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Who’s Who At Art Basel

Seven movers and shakers you should go out of your way to bump into at the Hong Kong art fair

  • Mr Michael Xufu Huang at M Woods, Beijing, 2016. Photograph courtesy of M Woods

Now in its fifth year, Art Basel Hong Kong has become a mandatory rendezvous for art-world types from Asia and beyond. Alongside the industry insiders who are here to buy, sell and show, the fair is catnip for the curious, who come to eye up exhibits and extravagantly dressed collectors alike.

With 242 galleries within the fair itself, an extensive programme in Hong Kong’s surrounding art institutions and some of the biggest shows of the year opening in the galleries’ home spaces, there’s an embarrassment of networking opportunities here. And that’s before you’ve even started on the parties. Hong Kong offers a heady round of openings, cocktails, dinners and late-night carousing, all in the name of art.

So, where to start? Here’s MR PORTER’s guide to the people you want to be seated next to at dinner, a selection of dashing artists, experts, collectors, entrepreneurs and gallerists we think are worth bumping into at Art Basel Hong Kong.


The Pioneer: Mr Johnson Chang

  • Mr Johnson Chang at the Hanart TZ gallery, Hong Kong, 2013. Photograph by Mr Antony Dickson/South China Morning Post

The indefatigable, bookish Mr Johnson Chang has been a force on Hong Kong’s art scene for four decades now. As a curator, Mr Chang was behind exhibitions at the Venice and São Paulo Biennales and beyond during the 1980s and 1990s, and this played a key role in introducing contemporary Chinese art to the West. In keeping with his scholarly uniform (a dark cotton jacket with Mandarin collar), Mr Chang nurtures an interest in Chinese literati painting traditions stretching back to the 10th century, alongside his commitment to modern works. His knowledge of the Hong Kong art scene in relation to that of mainland China is as peerless as his knowledge of the Chinese art scene in relation to the rest of the world, or, indeed, of contemporary art in relation to work from centuries past.

After celebrating the 30th anniversary of his gallery Hanart TZ (the TZ echoes his Cantonese name Chang Tsong-Zung) in 2014, he last year offered 30 important pieces from his collection for a special sale to mark Christie’s 30th anniversary in Asia. A champion of current art-world megastars such as Messrs Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang and Liu Wei since the 1980s, Mr Chang recalls that “what gave me the urge to promote these artists was because nobody else was doing it. I thought they were historically important.” Which neatly sums up his outlook.

Where to find him: presiding over Hanart TZ’s presentation at Art Basel Hong Kong


The Deal Maker: Mr Adrian Cheng

  • Mr Adrian Cheng at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2016. Photograph courtesy of K11 Art Foundation

If you’ve visited an exhibition of Chinese artists at the New Museum, the Metropolitan or MoMA PS1 in New York, the ICA or Serpentine Galleries in London, or the Centre Pompidou or Palais de Tokyo in Paris, chances are, on some level, you have Mr Adrian Cheng to thank. This Harvard-educated thirty-something billionaire founded his non-profit K11 Art Foundation in 2010 with a three-fold aim: to support Chinese artists working on home turf, to foster a domestic audience for art and to build enduring links with leading institutions worldwide.

Creative support is offered via his artist-in-residence programmes at a K11 Art Village in Wuhan. Those international links have been built up thanks to the boyish, if rather earnest, entrepreneur’s networking. As for nurturing a new audience for art, Mr Cheng’s K11 Art Malls – in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou and opening this year in Wuhan – feature artworks from the foundation’s collection in their public spaces, and exhibitions of world-class works in galleries on site. “There is no audience development in China,” he told the Financial Times in 2015. “Finding locations and sites for exhibitions is a problem. There is also no sustainable financial model to support shows. So, where do people like going? Out shopping in malls.” Collect and connect, as Mr Cheng’s Instagram motto has it.

Where to find him: at the opening of .com/.cn, an exhibition co-produced with MoMA PS1 at the K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space in Hong Kong


The Firecracker: Mr Cai Guo-Qiang

  • Mr Cai Guo-Qiang at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, 2008. Photograph by Mr Thomas Lee/Atlas Press/Eyevine

The originator of spectacular and ephemeral artworks created with gunpowder, pigment and fireworks, Mr Cai Guo-Qiang has been an incandescent presence on the international scene since the 1980s. Gallery-goers will be more familiar with his disturbing installations that feature realistic model animals, such as “Head On” (2006), a tidal wave of wolves crashing head first into a sheet of glass, and “Inopportune: Stage Two” (2004), in which numerous tigers are suspended in mid air as if held there by the force of hundreds of arrows.

Mr Cai’s explosive displays still cause nearby residents to contact the fire department, and take years of planning. As a result, until recently, only a lucky few have been able to witness them in real time. The closest most of us got were his gunpowder “paintings” and photographs of coloured explosions that, for a split second, create airborne sculptures. In 2015, the Scottish director Mr Kevin McDonald followed the artist as he realised his most ambitious project to date – “Sky Ladder” – in a remote fishing village near Quanzhou in China. Now based largely in New York, Mr Cai conceived “Sky Ladder” 20 years ago as a tribute to his grandmother. After three failed attempts at various locations around the world, Mr Cai finally broadcast the work live to his grandmother – by then 100 years old ­– on his mobile phone.

Where to find him: at the special screening of Sky Ladder: The Art Of Cai Guo-Qiang, part of the Art Basel Hong Kong film programme


The Big Cheese: Mr Philip Tinari

  • Mr Philip Tinari at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2017. Photograph by Mr Wang Jun. Courtesy of UCCA

Since arriving in China as a Fulbright Scholar at Peking University in 2001, Mr Philip Tinari has worked up a formidable head of steam, becoming a leading expert in contemporary Chinese art. Since 2011, he has been director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, a sizeable former factory in the city’s 798 Art District that hosts an energetic timetable of screenings, talks, concerts, workshops and symposia alongside a world-class exhibition programme. The dry-humoured Philadelphia-born museum director has described the relationship between curator and artist as somewhere between “confidante” and “sparring partner”.

For The Well Fair exhibition at UCCA last year, artists Elmgreen & Dragset constructed a fictional art fair, which exhibited only their own work, accompanied by performances that provided an affectionate, if satirical, take on such events. Notwithstanding Mr Tinari’s long-standing relationship with the Art Basel group (he was its advisor on China before his directorship at UCCA), one imagines memories of The Well Fair, with its inaccessible VIP lounge and circular bar with seats on the inside, may raise the odd chuckle as he perambulates the Hong Kong art show.

Where to find him: possibly curled up grabbing 40 winks somewhere dark and warm. UCCA’s major spring show The New Normal: China, Art, And 2017 opens in Beijing immediately before the fair


The Prodigy: Mr Samson Young

  • Mr Samson Young at Team Gallery, New York, 2015. Photograph courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery

The recipient of the inaugural Art Basel-BMW Art Journey Award in 2015 and a participant in the Container Artist Residency – a touring art project on a container ship – Mr Samson Young caught the European art establishment’s attention during Art Basel last summer with his performance using a long range acoustic device, sonic weaponry more commonly used in crowd control. Later in the year, Mr Young – who is Hong Kong-born and has a PhD in composition from Princeton University – presented a more intimate audio work as part of the Projects programme of Frieze London. Visitors were led on a multimedia walk through the site wearing headsets that immersed them in a parallel world of sound.

“If art has any role to play, if art can do anything, then art is really good at one thing, which is enriching the imagination,” says the artist, whose works, at times, make an irreverent dig at the elitist world of classical music, among other things. Mr Young will be back in Hong Kong fresh from closing his first major European show – A Dark Theme Keeps Me Here, I’ll Make A Broken Music at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf – and deep in preparations for the Venice Biennale, at which he will represent Hong Kong this summer.

Where to find him: at the opening of Ambiguously Yours: Gender In Hong Kong Popular Culture at the M+ Pavilion. (Mr Young took a BA in music, philosophy and gender studies at the University of Sydney and it was M+ that recommended his participation in the Venice Biennale)


The Talent Scout: Mr Nick Buckley Wood

  • Mr Nick Buckley Wood at Art15, London, 2015. Photograph by Mr Gar Powell-Evans/Art15, London

After four years as director at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, Mr Nick Buckley Wood was, this January, appointed Asia director for Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Representing some 60 high-profile artists in five spaces across Europe (two in Salzburg, two in Paris and a vast new edifice shortly to open on London’s elegant Dover Street), Mr Thaddaeus Ropac has no space in Hong Kong – yet – so one imagines the appointment of Mr Buckley Wood has set tongues wagging in the city’s close-knit gallery scene.

Mr Buckley Wood seems to attend an eternal round of art events, popping up on the cultural scene everywhere from the Philippines to Vietnam. Taking enthusiastically to the heady socialising such art-world fixtures demand, this gregarious gallery director is not shy of a brightly patterned shirt or a silk tie. If you want the skinny on fairs, institutions and biennials across the region, he’s your man. Mr Buckley Wood also recently enjoyed the questionable distinction of being named one of Asia’s 50 most eligible bachelors by Hong Kong Tatler.

Where to find him: at any dinner hosted by a Hong Kong gallerist


The Future: Mr Michael Xufu Huang

  • Mr Michael Xufu Huang at M Woods, Beijing, 2016. Photograph courtesy of M Woods

Mr Michael Xufu Huang discovered art during visits to London’s Tate Modern while attending secondary school in the city, and started collecting two years later, aged 16. In 2014, then a mere 20 years old, he became the co-founder of Beijing’s private not-for-profit M Woods museum, for which he has lofty ambitions and the chutzpah to match. Last year, the fledgling institution hosted a popular show of Mr Andy Warhol’s video and installation works.

Mr Huang’s own collection (funded by his “supportive” parents, who are, cryptically, “not in the art world”) tends towards new-media works. Last summer he supported Instagram-bating art star Ms Amalia Ulman’s participation in the Berlin Biennale. A stalwart of the “30 under 30” and “40 under 40” lists that magazines love, in December, Mr Huang was appointed a trustee of New York’s New Museum as a representative of “the next generation of leaders”. He takes an appropriately creative approach to his wardrobe with his regular appearances on the artier party pages.

Where to find him: at all the best parties. NFI? Join his 28k followers on Instagram

Art Basel Essentials

  • Dries Van Noten Camel Strap-Detailed Double-Breasted Woven Linen Blazer

  • Officine Generale Auguste Grandad-Collar Cotton-Jacquard Shirt

  • Marni Tapered Wool-Twill Trousers

  • A.P.C. Leather Derby Shoes

  • Connolly Hex Leather Portfolio

  • Bottega Veneta Round-Frame Titanium and Acetate Optical Glasses