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Art Basel Hong Kong highlights: The city is full of smiles

Luke Chapman

Mar 29, 2023

Hong Kong Art Month is back, aptly timed, so collectors, enthusiasts, and professionals are no longer required to wear masks in the city while attending art events or anywhere else. "Smile, and the world will smile with you." they say! All eyes around the art world were on Hong Kong’s 2023 edition of Art Basel last week and anyone with access to an Internet-enabled device could get a glimpse of what each booth at the fair had to offer from various online platforms. Here are a few highlights by eazel’s Luke Chapman, who was absorbing the preview atmosphere while filming some of the presentations for VR exhibitions.



DE SARTHE Gallery: Perceptible Escapisms, featuring new works by artists including Mak2



Home Sweet Home: Penthouse 1, 2023
© Mak2, courtesy of the artist and DE SARTHE, Hong Kong​​​



The artists at the booth of DE SARTHE explored the evolution of existence in the technological era through visual explorations of the Internet, online culture, and simulated fantasies within intangible worlds through new works by Lin Jingjing, Mak2, Wang Jiajia, Wang Xin, and Zhong Wei. With references to the self and interaction with viewers, the featured artists presented commentary and introspective investigation into the different perceptions of art. 


Mak2, in particular, focuses on the contrast between reality and fantasy, as she depicts the life simulation video game “The Sims”, which creates a customized fantasy without the burdens and obstacles of reality. Her new subseries of paintings, Home Sweet Home: Doll House series recalls childhood memories of playing with a doll house while exploring the growing desire for leisure and respite from contemporary urban life. Mak2’s avatar lounges amongst other Sims characters atop a glittering and shining rooftop pool, but the impossible architecture surrounding them reminds viewers of the discrepancies between reality and fantasy.




Catinca Tabacaru Gallery: Vashandi Vehurumende by Terrence Musekiwa



Installation view of Terrence Musekiwa's solo presentation at Art Basel Hong Kong 2023 
Courtesy of the artist and Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, New York, Bucharest, Harare 


Terrence Musekiwa, a Zimbabwean artist known for his amazing sculptures made from stone and found materials, was presented by Catina Tabacaru Gallery. With an intricate, thought-provoking, and quirky body of works, Musekiwa explored the complex relationship between ecology, freedom, and capital, especially within the context of the African continent’s current and historical involvement with the West. Titled Vashandi Vehurumende, the booth showcased 41 sculptures made from stone and old rotary phones. Each sculpture has a stone head and a phone, which the artist fused to create something truly unique. The arrangement of the sculptures suggests a governmental structure, with the leader always visible but out of reach. Taking on an archeological approach, Musekiwa transforms each material and endows each character with more profound specificity and personality. The sculptures look back at you, confronting and enacting a presence implying agency, which creates a powerful experience.




Retro Africa: Always at the edge by Victor Ehikhamenor



Victor Ehikhamenor
Ogidigàn, Knower Of Celestial Things, 2022
Courtesy of the artist and Retro Africa, Abuja



Retro Africa’s Art Basel Hong Kong inaugural, was a solo presentation by the Nigerian-American artist and writer Victor Ehikhamenor. A carefully curated series of works comprising rosaries, pieces of rosaries, and emblems of Benin deities highlighted the artist’s obsessive manipulation of the chosen materials and use of motifs within Benin culture, as well as his Catholic faith. Through his art, Ehikhamenor explores the syncretism of indigenous and imposed African and European belief systems. With a poetic approach and paying reference to Hong Kong's best-known literary figure, Leung Ping-Kwan, Ehikhamenor's works and ethos resonate heavily with Kwan's poetry, as both artists are passionate about culture maintenance and history.



“As a Nigerian coming from Benin Kingdom that was once a nation, I can totally relate to Leung Ping-Kwan because of the way he saw and uplifted Hong Kong, and as a poet operating from the perspective of the fringes.”

Victor Ehikhamenor



Ora-Ora: Group presentation including Stephen Thorpe, Joseph Tong, and Xiao Xu



Installation view of Ora-Ora’s group presentation at Art Basel Hong Kong 2023
Courtesy of each artist and Ora-Ora, Hong Kong



Ora-Ora presented an exciting line-up of artists for its participation, including Halley Cheng, Sophie Cheung, Henry Chu, Peng Jian, Juri Markkula, Mai Miyake, Stephen Thorpe, Joseph Tong, Xiao Xu, and Zhang Yanzi, each artist bringing a unique perspective and style to the booth. An original gallery, old school in terms of the Hong Kong art scene, Ora-Ora holds true as a pioneer of web3, NFT, and digital artwork representation in recent years as well as being known for their work with contemporary and traditional artists over the previous 20 years and more.


Stephen Thorpe's work explores the boundaries between cultures and traditions, often using patterns and symbols to create artworks that evoke art historical or mythical themes. His pieces are often inspired by the forms and structures found in nature but are infused with a sense of the otherworldly and the fantastical. Joseph Tong's work focuses on the intersection of art and technology, often incorporating elements of digital media characterized by the use of vibrant colors and geometric forms, and often explores the relationship between physical and virtual space. Xiao Xu's work is deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture, often drawing inspiration from ancient texts and mythological figures. Through her work, Xiao seeks to explore the ways in which traditional Chinese art can be reinterpreted and reimagined for a contemporary audience, through intricate detail and the use of materials such as silk, paper, and ink. 




Whistle: Solo presentation of Ram Han



Installation view of Ram Han's solo presentation at Art Basel Hong Kong 2023 
©️ Ram Han, Whistle, Seoul



Whistle presented the thought-provoking and visually stunning Bye Bye Meat (2023) by Ram Han, among other works. Han explores the concept of communication and how it is often hindered by language and cultural barriers. The booth showcased various works, including paintings, sculptures, and installations, all imbued with Han's trademark wit and intelligence. Han creates comparisons through a deluge of imagery generated by Artificial Intelligence. This is an insightful observation that resonates with the current technological age. One piece that really stood out was a sculpture of a megaphone made entirely out of soap, which Han describes as a representation of the fleeting nature of words, an insightful observation that resonates with the current technological age. It's exciting to see artists like Han examines the capabilities of AI and its potential impact on the art world as we continue to innovate and learn to coexist with the AI-integrated world.



In summary, Art Basel Hong Kong 2023 was an exciting time and this year's edition did not disappoint. From the impressive range of artists represented, not just by the mega galleries, but by galleries like DE SARTHE and Ora-Ora captivating the visitors, claiming the dynamic art-world climate there was perhaps missing in pre-pandemic years. However, as the industry continues to evolve, it is important that we push for more diverse and nuanced coverage that genuinely reflects the breadth and depth of the art produced today.