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Dancing on Unlimited Waves: Eazel's Encounter with Art Basel Hong Kong 2018

Amy Gahyun Lee

Apr 09, 2018

As they've spread fast on social media you’ve likely already seen pictures of Jeff Koons in his signature pose next to Bluebird Planter (2010-2016) in David Zwirner’s booth at the sixth edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. Having attracted 80,000 art lovers from around the globe, the fair closed last Saturday with the news ringing throughout the art world that Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XII (1975) sold within the first hour of the fair for $35 million by Lévy Gorvy.


The outstanding sales performance of this year’s fair aside, it’s worth stopping to appreciate how the artists who continue to drive the art world forward still do so according to their own projects. In particular it’s worth unpacking the overarching project of Alexie Glass-Kantor—the curator of the institutional-scale installation project of Art Basel Hong Kong since 2015—who invited the art world to experience twelve ambitious projects in ‘Encounters.’


Focusing on the literal meaning of ‘Encounters,’ this year’s curatorial section in Hong Kong consisted of twelve projects that invited the audience to engage with them in both a direct as well as the profound sense. Exhibiting a theatrical quality some works required fairgoers’ active participation while others mimicked and responded to the flux of the crowd.


Included in the twelve projects were nine works created especially for Hong Kong as proudly emphasized by the curator—Alexie Glass-Kantor—during the media reception. Showcased in the four hallways of two exhibition floors and surrounded by the participating galleries’ diverse presentations, these site-specific works presented alongside four celebrated art historical pieces—within the context of an art fair—aimed to subvert the conventional art fair platform.



Ulla von Brandenburg, 7 Curtains, 2017, Presented by Pilar Corrias and Meyer Riegger
Image © Art Basel



The first work that was to be encountered on the first floor of the exhibition was a new site-specific work by Ulla von Brandenburg (b.1974), 7 Curtains (2017, presented jointly by Pilar Corrias and Meyer Riegger). It reflected the artist’s interests in both theatre as well as the absurd. A large painted temporary structure in the shape of seven curtains invited the audience to walk through it and created something of an odd, theatrical stage, blurring the boundary between reality and illusion.


Erwin Wurm’s (b.1954) remarkable stage piece, One Minute Sculptures (2000-2018, presented jointly by Lehmann Maupin, Thaddaeus Ropac and König Galerie) probably received the most attention during the fair. On a pedestal that the artist had installed in the center of exhibition hall participants would assume the roles of living sculptures acting according to a manual that would instruct them to raise a big Jellycat bunny over their heads or lift a paper in collaboration with another participant. (See below)



Erwin Wurm, One Minute Sculptures, 2000-2018, presented jointly by Lehmann Maupin, Thaddaeus Ropac and König Galerie
Image © Art Basel



Taiwanese artist, Chou Yu-Cheng's (b.1975) work (Refresh, Sacrifice, New Hygiene, Infection, Clean, Robot, Air, Housekeeping, www.agentbong.com, Cigarette, Dyson, Modern People, 2017, presented by Edouard Malingue) also featured layers of performance and theatricality. While an electronic cleaning robot would move across a stage—symbolizing the labor of machines—an actress would be washing large-scale dishes on the stage with another actor poetically reciting the product description beside the gigantic Dyson air purifiers. (See below)


On the third floor, there was Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan’s (b.1965, b.1962, respectively) kinetic, site-specific installation, Left Wing Project (Belok Kiri Jalan Terus) (2017-2018, presented by Yavuz). It featured seven moving wings counterbalanced by rice sacks. In contrast with the intense atmosphere inside the room, ironically it created relaxed feeling within the exhibition hall as it portrayed the delicate relationship between the audience and their movements. The installation was part of the duo’s ongoing project exploring ‘the mass migration of marginalized people and contested borders’, created in collaboration with farmers from Yogyakarta, Indonesia.



Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, Left Wing Project (Belok Kiri Jalan Terus), 2017-2018, presented by Yavuz
Image © Art Basel



The celebrated Aboriginal Australian artist, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu's (b.1945) abstract installation, Gäna (self) (2018, presented by Roslyn Oxley9)—inspired by Aboriginal traditional funeral custom—drew in fairgoers with its powerful, totemic presentation. According to the artist, her aim was to create a meeting point within the fair between life and death, heaven and earth, nature and artificial using her visual language. And in the shape of shrines from various cultures, this forest-like installation served as a thought-provoking backdrop to the placid, poetic movement of people passing by.


Besides the works described above, Jorge Pardo’s installation, Untitled (2009-2017, presented by neugerriemschneider)—a sophisticated study of space—Suboda Gupta’s glittering sushi-belt sculpture, Start.Stop. (2008, presented by Arario)—presenting how food has traveled throughout time and across the world—and Ryan Gander's Potent motif of ambition (Dramaturgical framework for structure and stability) (2018, presented by Lisson Gallery)—a large armature figure with a corps of miniatures—all these works engaged the audience on the first floor of the exhibition hall.


Shinji Ohmaki’s kinetic piece, Liminal Air Space-Time (2018, presented by Mind Set) describing the illusion of air—undoubtedly the most popular post on Instagram during the fair and Sri Lanka-born, Sydney based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s ‘Mud Men’ Volume II (2017, presented by Sullivan + Strumpf) creating new age Idols that reflected current issues of our time, Iván Navarro’s Compressions (2018, presented by Paul Kasmin Gallery) consisted of two pieces, Flatlands (2018) and Tuning (2015) and Toshikatsu Endo’s 11 meter boat-shaped sculpture carved from wood (Void-Wooden Boat, Hong Kong, 2009-2018, presented by SCAI The Bathhouse) also occupied parts of the other floor.



Ryan Gander, Potent motif of ambition (Dramaturgical framework for structure and stability), 2018, presented by Lisson Gallery
Image © Art Basel


Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, ‘Mud Men’ Volume II, 2017, presented by Sullivan + Strumpf
Image © Art Basel



As of late art fairs have been making it a point to showcase the unique overarching curatorial project of the events themselves. Unlimited is the pioneering platform that Art Basel has presented since 2000 inviting galleries to showcase monumental sculptures, video projections, and site-specific installations of their representative artists in a way that promotes both the institutions as well as the featured artists. There are also various side-curatorial events held during the fair and Art Basel’s 14 Rooms, directed by Klause Biesenbach and Hans-Ulrich Obrist in 2014 (in collaboration with Foundation Beyeler and Theater Basel), which consisted of 14 rooms of 16 celebrated artists entirely devoted to performance art would be a good example.


Circling back to the subject of platforms, we step back to question the overarching project of the fair as a curation project for market platforms. Existing outside the conventional framework for art exhibitions it would seem that in this case the organizers were seeking to compel us to question that which we were expecting to encounter at an art fair. People no longer go to the fairs simply to sell and purchase the artworks like buying commodities. They go for many reasons: To collect artworks. To track new and emerging artists. To run into old friends. To network. To flaunt their wealth and social status. Whatever the reasons may be, one thing is for sure: They participate in the fair to become immersed in the contemporary art scene as it exists live and in the moment.



Subodh Gupta, Cooking the World, 2017, Unlimited, Art Basel, Basel, presented by Galleria Continua, Hauser & Wirth
Image © Art Basel



Alexie Glass-Kantor’s curatorial statement sums up the experience quite nicely: ‘Encounters asks us to have close contact with rituals and performances; to ask ourselves what we encounter when we encounter art?’


And there is a new way of to experience the 2018 edition of Encounters. Now you can become immersed in the fair with EAZEL’s VR archiving and share it with your friends who couldn’t be there. We have preserved the experience in time as we believe art is always alive!

Art Basel Hong Kong 2018


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