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  • Writer's pictureShawn Griffin

Oh Hay-ch KWEEN! (the art fair effect)

It's been a while again, internet... but much like a bear, or Nicole Richie, I quietly disappear into obscurity for a few seasons and then BAM! I'm back to terrorize your picnic.

This metaphor can seriously work for either...

If you noticed from my last post, I made a self commitment to do a number of blog posts after and during Art Basel, Hong Kong... 2 months ago... but then, life happened, including the tablet I usually write these on being stolen out of my shopping cart at the grocery store, me restarting my hunt for a full time job, and me discovering that Westworld is a thing.

TFW your friends hold an intervention on your "binge watching"

All of this partnered with an underlined depression at the freelance market going down and me being at that awkward level of experience where I'm either overqualified or under-qualified for everything put me in a doleful drift. I've cheerfully masked this with home improvement projects and ab sculpting both resulting in me seeking recognition through shirtless pics on social media.

Don't follow your dreams, follow my Instagram

But I digress, the world doesn't stop because I'm sad that my tablet got stolen, so I'm putting on my shirt, going down to my cafe, and hand writing this post on paper with ink like some medieval peasant, warning you about the greatest setback to plague the Hong Kong Art scene...


I love Basel week. Hell, I love Basel month. The idea of drowning in champagne during a non-stop barrage of exhibition opening parties where galleries display something mildly alternative, like male frontal nudity, or Uncle Sam fist fighting a piece of cake that is slowly turning into a werewolf, rivals "long walk on the beach" as my dating profiles "favorite hobbies" section.

My perfect Sunday

But to be real, the only thing I don't care much for during Art Basel month is Art Basel itself... or really the representation that these Art Fairs give of the actual art community in Hong Kong... Art fairs are supposed to be like outlet malls for the wealthy collectors. They are intended to exhibit a product for sale, not a moving commentary on current events or be artistically groundbreaking. But that is exactly how Art Basel is marketed as to the general public. It's like having a contemporary sculpture museum spread across 10 smaller, unmarked buildings throughout a city, so everyone gets together once a year to drink champagne and act artistically woke at Crate and Barrel.

A commentary on the cyclical turmoil of life with FREE SHIPPING to over 20 countries!

So why am I still salty about this now? Mainly due to the Affordable Art Fair recently rolling into Hong Kong a few weeks ago. The highlight piece of the fair was a statue of a balloon animal dog shitting a smaller water balloon. People saw this and, in turn, lost their shit... 

This balloon contains the relevance of my MFA

The issue with these art fairs that constantly roll into Hong Kong is that they are the only art events that breach the general public's attention. They are heavily promoted and make themselves incredibly visible as they are used to peddle up-marketed works, which may or may not hold much relevancy in the art world, to rich people in the region. The works rarely contain anything intellectually provocative, artistically moving, or support of the Hong Kong art scene because, in Hong Kong, it is more important to funnel already successful work through briefly for a profit than to foster any sort of artistic production within the city.

But everyone loves pumpkins...

Local artists often find these fairs a poor representation of that real contemporary art is, and to our detriment, non-artists get the impression this is what art is all about. The only chance at exposure was the little visibility galleries get from being seen from the street. However, this is where the new Art-zilla of HK comes in...


During this year's Basel eek, the new art skyscraper, H Queens, opened in Central with a goal of bringing together as many art galleries as they could into one corporate-y looking high rise in the middle of the business district.

Now, if I've learned anything from Wan Chai's Lockhart Road, it's that you're less likely to go into an establishment you're already intimidated by unless you can see a preview from the street...

PROSTITUTES! He's making a thinly veiled metaphor for prostitutes!

But much like the bars on Hennesy who's businesses would instantly be less infamous if you moved all those mama sans inside, traded their stools for pantsuits, and marketed from within a sleek, white, unmarked building, H Queens eliminates any possibility for marketing via public exposure. This keeps the art scene only for the elite who will be notified about openings in these buildings and essentially killed the walking art scene on Hollywood Road.

So what are we supposed to do about it?

I know that many of my friends have already, if not are in the planning stages of jumping ship and either moving into more corporate design fields, or leaving Hong Kong for places with better appreciation and more resources for budding artists like Melbourne, or Tokyo, or anywhere in West Europe, or Jakarta...

Yeah, I said Jakarta has a more developed art scene than Hong Kong. LOOK IT UP!

So what are those of us still holding onto hope in Hong Kong supposed to do? Well, the main reason for the low exposure to the arts is not due to lack of interest, but lack of visibility. When I mention that I am an artist or an art blogger at corporate networking events, I get comments all the time like "Oh, I'd love to look at art, but I never know when anything is happening". As art creators and art consumers, we have to take it upon ourselves to invite people from outside of our immediate "art-friends" to these events. Tell them that you'll meet them at the gallery, send them event invitations, or hype that shit up by name dropping what hot album the exhibiting artist did the art for.

Still go to H Queens, but bring along that guy from accounting who is kinda boring but dances suspiciously good after a shot of Jager, or your boyfriend who "isn't into art" but will go into DaVinci Code depth on how "Acid Rap" was overrated. 

If we want the Hong Kong art scene to grow, then we need to grow public attention, support, and interest from people outside our circles. But, until art makers start begin engaging proactively with the non-art circles, Hong Kong's art culture will live and die every year around late March/ early April...

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