Hong Kong Art Fair 2012

HK Art Fair 2012

At the entrance were large psychedelic spotted flowers. A giant animated red plastic lotus was opening and closing in the distance. Two identically slender girls, exactly the same tanned skin colour, each wearing strapless golden yellow mini dresses, ran down the aisle on high wedge heels, matching each other step for step, their identical ponytails swaying identically, animated Barbie dolls.  They were speaking Russian.   Crowds of people were shovelling and walking over the sand/ salt that was surrounding unprotected pink baby animals lying on small piles of soft hair: most of them were photographing the hideless creatures from every angle.

The last of these, “I sleep on top of myself” by Shen Shaomin, was a genuine emotion stirrer: with “Planet Earth Live” airing on TV this week as well though, I couldn’t linger- enough defenceless creatures facing harsh worlds- but felt glad people were interacting with it in the same way I’m glad the SPCA exists. Kusama’s Flowers that Bloom at Midnight were reminiscent of both a children’s playground and poisonous mushrooms, both funny and toxic. The rising and falling lotus, unfortunately just reminded me of the hilarious inflatable bouncy castle scene in “Pheonix Nights”.

The twin golden Barbie dolls? They weren’t an installation; they were Veuve girls, perhaps rushing to get more bubbly supplies.

As usual at the Hong Kong Art Fair, I seem to get distracted by the people. The customers: “He said to me ‘Darling, you can buy anything you like, as long as you can explain what it means.’” The early teen advising her parents to buy one of a series of paintings, each showing a textured primary-coloured tulip painted on a shellacked FT pink stock listing page. They were selling quickly, she told them. Tulip fever indeed.  The booth assistants or whatever they term themselves: I think of them as stallholders, as that’s what they are, albeit power-dressed and coiffed. Speaking French or other European languages, the men all seem to wear uber-designed glasses and know everybody. The hoi-polloi like me, part of the growing body of non-buying visitors, stopping at images, sometimes not sure whether to snort in derision or to make more effort.

Again, this year’s souvenir recyclable bag makes a dig at the economic motive: “Money creates taste”. I guess it’s enigmatic. People are going to respond to it by agreeing, only their intonation will differ.

The whole thing is very tiring since there’s no order to it, just stall after stall. And because the assistants are too classy to shout their wares, the pictures have to do it for them, which may be why there’s so much pop art. A lot of shouty, primary-coloured shiny goods, hoping to attract the magpies of Asia.

That’s why it was so surprising that one of the things that caught my eye was a painting “The start of the film”, I think it was called, by George Shaw. Perhaps  it benefitted from the “small unprotected animal syndrome”: it seemed so unassuming among its neighbours, but it had both glow and depth, intensity. It’s the first one I’ve seen in real life and I’m glad to have noticed it, as it was an uncanny and slightly unnerving mix of reality and magic.

Things I liked otherwise:

Traditional oil painting by Kevin Cosgrove- paintings of garage interiors with their fabulous colours and compositions.


Song Hyun Sook’s paintings in tempera on canvas, using only one or two brushstrokes. Lee Ufan’s “Dialogue” works, which were cropping up all over in different manifestations. Farhan Siki’s spraypainted scenes with dots and splats I didn’t like in themselves but enjoyed their proximity to and possible satire on the Damien Hirst spots. I was interested to see a painting from David Hockney’s recent works, of a pink garden shed, but found it uninspiring. On the other hand, his older lithograph, The Master Printer, which includes a screen print, I thought was beautiful. Perhaps it was overload, but  I found myself drawn to simple, linear, monochromatic works, such as David Nash’s sculptures in burned and blackened wood. And repetitive patterns- Chen Guangwa’s patterns in ink on scrolls were lovely. I loved the Boetti exhibit of images made using negative space in repeated patterns made with ballpoint pen. Less is more- unless it’s more Hirst spots.

I was kind of on the look-out for prints, and the exhibit of woodcuts by Ma Desheng was interesting, with his use of geometric images and the symbolic potential of black and white. Seeing Gary Hume’s lino cuts up close was quite awesome, now I know more about the process. Ian Davenport’s monoprints were also incredible- looking so much like delicate watercolours, it was amazing to discover that they were actually using chine colle.

I was also interested in pictures using text- the William Kentridge pictures and animations were amazing pieces of storytelling. Tsang Kin-wah perhaps was speaking to the lady with the indulgent husband with his swirling florals made of foul-mouthed rants: “Fucking Art”. I liked Jaume Plensa’s use of multilingual characters in mixed media creations.

New ideas I got from the fair: use of everyday tools such as ballpoint pens as in the Boetti pictures. Cut out shapes: people were very taken with the various intricate jigsaw pictures on show, but I was more taken with the cut-out messages by Australian photo artist Martin Smith, everyday messages and personal reflections which became very moving by their inhabiting a negative space made by incising them from photos. (The assistant was nice and friendly: in the Art Fair semiotic, perhaps this indicates a not so established artist. But it added to the feeling of sincerity that was striking in this particular booth.)  Stitching into a picture: as in the prints and paintings by Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh.  A new idea I prefer to forget about: the use of wax and hair in the picture and sculptures by a Turkish artist, whose name I haven’t noted.

So that’s it for the fair again. A mixture of inspiration and disgust. But there’s a Picasso exhibition just opened, which should be a calmer, curated experience.