Art Basel Hong Kong

Tour Asia’s Hot Art Market

Art Basel Hong Kong

By Ingrid Chen

Art enthusiasts in Hong Kong had to wait until 2008 to quench their creative thirst. ART Hong Kong debuted that year and quickly rose to become the largest and arguably, the most important art event in Asia. Previously, many considered Hong Kong to be only a financial center, and a ‘cultural desert’. Within a few years after launching the art fair, Hong Kong was recognized as the art hub of Asia. In 2011, the art fair was acquired and rebranded as Art Basel Hong Kong (ART HK). Today, ART HK is the crown jewel of Asia’s art fairs and will take place March 24 – 26th.

The 2016 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, now in its fourth year, brings in 239 galleries. Half of the galleries are from the Asia Pacific region. Each year, after the New York Armory Show, the art world turns its eyes to Hong Kong in March. The Art Basel brand combined with the potential of the Asia market, pulls in top galleries from around the world. Each gallery brings their best, or most sellable artists, to attract collectors in the region. Many galleries use the fair to test the water, before setting up their branches in Hong Kong.

But what makes Hong Kong the ideal location for such a fair? Some dealers praise the efficiency and convenience of Hong Kong’s infrastructure, logistics, and international connectivity. Fluency in English is another advantage. Hong Kong also boasts being the third largest art market by auction sales. International auction houses such as Sotheby’s, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and Christie’s will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. Chinese auction houses such as Poly and Guardian have also followed suit by setting up salerooms and offices in Hong Kong. To dealers, Hong Kong is their stepping stone to China or even the Asia market in general.

For local artists, some believe Art Basel gives them the opportunity to showcase their work to a wider audience, and they thank Art Basel for injecting energy into the Hong Kong art scene, thus changing Hong Kong’s cultural landscape into a more global scope. Others complain that Art Basel only focuses on the commercial value of art, hence making Hong Kong merely an ‘art exchange’ instead of ‘creative hub’. It is true that many collectors see Art Basel HK as their access to works by internationally renowned artist, rather than a platform to see Hong Kong’s local art. To many, Art Basel is like a bottle of good wine, it has a full body and a wonderful finish, but it does not reflect the terroir of Hong Kong. Rather, what Art Basel reflects is Hong Kong’s struggle between global competitiveness and local approval.


What to See

If you visit Hong Kong during Art Basel week, there are about 150 art-related events in town for you to discover. It is almost like a Chinese imperial feast, with all the dishes presented on the table at the same time. For a Art Basel Hong Kong newbie, it is hard find a place to start. Apart from the grand Art Basel Hong Kong fair, there are also two smaller, more intimate fairs being presented: Art Central and Asia Contemporary Art Fair. If you are tired of big ‘art department stores’, here is a list of art events that will refresh your eyes:

Kung Fu in Africa: Golden Age Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana (1985-1999) Hanart TZ Gallery, 401 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central

A selection of outstanding examples of the unique genre of hand-painted movie posters, by master African artisan-painters from Ghana. This exhibition presents a rare and singular perspective on China through these artists’ interpretations of martial arts. The exhibition is curated by Los Angeles-based specialist, Ernie Wolfe III.

Art Basil Unit S401, Block A, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central


Claiming to be ‘the smallest art fair in the world’, Art Basil has invited 9 locally based illustrators to participate. Each of them pays tribute to commercially successful artists such as Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. Without sponsorship or support from established galleries, Art Basil is trying to revise the possibilities of organizing an ‘art fair’.


HK Walls in Sham Shui Po

HK Walls is an annual street art festival, using the façade of several buildings in Sham Shui Po area as canvases. Both local and international artists showcase their works on the streets, turning Sham Shui Po into a roofless gallery.


Eat and Drink

One of the most exciting elements of traveling is to sample the local foods. Hong Kong is known to be a financial centre, an art hub, and also a culinary capital. You can easily get lost while visiting Art Basel HK, and it is equally confusing when you walk outside the Hong Kong Convention Centre looking for a place to eat, surrounding by skyscrapers that all look too similar.


A hidden gem in Shui On Centre, just across the road from the venue’s old wing, serves fusion Cantonese food without the usual fusion restaurant price tag. Most of their dishes are less than 20 USD. Many of its signature dishes took inspirations from the local cha chaan teng (tea restaurant) menu, which is the symbol of Hong Kong’s quickly disappearing past. Cha Chaan Teng could be very intimidating for visitors who can’t read Chinese, and their waiters often only communicate in Cantonese. So Kasa is a great alternative to experience the Cha Chaan Teng culture in Hong Kong, and their food not only adds finesse to the local dishes,but also a little creative twist.

I recommend ordering Arancini to start, followed by a burger, and finish with a molten duck-yolk custard lava cake, and a cup of Hong Kong milk tea in a ‘Live for Ten Thousand Years’ cup. The Arancini is similar to risotto with Cantonese claypot rice and preserved sausages, the burger features Char Siu honey roasted pork with ginger mayonnaise and a sunny-side-up fried egg (the best friend of Char Siu), encased in a local favorite - pineapple bun. The lava cake took a turn from the lava bun in dim sum menus and replaced the chocolate with duck-yolk custard. Enjoy the moment when the luscious golden custard slowly ooze out…

If reading the price lists from Art Basel HK exhibitors make you feel like a millionaire, the Wanchai dock is only a stone’s throw from the Convention Center. You can take the legendary Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour, and enjoy the six course art inspired fine dining menu, at Spring Moon in The Peninsula. At 1688 HKD (about 220 USD) per person, the chef presents dishes inspired by traditional Chinese ink painting and porcelain. Vegetables are carved into delicate mini-sculptures and every dish is a beautiful piece of edible art. They also have one of the most comprehensive lists of fine teas in town, to pair with their exquisite foods.
 Speaking of the marriage of food and art, Popsy Room and Bibo are the best examples of happy couples.
Popsy Room is branded as ‘galleristic dining’. It is a gallery by day and a restaurant by night. New and emerging artists are welcome not only to exhibit their works there, but also to create a menu that reflects the spirit of their art with the chefs. In their own words, “art on the plate meets art on the wall”. A visit to the Popsy Room is always an unique artistic experience.
Bibo on the other hand, marries high art of French cuisine with the ‘low’ art of the street, by covering their walls with hip names such as Banksy, Invader and Vhils. Their dishes are bold and beautiful, without being pretentious. Bibo also hosts happy hour from March 22nd to 25th, in Sotheby’s Gallery in Pacific Place, during the street-art exhibition titled They Would Be Kings. Cocktails inspired by Keith Haring, Invader and Vhils’, will be served.




To finish a busy day in Hong Kong, locals go to foot massage parlors to soothe their tired feet.
Happy Foot have several branches across Hong Kong Island, the closest one from Art Basel HK is the Wanchai branch in QRE Plaza. As for therapists: Ask for numbers 1, 8, 18, and 63 (my tried and tested favorite masseuses there). Happy Foot is no luxury spa resort, and they don’t speak a lot of English, but after a 198 HKD (25 USD) 60 minute session, you will feel like walking on clouds. Hong Kong never sleeps, so they are open until 1am in the morning. After the massage you can party on in Lan Kwai Fong until dawn.
Art Basel, Hong Kong will take place March 24th to 26th, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong.


Kasa, Suite 103, 1/F Shui On Centre, 6-8 Harbour Road, Wan Chai
Spring Moon, The Peninsula, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Popsy Room, 30 Upper Lascar Row, Sheung Wan
Bibo, 163 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan
Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, 5/F One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty


Ingrid Chen is a Hong Kong based translator and arts journalist.

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