Galleries weigh in on Hong Kong’s post pandemic art scene

At long last, the city’s biggest art events are poised to return to pre-pandemic normalcy. Zaneta Cheng talks to several leading gallerists about what to expect and what they’re most excited for

Ram Han, Journey of Cookie Dough, 2013. Photo: Whistle

Hong Kong has finally opened up to the world after three years of COVID hibernation and that means some of the city’s most glittering events are also gearing up for a return in full force. With artists and collectors around the world all now able to fly in for Art Basel and Art Central and their associated champagne-soaked viewings and parties, it seems like pre-COVID normalcy is back for good. So, what do the key players in Hong Kong’s art scene, some of whom haven’t been able to visit their international counterparts and vice versa for three years, think of this newly reopened city and its place in the ever-changing global art landscape today?

Yuko Nasaka, Untitled, 1965. Photo: Axel Vervoordt Gallery

Patricia Crockett, senior director at David Zwirner Hong Kong, is excited for the international community’s arrival in town. “Hong Kong continues to be an ideal base for us in Asia and this year, we’re also excited to celebrate the Hong Kong gallery’s fifth anniversary! The city’s art scene continues to be robust with a growing diversity of institutions such as M+, K11, Tai Kwun and Parasite, alongside a wide range of galleries and art fairs, which have been presenting significant exhibitions featuring local and international artists over the past few years,” she says. “The major international auction houses have also been expanding with new headquarters located in the city.
With the city now fully open, we’re confident Hong Kong’s art market will continue its strong and important position on the global landscape.”

The New York-headquartered gallery is featuring LA-based artist Jordan Wolfson at this year’s Art Basel, where they will present three new wall-mounted plywood and aluminium works featuring images of iconic figures and stock photos from pop and vernacular culture. It’s an exploration of the sometimes incongruous relationship between imagery and media, and the effects of this tension on society today.

The heft of the artist reflects the optimism Crockett expresses for Hong Kong as a globally relevant art hub
in Asia. “This will be the first time in a few years that a significant number of visitors will be able to attend as
well. I’m sure there will be tremendous energy in the city and we’re expecting many of our art world colleagues, fellow gallerists and collectors to be in town from abroad. Everyone is looking forward to experiencing this vibrant and lively city in person once again and we are delighted to show what great hosts we in Hong Kong are in turn.”

Alice Wang, Untitled, 2023. Photo: Capsule Shanghai

Shasha Tittmann, director at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong, is similarly optimistic. Like Zwirner, Lehmann Maupin is bringing Tammy Nguyen to Art Basel for an artist talk in addition to unveiling a new, large-scale painting by the artist before her first solo exhibition with the gallery opens March 23 in Seoul.

“The art market remains robust with the recent opening of M+ museum and the return of the first international
Art Basel Hong Kong since 2019. The Hong Kong art scene will contribute tremendously to drawing tourism and international collectors back this year,” Tittmann says. “We are so looking forward to seeing international visitors and artists coming back into town and being able to host large-scale events again.”

But the pandemic, for all its stops and false starts, has given the city’s own talent a boost. Boris Vervoordt, who speaks to me from a car in between gallery visits in Mexico City, says, “The pandemic made the team very much aware of the importance of local interaction because that was the only option. We asked our curator to think of a few artists from Hong Kong for a group show so we could give artists from the city a platform.”

Also see: Art Central: Making art the central focus

Through this group exhibition, the Axel Vervoordt gallery in Hong Kong met Jaffa Lam. Lam has since joined the gallery’s roster as its first Hong Kong artist and, following her Chasing an Elusive Nature exhibition at the gallery which lasted between October of last year to January of this one, she will be presenting her site-specific installation Trolley Party in Art Basel’s Encounters section. The piece grapples with the issues of Lam’s home city, suspending a 14m patchwork made from recycled umbrella fabric, which is then connected to the extensions of six sculptures made of industrial trolleys that Lam transformed into chairs. The work is meant to highlight issues of labour, identity and collectivism.

“I’m very much interested in artists that have a very strong wish to make the world better and kind of make protest and be part of the political experience but at the same moment to do so in an absolutely non-violent way,” Vervoordt explains of the decision behind adding Lam to Axel Vervoordt’s stable of artists. “That’s what I think is so important about her, the standpoint that she takes.”

Tammy Nguyen, My Guide and I, 2023. Photo: Lehmann Maupin

Earlier in the year, the gallery invited Lam to Antwerp for research. The artist’s research leaned towards “the
idea of the two harbour cities being interconnected”, says Vervoordt. “The conversations were very inspirational because immediately she went into the history and the historic, anthropological museums of the city in order to understand the local culture better and it was very moving how she saw certain local experiences.”

So perhaps, with this, it may just be as Tittmann observes: “I think [this year’s Art Basel] will be like no time was lost. Hong Kong has been missed. It has more to offer than before the pandemic.” And by all accounts, anybody that’s anybody in art will be here at the end of the month to see it for themselves.

Also see: What to expect at Art Basel HK this year

In this Story: #culture / #art & design