On the Scene: Hong Kong Arts Week 2015

Courtesy Maria Brito

Interior designer and lifestyle guru Maria Brito recaps a week spent roaming the city’s local art scene and touring the buzzy, third annual international art fair.

This past week marked the third annual edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, which brought more than 230 contemporary and modern art galleries from around the world under the same roof. A dynamic, fast-paced city that feels both international and decidedly unique, Hong Kong was truly the perfect venue to host Art Basel’s Asian iteration.

I’ve attended the last 14 iterations of Art Basel Miami Beach as an art collector (and as a consultant the past six), and this young counterpart of the now well-established Swiss and American art fairs struck me as a bona fide celebration of Asian art and artists. Of course, the fair organizers took great pride in making sure that about half of the galleries selected were from Asian countries. I had never seen so many Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara, and Takashi Murakami pieces together in one place. (Takashi himself was also at the fair, taking care of his own brand at the "Kakai Kiki" booth.) I also came across other extraordinary talents I wasn’t familiar with, including Indonesian couple Indieguerilla who, with their colorful geometric canvases, explore current topics like the intersection of technology and isolation in modern societies. 

But there was more to see around town than the hundreds of works on view at the Convention Center. The week of the fair has been baptized "Hong Kong Arts Week" and the entire city seemed to rise to the occasion, from clothing stores to galleries and museums. 

Parallel fairs Art Central Hong Kong and the Asian Art Fair provided a nice foil to Art Basel in price and in the range of works showcased, veering more toward emerging art. The Asia Society—whose building, surrounded by a forest of exotic trees, is worth the visit alone—hosted Yoshitomo Nara's solo show Life is Only One. The exhibition, which recounts Nara's feelings in connection with Tokyo's 2011 earthquake and the fragility of life, was truly moving. 

Galleries in the iconic Pedder Building offered a variety of excellent exhibits: Gagosian hosted a fantastic solo show of Rudolf Stingel's nickel-and-gold-plated inscribed wall pieces; Lehmann Maupin presented Alex Prager's first solo photography show in Hong Kong; Pearl Lam exhibited a group show with leading Chinese artists; and Simon Lee Gallery put on a gorgeous show of mirrors by the acclaimed Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoleto. And on Connaught Road, White Cube exhibited Beatriz Milhazes's exuberant kaleidoscopic collages and paintings, while Galerie Perrotin had a solo show by Gregor Hildebrand and a preview of a video created by JR. 

Exhibition space Para-Site, which is known for championing local emerging artists, had just opened a show exploring the feelings of chaos, inadequacy, shame, and confusion felt by Chinese people throughout years of communist regimes, separations, British domination, and the final handover of Hong Kong in 1997. It was a fascinating, albeit highly edited, glimpse into the minds of China's younger talents. 

Other highlights included a nighttime rooftop flower market hosted by Marni with a special light installation by Italian artist Massimo Bartolini, as well as numerous private events in large terraces overlooking the harbor.

But after five intense days of taking in art, mingling with the locals, walking the streets that connect this vertical city, and absorbing everything I could about this pulsing and fascinating metropolis, it was time to go home. Thankfully, there’s plenty for me to mull over until next year.

Maria Gabriela Brito is an award-winning interior designer, author, curator and authority on why, where, when and how to display and mix contemporary art and interior design in any environment.