Chinese Artists at 2013 Art Basel Hong Kong

By Chiu-Ti Jansen

HONG KONG - Contemporary artists were the first global jetsetters in China, way before international travel became vogue in their country. Given their constant travel schedules, these days it is rare to see a dozen established artists gathered in the same room in China. On May 22, the day of the VIP preview for the 2013 Art Basel Hong Kong, Artsy threw a dinner party at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre that drew Kate Moss and many Hong Kong high society notables. is an online platform that deploys an “art genome” technology to connect prospective buyers to artworks based on their personal taste, boasting a roster of luminary investors that include Wendi Murdoch, Dasha Zhukova and Larry Gagosian.

Wendi Murdoch with painter Li Songsong, whose works are shown at Pace.

I enjoyed seeing Kate Moss, but the main draw of the event for me was the congregation of many bold-faced names from the Chinese art world: Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang, Li Songsong, Yan Pei-Ming, Zhou Chunya, Ye Yongqing.

David Chu, founder of Nautica and currently Cochairman and CEO of Georg Jensen, which co-underwrote the Artsy event, pictured with artist Ye Yongqing.

The presence of these artists was also felt at the fair. For instance, Gagosian Gallery is showing Zeng Fanzhi’s recent work To Be Titled (2013), with dramatic brushwork depicting overgrown web-like grass reaching the red-yellow sky that simulates the colors of China’s national flag.

Zeng Fanzhi’s To Be Titled (2013), shown at the Gagosian Gallery’s booth.

Pace showcases Zhang Xiaogang’s recent paintings and sculptures at the fair.

During the VIP preview, I got to chat with Zhang Xiaogang. Zhang’s latest paintings and new sculptural works were prominently displayed at Pace’s booth. After the fair opened to the public, he spoke at a fair-sponsored ancillary event called “Conversation: The Artist and the Gallerist” with Pace Beijing President Leng Lin.  He told me that his primary objective of this trip was to “see the fair.”

Zeng Fanzhi and I in a photo taken by Lorenz Helbling, proprietor of ShanghART Gallery and H-Space that represents Zeng in Shanghai.

The presence of many contemporary Western artworks at once in China must be a stark contrast to the days when Zhang Xiaogang came of age in his arts education, with very limited access to reproductions of Western works let alone original pieces.

When Zhang Huan darted into White Cube’s booth which shows his Sea No. 14, he wore his signature baseball cap and took the time for an impromptu photo call. At Pace, he is showing Heart to Heart Talk (2008), an ash on linen painting depicting a Mao-suited young man (with family resemblance to the artist) having an intimate conversation with a young woman. His ash sculpture Sudden Awakening No. 1 (2010), displayed at Seoul-based Hakgojae Gallery, shows a half-buried head being lifted by a strand of metal wire. A spiritually engaged Buddhist, Zhang Huan has used ash of burned incense collected at Buddhist temples to construct paintings, sculptures and installations. An awakening in Buddhist terms refers to a state of the mind that is utterly freed from any worldly entanglement. Some Buddhist sutras compare a sudden enlightenment to having purified oil poured onto one’s head.

Zhang Huan with Matt Carey-Williams of White Cube in front of his Sea No. 14 (2012).

Liu Wei visited the booths of Lehmann Maupin and Long March Space, where his works show that an ordinary object such as a wooden door can be decomposed and reassembled into an abstract painterly sculpture. This process of de-familiarization embodies the essence of an aesthetic experience. As suggested by the title Exotic Lands, his reconstructed door sculptures turn into foreign places by virtue of the artistic process.

Liu Wei in front of his Exotic Lands No. 13 (2013) at Lehmann Maupin.

And one did not only see Chinese artists at the fair. Today, I ran into Yue Minjun at a hotel taxi queue. He told me that he had just arrived and planned to check out the fair tomorrow. Although he may have missed some parties, I think he could still take in the feeling of being at an international art fair in China.

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