The eyes of the international art world are on Hong Kong this week, according to Charles Ross. On Monday and Tuesday, two important fairs – Art Central then Art Basel – will open to visitors, kicking off one of the city’s most culturally vibrant and commercially feverish weeks of the year.
Ross is managing director of Art Central, which is now in its third edition with a new title sponsor, UOB. He promises a strong line-up of galleries, artworks and lifestyle content: “Everything has really moved on, and we’ve taken a big step up this year.”
Highlights include a Projects sector dealing with large-scale installations and curated by Jims Lam Chi Hang, an honoree of Forbes’ inaugural 30 under 30 Asia list; a collaboration with Swarovski and sound artist Yuri Suzuki; and a bespoke on-site restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Philippe Orrico. Art Central will also launch its first community outreach program, targeting underprivileged youth in Hong Kong.
The fair, held in purpose-built tents on the Central Harborfront, is often seen as a satellite offering to establishment giant Art Basel, although no official partnership exists between the two. “Our aim was to do anything but overlap,” explains Ross. “We’re trying to create our own niche that is younger and edgier. It’s a different experience and a voyage of discovery.”
A notable focus of Art Central 2017 is on non-traditional categories of contemporary art such as performance, moving image and sound. “[Galleries have] become braver in terms of introducing more and more different art forms to Hong Kong,” Ross observes, adding that back in 2008, it was a challenge even to sell photography in a market raised on traditional painting and sculpture.
Mikala Tai, director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, a Sydney-based non-profit that has helped to develop the fair’s first dedicated performance schedule, describes Art Central’s ethos as “risk-taking, engaged and forward thinking.”
Tai says, “For many people, the art fairs in Hong Kong may be the only time they interact with contemporary art. It’s most likely these people would never seek out a performance piece so, by working with Art Central, we’re able to work with new audiences.”
4A will showcase pieces by five of the region’s most compelling artists, including Cambodian provocateur Anida Youe Ali, whose Red Chador marches will explore themes of otherness and civil disobedience in light of recent political events.
Art Central’s moving image sector, titled MEDIA X MUMM, is curated by Linda C.H. Lai, who is an associate professor of intermedia arts at the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Creative Media.
Lai explains that her platform will focus on single-channel video works, drawing on Hong Kong’s rich history in experimental cinema and “celebrating exploration within the digital realm.” She has also selected a program of film and photography works by British artists Guy Sherwin and Lynn Loo.
Ross was part of the team that set up Hong Kong’s first art fair, ART HK, in 2008. Its success led Art Basel to acquire a majority stake in 2011, completing the buyout in 2014.
The heavyweight brand, which also holds annual events in Basel, Switzerland and Miami Beach, launched its first Hong Kong edition in 2013. Post-acquisition, says Ross, the idea had always been to return to Hong Kong with a parallel fair.
In 2015, Art Central arrived with its white marquees and street-food stalls offering a fresher, hipper take on the art fair experience as a whole. Of last year’s 100-plus participating galleries, 75% were from the Asia-Pacific region and the event welcomed more than 32,000 collectors, curators and art enthusiasts.
Ross expects to surpass that number this year, with a fair he describes as “the best yet. Full stop.”