Hong Kong art explosion: What to see this month

Hong Kong art explosion: What to see this month

It's that time of year again -- the world's art greats have invaded the city for Art Basel, Hong Kong Eye and more
Marnie Weber's"'Log Lady & Dirty Bunny." A mixed media piece created in 2009 and a highlight of Hong Kong's Art Basel.

‘Tis the season for art in Hong Kong.

Increasingly each year, the month of May ushers in a flood of modern and contemporary art events, anchored by Art Basel in Hong Kong, the region’s largest contemporary art fair (formerly known as ART HK).

In the past few years, Hong Kong has cemented its place on the international art calendar, with the steady expansion of ART HK, the entrance of several blue-chip Western galleries and the city's growth -- it's now the world’s third-largest auction market after New York and London.

Whether you have a novice appreciation or a long-time love of art, a penny or a million to spend, a taste for Chinese abstract expressionism or American pop art, there are plenty of opportunities to look, learn and purchase.

Here’s our guide to the key art affairs taking over Hong Kong this month -- and our top picks to help you navigate the crush of events.

Art Basel in Hong Kong  

Chen Wei's "Dance Hall (Sober)."

Date: May 23-26

Art Basel will hold the sixth edition of ART HK under its own brand, after its parent company purchased a 60% stake in the fair’s organizer two years ago.

This year, the fair has attracted nearly 250 galleries from 35 countries and is divided into four sections: Galleries (leading modern and contemporary galleries from around the world, including many blue-chip regulars); Insights (galleries based in Asia or the Middle East exclusively exhibiting artists within those regions); Discoveries (galleries showcasing one or two emerging artists); and Encounters (large sculptures and installations from artists around the world).

Zhu Jinshi's "The Song of Lhasa 2," painted in 2012. To kick off the fair, “Paper Rain," a cinema-themed artist parade choreographed by Brazil-based Arto Lindsay, will unspool along the harborfront on May 23.

Fair highlights include Marnie Weber’s eerie “Log Lady & Dirty Bunny” (Simon Lee Gallery), Zhu Jinshi’s richly layered abstract expressionist paintings (Pearl Lam Galleries) and Chen Wei’s fanciful photographs of purpose-built installations (Leo Xu Projects).

There are also daily free talks. Visitors can learn more about Indonesian contemporary art (May 23) or attend the book launch of revered Hong Kong graffiti artist, the King of Kowloon (May 25). 

Intelligence Squared will also host a live debate on the motion, “The market is the best judge of art’s quality.” (May 24)

Art Basel; Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai; admission HK$250/$150 concession for one day, four-days is HK$750/$450  

More on CNN: Glamorous photos of '60s Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

Gallery exhibitions

Tired of the fair crowds? Aside from Art Basel, dozens of galleries in Hong Kong will host exhibitions in their own spaces.

Highlights include de Sarthe Gallery, which will showcase bronze sculptures by French legend Auguste Rodin, including versions of iconic pieces such as “The Thinker,” “The Kiss” and “Eternal Springtime.”

Lehmann Maupin will present “Writing Without Borders” -- works by 11 acclaimed artists, including Tracey Emin, Barbara Kruger, Teresita Fernandez and Shirazeh Houshiary.

Hong Kong installation artist Nadim Abbas will show new work at CL3 Architects, inspired by visual similarities in microscopic bodies, animated GIFs and graphic production technologies. 

Several artists will have their first solo exhibitions in the city. Pearl Lam Galleries will unveil 26 new abstract oil paintings by Zhu Jinshi. “Oil skin” painter Angel Otero will be featured at SCAD. The figurative drawings of Fabien Merelle will hit the walls of Edouard Malingue Gallery. The Gagosian will feature neo-expressionist paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. 


Fernando Zobel's (Filipino, 1924-1984) "Arganda," an oil on canvas painted in 1961. Estimate auction price: HK$900,000-1,200,000 (US$115,400-153,800). From May 25-29, Christie’s will host 10 Asian art auctions, ranging from Chinese imperial ceramics and works of art and Chinese classical and modern paintings to Asian 20th century and contemporary art.

Modern and contemporary highlights include works from painters celebrated for blending Eastern and Western techniques, including Zhou Chunya, and Chinese-French abstract expressionist masters Chu The-Chun and Zao Wou-ki, the latter whom passed away in February.

Sanyu’s “Two Standing Nudes,” which has been compared to Picasso’s “Group of Nudes” and Moore’s “Reclining Figure," will also be up for auction.

Southeast Asian artists will also have a strong presence, including the Philippines’ Fernando Zobel, acclaimed for his blend of classical Western chiaroscuro, Chinese calligraphy, and minimalism. 

From May 23-27, Christie’s will also hold three private sales featuring Andy Warhol, Chinese contemporary ink and Impressionist and Modern Art.

Not sure what the fuss over art is about? From May 22-26, Christie’s will hold its Art Forum –- free daily panel discussions and tours led by leading collectors, academics and art specialists.

Topics range from collecting art, Andy Warhol’s influence in Asia, or Qing Dynasty cloisonné enamel. For HK$9,000, you can attend a two-day course on Asian contemporary art.

Christies; Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Wanchai; free admission; +85 (0)2 2760 1766 

Hong Kong Eye  

"Five Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong." Painted in 2011, ink and gouache on silk.

Date: On now until May 31

A showcase of 24 local artists, Hong Kong Eye is a welcome addition to an art calendar often criticized for excluding homegrown artists. A smaller version of the exhibition received nearly 200,000 visitors at London’s Saatchi Gallery in December. 

There's none of the characteristic Mao imagery of mainland Chinese contemporary art, although some pieces, such as Leung Kui Ting’s “Vision: Change No. 2” ink on silk scroll, pay homage to traditional Chinese landscape painting.

Others are wholly of the 21st century, especially Justin Wong’s “Difficult Life Situation,” a touch-screen display featuring a quirky variety of stress reduction programs laid out in an iPhone-like grid format. Wong also delights in “Object-Oriented-Objects”, which sorts images of everyday objects -- such as a book, hole puncher and USB cable -- according to internet search engine filters.

Wilson Shieh’s ink and gouache drawing on silk appropriates Hong Kong’s five tallest commercial buildings, transforming these phallic symbols into feminine forms as women in dresses.

What draws the most eyes (and ears) is Adrian Wong’s prone Mr.-Potato-Head-like animatronics figure with his hand on his stomach, rolling from side as side as he grunts monosyllabically, seemingly in pain or “In search of Primordial Idiolect IV” as the installation is named.

During Art Basel, Wong will also cull Hong Kong culture to create “Wun Dun,” a performative, participatory "art bar" installation at the Fringe Club, complete with an animatronic backing band and custom cocktails. 

ArtisTree; 1/F Cornwall House TaiKoo Place, 979 King’s Road Island East Hong Kong; free admission; +85 (0)2 6210 4520

More on CNN: Hong Kong: An art hub minus grassroots buzz

Mobile M+: Inflation!    

Date: On now until June 9

Curated by M+, the flagship visual culture museum under construction in the West Kowloon Cultural District, this open-air exhibition of six enormous inflatable sculptures and a temporary performance piece test the limits of public art.

Visitors can sit inside Cao Fei’s roast suckling pig, jump on Jeremy Deller’s Stonehenge-shaped bouncy castle or venture over to Paul’s McCarthy’s pile of excrement. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

If you can wake up at dawn on May 25 or June 8, you can witness the temporary staging of Tomas Saraceno’s solar-powered iridescent dome, inspired by hot air balloon technology.

Free guided tours are available on weekends, as well as a series of interpretative musical performances and workshops led by local artists.

Mobile M+: Inflation!; West Kowloon Cultural District promenade (closed Mondays); free admission

More on CNN: Fowl play? Giant rubber duck drowns in Hong Kong 

Asia Society 

Date: On until September 1

“Light Before Dawn: Unofficial Chinese Art 1974-1985” showcases influential Chinese contemporary artists from the Wuming (No Name), Xingxing (Stars) and Caocao (Grass Society) collectives that quietly operated under the highly restrictive conditions of the period, inclusive of the Cultural Revolution.

To go deeper, there's an introduction by its curators on May 21. 

The society will host several contemporary art panel discussions this month, including a look at the state of Hong Kong’s art scene with renowned Chinese contemporary art collector Uli Sigg, and a screening and discussion with Pia Getty about her documentary “China Power: Art now after Mao.”

Asia Society Gallery9 Justice Dr., Admiralty; admission HK$30


Zhang Daqian’s self portrait, executed in 1960. Estimated value: US$320,000–$510,000.Date: May 27 (auction preview May 23-26)

Sotheby’s will auction a second set of paintings by 20th-century Chinese master Zhang Daqian from the private Mei Yun Tang collection -- one of the world’s leading compilations of the artist’s work.

In 2011, Sotheby’s first auction of works from this collection set an auction record of nearly US$26 million for the artist.

The 25 pieces will range from fine-brush traditional portrayals of birds, flowers and landscapes to expressionistic “splashed ink” paintings from his later period. These works haven't been publicly exhibited since 1997.

Sotheby’s gallery5/F, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty; free admission; +85 (0)2 2524 8121


Date: On until July 20

“A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie, and the Hong Kong story.”

This multi-artist exhibition examines the cultural and political fallout of the 2003 SARS outbreak that killed 299 Hong Kongers. It links it with a deadly plague during the British colonial period, the suicide of pop icon Leslie Cheung, a mass protest against a security bill that toppled the city’s first leader and the thorny relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Ai Weiwei will debut a brand new sculptural installation on the divisive problem of baby formula in China –- a food safety scandal in the mainland has led to a controversial formula shortage in Hong Kong.

From May 17-26, the exhibition will be split across Para Site’s office in Sheung Wan, the Sheung Wan Civic Centre Exhibition Hall and a private apartment on 5/F, 30 Queen’s Street, Sheung Wan. Afterward, it will run at Para Site’s office until July 20.

Para-siteG/F, 4 Po Yan St., Sheung Wan, Hong Kong;+85 (0)2 2517 4620

Asia Contemporary Art Show  

Luu Tuyen's "The Cover 3" is a 140x150 centimeter oil on canvas piece. Dates: May 23- 26

In the second edition of this fair focused on emerging artists, the rooms on the top four floors of the J.W. Marriott hotel will be taken over by 75 galleries from 17 countries.

Among the highlights are Shen Jindong’s quirky paintings of soldiers (Art Futures Group), the red-lipped girls of Attasit Pokpong (A Gallery) or the paintings of plastic-wrapped dolls by Luu Tuyen (Art House Vietnam). 

Asian Contemporary Art ShowJ.W. Marriott Hotel, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway; admission, HK$120 (VIP $240)

More on CNN: Do you care if your hotel has good art?  


Date: May 22- August 18 (closed Mondays)

“Embark Beyond the Horizon” will kick off the opening of Oi!, a new government exhibition space renovated from a former yacht club.

Hong Kong’s Cédric Maridet, Tang Kwok-hin and Tsang Kin-wah and mainland China’s Yuan Gong have created site-specific works for the heritage building, based on the theme of the sea as a metaphor for transformation.

Oi!; 12 Oil St., North Point; admission is free

Asia Art Archive 

Dates: May 23-25

The Asian contemporary art archive will host four talks exploring what “global” means in the context of art, with the keynote lecture by Delhi-based critic, author and curator Geeta Kapur.

It will also offer monthly talks until July on the development of Hong Kong art.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong; free admission; +85 (0)2 3111 9600 

More on CNN: Chinese hotels open a new window on Chinese art


Alexis Lai is a journalist at CNN.com’s Hong Kong bureau.  A nomad at heart, she has lived in seven countries and is always restless for the next adventure.  

Read more about Alexis Lai