You’d Have To Be Bonkers: Australians In HK

Art Life , Reviews Mar 31, 2017 1 Comment

Sharne Wolff reports on the Australian’s at Art Basel Hong Kong Art Fair…

Is it only a week since Hong Kong? After a blur of skyscraper light shows, bamboo scaffolding, detour signs, cranes and ferries, it’s hard to believe it all happened. For an international art fair rookie (like me) Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) was hard to get your head around. Held across two large floors of the sophisticated but sterile Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre were almost 250 exhibitors from thirty plus countries and 24,000 works on display. Think Sydney Contemporary (or Melbourne in its heyday) times three. Bring in paintings, more paintings – include at least one work from every best-selling Top 100 global artist – mix with lot of good contemporary Asian art (especially from the Koreans) and throw in a small dash of ‘undiscovered’ gems. To serve, sweeten with bling and forget price tags. Who needs ‘em!

Sanne Mestrom, Bathers, 2017 (detail)

Amongst the super galleries at the ABHK spectacular – Gagosian, Pace, White Cube, Hauser & Worth – was a small Australian contingent, boosted by the inclusion of large works by Australian (and New Zealand) artists in the Encounters section. Curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor for the third year running, Encounters featured large-scale works installed around the show. Dutch-born Sanné Mestrom (now based in Australia and represented by Sullivan and Strumpf) collection of giant white ceramic and steel Bathers 2017 sculptures brought the nude women of Paul Cézanne’s modernist painting to life on the building’s third floor.

Participant galleries at ABHK included Melbourne’s Tolarno Gallery and This is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery. Sydney was represented by Roslyn Oxley, Sullivan and Strumpf with Darren Knight Gallery appeared in the Discoveries section (for emerging artists). Jensen Gallery (with branches in Sydney and Auckland) and New Zealand’s Starkwhite both showed Australian stable artists in addition to their New Zealand counterparts.

Anida Yoeu Ali, The Red Chador: Ban Me! 2017 (still from performance work)

One kilometre along the harbourside, Art Central Hong Kong (ACHK) was housed in two large marquees although the champagne was only marginally cheaper and the bar queues longer. Placing emphasis on galleries from SE Asia, the strong Australian gallery presence was supported by Mikala Tai, Director of Sydney’s 4A Contemporary and curator for the 2017 experimental performance program at Art Central. Australian dancer and choreographer, Amrita Hepi was included in this group and well-curated, provocative performance-based works by Indonesia’s Uji Handoko Eko Saputro aka Hahan and Cambodian-born Anida Yoeu Ali gave the works force, notwithstanding the crowded tents. Of the 100 exhibitors, Dominik Mersch, Chalkhorse, Artereal, Art Atrium, Hill Smith, M Contemporary and Mars Gallery represented several Australian cities.

Rumours were that several Australian artists appeared in solo shows elsewhere but our hectic schedule didn’t allow time for extracurricular activities. We’d also planned to catch New York-based Australian CJ Hendry’s pop up partnership with the Christian Louboutin fashion store. For true buyers, there wasn’t much point anyway. Doing it her own way, Hendry’s entire show of 50 Complimentary Colours hyperreal drawings sold out online just 7 minutes after it opened.

After three days and several sessions at both Fairs, we’d barely scratched the surface. Add to the two large fairs, worthwhile visits to HK’s Pedder Street gallery precinct (home to numerous international galleries and solo shows by Do Ho Suh, Ai Wei Wei, Heinz Mack, Urs Fischer, Mel Bochner and so on) and M+ Pavilion. Note to self: next time, allow at least week.

Bearing all that in mind, of those booths we caught this is what we saw (and missed):

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

As a veteran of numerous Art Basel fairs, Oxley was in prime position at the entrance to the ABHK’s ground floor shows with a contingent that included Brook Andrew, Daniel Boyd, Fiona Hall, Newell Harry and Tracey Moffat. Presumably due to her inclusion at this year’s Venice Biennale, Moffat’s work claimed pride of place with a series of cowboy photographs from the 1994 Beauties series. Newell Harry’s 2012 neon, The Natives are Restless also stood out.

My pick: Daniel Boyd’s Untitled (WTABP), 2017


Ben Quilty The Last Supper, 2016

Tolarno Galleries

In contrast to Oxley, Tolarno showed all new work by Danie Mellor, Ben Quilty and Patricia Piccinini. Many booths placed readily Instagrammable works at the front. Made in the artist’s trademark style, Piccinini’s The Bond, 2016 life-size sculpture was strangely compelling. Mellor’s large blue and white drawings also had impact as did Ben Quilty’s 12 vibrant orange ‘life-jacket paintings’ (a memorial to Reza Berati) displayed in a grid and being offered as one piece.

My pick: Against the flow of general opinion at our post-ABHK drinks, I can’t stop thinking about Quilty’s The Last Supper, 2016.

Daniel Crooks Static No.24 (Wan Chai Sinusoid) 2017 (video still)


Also on the first floor, NZ’s art fair regulars Starkwhite’s display included work by Rebecca Baumann, Daniel Crooks, Alicia Frankovich and Grant Stevens providing “an historical context for a slice of contemporary practice in the region”. Baumann’s automated colour field works are familiar to many and there were several on display in different sizes. Crooks new video work was delivered only minutes before the opening.

My pick: Daniel Crooks Static No.24 (Wan Chai Sinusoid) 2017

Lindy Lee, The First Innumerable 2016

Sullivan and Strumpf

Located close to Sanné Mestrom’s eye-catching Bathers, Sullivan and Strumpf’s open stand comprised a selection of works by Lindy Lee, Darren Sylvester, Sam Leach, Karen Black, Tony Clark, Polly Borland, Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo and Tim Silver, while Baden Pailthorpe appeared in the ABHK film section.

My pick: A difficult choice with strong work by most artists in this group – but I would have liked to take home Liny Lee’s shiny stainless steel sculpture First Innumerable 2016, and almost any of Sam Leach’s small framed oil paintings on wood.

Coen Young’s Study for a Mirror 1 and 2 (March)

Jensen Gallery

Showing a selection of 11 artists from their international stable, the Jensen group included paintings by Australians Tomislav Nikolic, Aida Tomescu, Coen Young and Jude Rae. A confusing colour field work from German artist Günter Umberg made the viewer work hard – in a good way.

My pick: Coen Young’s Study for a Mirror 1 and 2 (March).

Chris Bond, Bergt vin leir ri agsteroch, 2016

This is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery

The display at this Melbourne proved to be all about temptation. Viewers had to resist the urge to pull from the wall one of Chris Bond’s oh-so-real ‘books’, or to check the price written underneath Kirsten Coelho’s delicate porcelain objects that rested on a table and looked like enamel ware at a market stall.

My pick: Chris Bond, Bergt vin leir ri agsteroch, 2016

Rob McHaffie, We just felt a connection, we clicked, 2016

Darren Knight Gallery

In the Discoveries platform for emerging artists, DKG had a successful time with Ronnie Van Hout’s sculpture of a kneeling boy/man Empty Doorway, 2016 requiring constant guarding from mobile-phone wielding visitors. Melbourne’s Rob McHaffie created a popular new series of colourful ambiguous paintings worked in larger scale than his regular style.

My pick: [Speaking of mobile phones], Rob McHaffie, We just felt a connection, we clicked, 2016.

Dominik Mersch

Over at Art Central, it was a whole lot less serious with most gallerists bouncing around and excited at the VIP opening night. At DMG, large-scale figurative paintings by Xenia Hausner drew crowds on the night, with many not spending time to watch two new (bargain-priced) video works by Lucas Davidson.

My pick: Lucas Davidson’s Body Emulsion Surface, 2016 video was amongst the standout works at Art Central.

Hill Smith Gallery

Adelaide’s Hill Smith group exhibition comprised paintings from gallery artists Shannon Smiley, Matt R. Martin, Adrianne Strampp and Deidre But-Husaim – the former two new artists to me. Strampp showed a selection of rose-coloured landscapes while But-Husaim and Martin added to the popularity of figurative works shown by the Australian contingent generally.

My pick: Someone I’ll keep an eye on, Shannon Smiley.

Artereal Gallery

Artereal’s first showing in Hong Kong produced a range of works by gallery artists. Working across different mediums were Rebecca Bearmore, Liam Benson, Shoufay Derz, Stevie Fieldsend, Sam Holt, Owen Leong, Jess MacNeil and Louise Zhang.

My pick: Another tricky one, but on this occasion, it was Owen Leong’s set of five small sculptures Ritual Coordinates (Vitarka) 2016 – reportedly sold to a Chinese buyer – that appealed.

Oliver Watts, Self-portrait of the artist as a Country Road house model, 2016

Chalk Horse Gallery

Having flown in to stretch canvases and hang works the night before the VIP opening, the boys at Chalk Horse were a little strung out. Their well-positioned stand featured paintings in trademark primary colours by Jasper Knight as well as new research-based paintings from Oliver Watts.

My pick: Oliver Watts, Self-portrait of the artist as a Country Road house model, 2016.

M Contemporary | Art Atrium | Mars

Sadly, the doors closed at ACHK before we could view (or find) the displays at these booths. Despite our best intentions, there was no time for a second visit to Art Atrium to view paintings by David Middlebrook and Jacqueline Balassa at Art Atrium or MARS’ Daniel Agdag, Stephane Guiran, Giles Ryder and Aly Indermühl. On the other hand, Simon Pericich’s large ceiling installation of inflated black garbage bags !!!ALLTOGETHER NOW!!!’, 2017 was hard to miss at the Fair entry point. It was encouraging to note that Sydney’s M Contemporary was selected by Artsy’s Vivienne Chow as one of the 10 strongest booths for work by Lionel Smit, Mehwish Iqbal and Hannah Quinlivan.

Take away message: Australian art is amongst the cheapest art in the world. It’s also up there with the best in world terms. Buy up now!

Until next year…

Sharne Wolff

One Comments

  1. Fantastic article Sharne – as usual … you are right up there….
    I can read and enjoy, AND FEEL i WAS THERE – even though not attending..


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