I made my first trip to Hong Kong to visit ART HK 12, the 5th iteration of the fair, recently majority purchased by ART Basel. Now there is Basel Miami, Basel Switzerland, and Basel Hong Kong, a concept similar to that of Disney theme parks in Los Angeles, Orlando, Paris and Hong Kong (which I didn’t know existed till now). Maybe Switzerland should be next in line for a Disney franchise; it seems to fit the correlation. Nothing quite prepares you for long haul flights, from London about 11.5 – 12.5 hours, though the trip cost a friend nearly 18 hours from New York, so one shouldn’t be heard to complain too much. A drawback worth grumbling about was the passenger adjacent to me who coughed for much of the duration of the trip. It’s a status-laden cattle call to board a plane with your art world brethren and see who goes left (1st class) and who goes right (business and beyond) in the politics of plane seating. I brought along a pile of newspapers and weekend supplements I had been stockpiling for months that must have added 10 kilos to my luggage.
With a 7-hour time difference, after sleeping the night and getting off a plane into darkness was like walking into the film Groundhog Day. What was even more unsettling upon disembarkation was encountering a heat station: a checkpoint manned by a crew clad in surgical masks, and armed with devices collectively taking the temperature of all passengers entering Hong Kong (HK). I was sure I would set off alarm bells from being: a) hot under the collar due to the annoyance of sitting with to Mr. Cough-y; or b) from having caught consumption along the way. I awoke the following morning jetlagged at the crack of dawn to a glorious harbor view, which would be the first and only glimmer of sunshine (and visibility) for the week; though admittedly, after 8 years in the UK, its hard to find rain daunting.
Sometimes these hectic excursions go so quickly I forget (neglect) to observe my surroundings, but encircled by so many hyper-high-rises, HK is certainly a city of views, to be…well, viewed. Though with the weather, most buildings were submerged in clouds for much of the time. In my office in London I see a horizontal sliver of daylight through a narrow strip, hence I often found it hard to leave the hotel room in which you could even observe the harbor while sitting on the toilet. If you had the propensity to peep, the room came with binoculars. I must admit I’d be a blob if I lived in HK—it’s hard to get out of a chair when there’s so much action just outside the window. There are a series of crisscrossing, elevated walkways in a city where they are not big on sidewalks, which I wonder is due to the rain all the time. The roads are dense with a constant torrent of traffic, which reminded me of a philosophy professor who equated such a scenario in a Thomas Mann short story to symbolizing streams of ejaculation. As all of the taxis are red, you see few if any red cars.
I personally gave up on booths long ago, so now find myself attempting to sell my wares aisle-to-aisle, or perhaps I will be reduced to spreading out on a blanket in front of a convention center near you. On the opening of the fair I lasted a respectable 5 hours on my feet, no easy task with such visual overload. Once you get a rhythm going, I found myself not wanting to stop for a pee like I was stuck in a hellish art world version of a self-help group. My first impression was that it was refreshing to see the healthy intermix of Asian galleries from throughout the region, rather than yet another humdrum hodgepodge of more of the same, a formula that grows more tedious by the day with the influx of fairs. For some odd reason, at least five times strolling along I was asked: “What are you doing here?” I’d have thought it might have been more obvious—I am in the art business and this is an art fair. I was even asked if I was attending by myself, as if that wasn’t such a wise idea not to be accompanied by a chaperone.Continue Reading