Reflections: Abstract art highlights from Art Basel Hong Kong week 2018

April 5, 2018

Featured image above: Installation view of Tan Ping’s solo exhibit with Leo Gallery at Art Basel Hong Kong 2018

 At the prestigious Art Basel Hong Kong, the giant of Hong Kong’s art fairs, there was the usual spattering of Lucio Fontana’s cut canvases and appearances by Western abstract art heavyweights. Josel Albers distinctive squares could be seen quietly hung across several galleries. Always a little understated unless one was already an admirer.

This year appears to be a revival of American Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning. Lévy Gorvy set new Art Basel Hong Kong records selling Untitled XII for some USD 35 million on opening day while de Kooning masterpieces were also popping up at Richard Grey Gallery, among others. De Kooning was also a highlight feature at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring auction selling exhibition “Panorama: A New Perspective” which included other pieces by Gerhard Richter and Jackson Pollock, to name a few.

Also at Lévy Gorvy was a delightful Robert Motherwell painting, Open No. 164 from 1970. Meanwhile Paul Kasmin Gallery gave centre place to an epic Morris Louis colour field painting from 1960 titled Alpha Kappa. Elsewhere in the fair, European pioneers of abstract art could also be found spread around the fair. Generally smaller in scale, these beauties can easily be overlooked in the chaos of a crowded fair.

A 1952 gouache on paper work by French artist Pierre Soulages was spotted at Applicat-Prazan. While the painting that stood out from afar was the monumental Couronnement d’Etienne de Blois, Comte de Boulogne et Roi d’Angleterre, par Guillaume, Archevêque de Cantorbéry by Georges Mathieu created in 1956. At Kavi Gupta Gallery, a Wassily Kandinsky watercolour and ink dating to 1928 was hidden behind more contemporary pieces including an installation that appeared to be a spinning office chair.

Georges Mathieu, Couronnement d’Etienne de Blois, Comte de Boulogne et Roi d’Angleterre, par Guillaume, Archevêque de Cantorbéry (detail), 1956

The chapter of American and European abstraction in art history may be well read and thoroughly discussed, arguably an era that has passed, but as Art Basel Hong Kong reminded us, its position in the current Asia market is still thriving strong.

As one expects, Japanese and Korean abstraction was rife through both Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central. While Art Basel Hong Kong was full of its usual glitz, glamour and eye-popping artworks, at Lisson Gallery, two unassuming stones and iron plates on the floor turned out to be none other than an iteration of Lee Ufan’s Relatum. Across the harbourfront at nearby Art Central, works by Park Seo-Bo, Lee Ufan, Yayoi Kusama, Shizo Shimamoto, among others, made their regular appearance at Gallery Hyundai, Whitestone Gallery and elsewhere.

In the back of the first tent, however, Kashima Arts from Tokyo presented a solo booth introducing the works of Kiyoshi Hamada, whose works are well collected in Japan but almost unknown outside. A selection of canvas and paper works were displayed spanning four decades including the two last remaining 1980s works yet to be acquired into private or institutional hands. Like sleek, pure sheets of lead, the two works on paper, which were hand drawn stroke by stroke with pencil by the artist, were aesthetically minimal but held a captivating presence.

At the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Auction, Kazuo Shiraga’s Chiansei Kinhyoshi, created in 1962, was one of several Gutai works that seemed to take pride of place. The painting achieved just short of double its high estimate. Forever a name held in high esteem in the contemporary art world, several paintings by Chinese master Zao Wou-Ki were on offer, but it was the prints that really took the lead this time, many of which obtained great results. In this awakening of appreciation of Zao Wou-Ki prints, we will cheekily mention that our Gallery has in our holdings, a significant collection of rare and old Zao Wou-Ki prints.

Last week also coincided with our debut of artist group Beijing Abstract and we were proud to see two of its founding members also had artworks included in Art Basel Hong Kong. Boers-Li Gallery displayed a stunning early work by Ma Kelu created in 1986 among a group presentation of various artists. Over at Platform China, two recent paintings by Tan Ping were hung while Leo Gallery boldly showed a captivating solo presentation of the artist which involved Tan Ping painting on-site, resulting in a multi-perspective installation.

Reflecting upon the frenzy of last week as we nurse our art week fatigue, we were overall delighted to see a strong presence of high-quality abstract art scattered across the fairs and Spring auction season. It suggests to us that the appreciation and interest for abstract art remains high and its artistic discourse continues to be relevant and ongoing.

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