Art and the pearl of the Orient

95-hong-kong Asia’s world city: Hong Kong

Not so long ago when I was in Hong Kong, I could see the West Kowloon District across from where I was—the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Past the Victoria Harbour, the skyline and across the bay, in the distance, on reclaimed land, one could see a huge signage that screamed M+.

M+ is home to a future world of culture. Funded totally by the government, the site is being developed into one of the most buzzing areas for culture in the world with parks, museums, theatres, exhibition spaces, food courts and other commercial spaces that speak nothing but culture. The idea germinated in 2008, with an upfront endowment of $21.6 billion. The project is taking off in phases, with most of the spaces for cultural activity already in place and one of the most spectacular operas taking off last year at its opera house. The total cost of M+ is expected to be more than $63 billion. It is expected that the authorities would make nearly $100 billion from the commercial activities alone that would sustain the cultural spaces and activities within.

On my return to Kerala, I imagined Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi from the other side of the backwaters, Vypin. Well, in comparison to Kowloon Cultural Hub, it is only a drop in the ocean, and revolves around a single event, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. However, we had created borderless and non-hierarchical expositions with minuscule amounts compared with any other international operations. But, a fruitful beginning has been made.

Going back to Hong Kong, I have been attending the last three iterations of Art Basel Hong Kong, and I am always eager to see the wide range of contemporary art from around the world one gets to see there. Especially ‘Encounter’, which as I have mentioned earlier, is a large-scale project commissioned by Art Basel Hong Kong and is curated by Alexie Glass Kantor, director of Artspace, Sydney. This time she had invited 16 artists, one of whom was Subodh Gupta.

One of my duties at Art Basel Hong Kong is to be part of a jury to shortlist and later select a winner from among the individual projects shown by the 23 galleries participating in the ‘Discoveries’ sections of the events.

We have shortlisted three artists for this year’s BMW Art Journey —Los Angeles-based artist Gala Porras-Kim, Lahore-based Ali Kazim (represented by Jhaveri Contemporary, Kazim drew a lot of attention) and Berlin-based New Zealander Zac Langdon-Pole. Each artist will be invited to submit a proposal for an artistic project that involves a journey to anywhere in the world.

This edition of Art Basel HK had a large Indian participation compared with the earlier years—Chemould Presscot, Espace, Experimenter, Jhaveri Contemporary, Nature Morte, Sakshi, SKE, Vadehra, Tarq, and Icon Gallery (NY) and Kavi Gupta (Chicago) from abroad.

It was also a proud moment to attend the Asia Society’s Game Changer Awards ceremony. Asia Society is a global non-profit organisation and is a leading force in forging closer ties between Asia and the west through arts, education, policy and business outreach. This year, Asia Society honoured the artistic excellence and pioneering contributions to the arts of Subodh Gupta, Shirazeh Houshiary, Ju Ming, and Park Seo-Bo.

Like at any event of such a scale, one can do several things at Art Basel Hong Kong: attend Asia Art Archive’s Special Conversations and talks (it was good to hear the legendary Guerrilla Girls), visit some fantastic exhibitions, and curated exhibitions at the Para Site; and browse through all art magazine and art news paper stands. UBS and Davidoff VIP Lounges were ideal places to hold meetings.

Astha Butail, BMW Art Journey awardee of 2017, had a great presentation of her research and installations. She had a short conversation with Dr Thomas Girst, BMW’s global cultural head. We are truly making our presence felt on the global front. Back home? Well, that’s another story all together.