for those eager to ride on the bandwagon. It was just one of the many in a slew of Warhols that dotted the event, aimed to entice Asia’s art collectors to loosen their purses.
Runner up award to most pervasive presence must go to Marc Quinn’s eternally blooming orchids. Whether painted or preserved in marble, you couldn’t miss them. Personally, I prefer his stronger sculpted figures, the series of works that included the pregnant quadriplegic that had been installed at Trafalgar’s fourth plinth. But perhaps, those works are old news. Did the art fair call for the bright, pretty, and easy? One wonders.
It took me three days to navigate the entire fair, two to see everything, and the third just to return to the pieces I wanted to savor, to examine them minutely. I loved the sole piece by the Chapman brothers, at the White Cube booth. Das Kapital is Kaput? Ya? Nein! Dummkopf!, one of their Hellscape vitrines from 2008, is a bloody retelling of the fall of the Third Reich, a counterpoint to Goya’s Disasters of War etchings. Jake and Dinos Chapman work with plastic figures fabricated with horrific, yet humorous, detail, all the more fascinating because the pieces here are done in miniature. Gruesome skeleton
Nazis are amassed before a crumbling Reichstag, rotten and decayed, scalped, skinned, pilloried, and decapitated. Plastic rodents and ravens rendered with just as much raw detail mingle in the carnage. The piece has also been compared to a three-dimensional Hieronymus Bosch. Like Bosch’s apocalyptic images, the more you look at this work, the more you see. You simply can’t turn away from it. Photos just cannot capture its intensity. I think the folks at White Cube
contemplated bodily pulling me away from the tableau to give way to others wanting to view the piece.
From the Chapman Brothers, I moved on to the equally compelling Hello by Christian Marclay, also at White Cube. Like his celebrated The Clock, the video features spliced images from movies. This one had protagonists answer ringing telephones in an increasingly suspenseful pace. I wish I could’ve stayed and watched the entire film. On another wall, Damien Hirst’s Septicaemia, a block of flies covered in black paint, elicited shocked reactions.
I haven’t seen a lot of Cindy Sherman’s works in the flesh, so the two that I saw at Skarstedt Gallery constituted a treat. One had her costumed as a Renaissance woman in profile, in a pose reminiscent of Ghirlandaio’s Giovanna Tuornabuoni. The other had her decked out as a clown, a particularly poignant performance from this series.
Other works I enjoyed: Wim Devoye’s lattice metal gothic cathedral cum tank and his tattooed pig skins at Gallerie Urs Meile and Yinka Shonibare MBE at James Cohan Gallery and Stephen Friedman. Berlin’s Arndt Gallery mounted a show of Gilbert and George’s amusing Urethra Postcard Art.
I have to say I felt Mariano Ching held his own among the art world’s biggest names with Heads, at the Silverlens space. Really, when Nano pushes his pyrographs on wood, he turns out amazing pieces! Wooden heads of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus Christ had been sawed into three vertical segments. He filled the flat sides of each section with figures that are meant to question Catholic dogma and spirituality.
The other Filipino artist whose work I thought exceeded expectations was Patty Eustaquio with her lyrical painting Horns In Cloud Country. I admit a partiality to Patty’s sculpture, so it’s been a while since one of her paintings captured my attention.
This year, the fair had been spread out over two levels: the regular fair on one, and two new sections on another. Asia One showcased solo projects by artists based in the region, while Art Futures focused on galleries new to the art scene, those established from 2006 onwards. The Drawing Room and Silverlens have participated since 2008, the only two galleries from Manila to do so. Their spaces had been set up in the fair’s main floor.
Geraldine Javier figured prominently at Korea’s Arario Gallery. Destiny had taken over one section of their space. Scarlet walls set off the dramatic installation of mirrors and ram skulls— an actual one flanked by two painted ones— layered with swags of tatting.
Hong Kong’s Osage Gallery also carried works by Filipino artists Maria Taniguchi, Poklong Anading, and Alvin Zafra.
Ronald Ventura had a one-man exhibit in Asia One, at the Primo Marella space. His works had clearly been selected based on commercial appeal, mostly small-scale paintings and sculptures with friendlier price points, that would be easy to cart off. The booth displayed two large pieces though, one sculpture from last year’s show at Marella’s Milan space and a pretty impressive painting from a few years ago (2006 if I’m not mistaken). The smaller sculptures were mostly reworked pieces from his 2008 Zoomanities series. Perhaps he should have taken advantage of the opportunity Asia One presented to mount an exhibit with more impact, to show what he really is about. After all, the crowd here know him only from his auction pieces. The fair provided a unique platform to wow the world’s art cognoscenti after that million dollar auction performance in April. Ronald should have grabbed that chance.
The ancillary events organized around ArtHK made the fair even more exciting. I caught Richard Prince at Gagosian’s newly opened Hong Kong space, and in the same building, viewed a Miquel Barcelo solo at Ben Brown Fine Arts. I also attended the opening of Peter Blake, New Territory at the Cat Street Gallery. Despite my repeated attempts, however, I could not get tickets for the Intelligence Squared debate that pitted David Lachapelle and Simon de Pury against Singapore’s Ming Wong.
Just as they did last year, Christie’s timed their spring auctions of Asian and Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary art to coincide with ArtHK. It seemed like the Filipino works received prominence in the preview of works for the Southeast Asian morning sale. Up for grabs was a gorgeous Onib Olmedo inkwash. It joined pieces from auction stalwarts Geraldine Javier, Ronald Ventura, Jose John Santos III, and Kiko Escora, as well as paintings from first timers Patty Eustaquio and Tatong Recheta Torres.
While an art fair cannot approximate contemplating art in a gallery and museum setting, the breadth of work on view at ArtHK 11 just amazes. The commercial thrust of the fair definitely comes across as its main purpose. However, it allows those of us from this side of the world to view works that would otherwise be impossible to access. It trains our eyes, and opens us up to diversity. To quote from Charles Saatchi: “The more you like art, the more art you like.” ArtHK helps make certain of that.