A fair alternative brings some relaxed ambience to Hong Kong

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A fair alternative brings some relaxed ambience to Hong Kong
In an undated photo provided by Felix SC Wong, via Supper Club, Hong Kong, from left, members of the Supper Club team: Willem Molesworth, Alex Chan, Anqi Li, Ysabelle Cheung and Guoying Stacy Zhang. Supper Club will feature art from more than 20 galleries at the Fringe Club, a nonprofit arts space whose stucco-and-brick building looks quite out of place amid the sleek towers of the Central district. (Felix SC Wong, via Supper Club, Hong Kong via The New York Times)

by Andrew Russeth

NEW YORK, NY.- This is “the age of the art fair,” critic Dave Hickey declared in a 2007 lecture, not entirely sanguinely. As fair giants like Art Basel and Frieze have continued to add events across the globe, they have found art dealers game to take part, eager to transact.

But not everyone is sold on the fair model. These sprawling trade shows “are often a huge drain on resources — time, money and manpower,” said Willem Molesworth, a co-founder of a 3-year-old gallery in Hong Kong called PHD Group, “and they’re kind of not the greatest context to look at art. People are desperate, I think, for an alternative.”

During Art Basel Hong Kong this year, Molesworth will help to offer one. Called Supper Club, it will feature art from more than 20 galleries at the Fringe Club, a nonprofit arts space whose stucco-and-brick building looks quite out of place amid the sleek towers of the Central district. A few established mid-tier galleries, like Balice Hertling of Paris and 47 Canal of New York, will participate alongside fledgling dealers and at least one ambitious outfit that has not yet opened its doors to the public.

“It will look like a huge group show, pretty much like a minisize biennial,” said Anqi Li, the independent curator tapped to place the work in the show. Each gallery can contribute three pieces, subject to certain size restrictions. Hong Kong’s Beau Architects is adapting the club’s late-19th-century home — once cold storage for a dairy — to display art. (Holes cannot be drilled into the walls of the building, which is a protected historic site, so some invention is required.)

Supper Club has distinctive selling points. For one, the participation fee for galleries is 30,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $3,800): not cheap, but still a fraction of the $12,500 for a booth in Art Basel Hong Kong’s emerging-gallery section (which has lower prices than the fair’s main area).

“Even if we’re fortunate enough to get into Art Basel, we would definitely lose money because it’s too expensive,” said Alex Chan, a Supper Club co-founder who opened his gallery, the Shophouse, in the city in 2020. (The third co-founder is Ysabelle Cheung, who also operates PHD.)

Also, Supper Club’s doors will be open from 4 p.m. until 1 a.m. — well after Art Basel closes — during its run from March 25 to 30. Panels and performances are planned, and admission tickets (150 Hong Kong dollars, or about $19) will come with a drink. As its name suggests, the project aims to create a space where people want to spend time, learn about art and perhaps buy.

“We love this mission of building something new in Hong Kong,” said Ziyi Liu of the Zian Gallery, which is scheduled to open in the Chinese metropolis of Hangzhou at the end of March. “When we talk about the Hong Kong art scene, we think about how the old money — how the superrich people buy things in Art Basel, but we really want to do something for young people and young collectors.” The gallery, which she is starting with Zian Cao, will contribute works by three emerging artists, Andrej Auch, Xinyu Han, and Enrico Minguzzi.

The new venture comes as part of a wave of fair alternatives that collaboration-minded galleries have been creating recently, like Basel Social Club, which displayed art from roughly 100 galleries and artist-run spaces in a decommissioned mayonnaise factory during the flagship Art Basel in Switzerland last summer. That effort inspired an alternative event during Frieze Seoul last September, Our Week, at which more than 20 exhibitors, including PHD Group, presented works in an empty building. (Both events were free.)

Soo Choi, a Seoul, South Korea, dealer and one of Our Week’s founders, said that she started the event because she wanted to showcase exciting galleries and spaces that were not at Frieze. Also, “not everyone’s invited to these fancy dinners or VIP cocktail events,” she said. At Our Week, anyone could “come and see art, meet new people — fellow galleries, artists — and then just chill.” When I stopped by last fall, near the end of the festivities, a crowd had gathered in a room to watch a performance. Art was scattered throughout the raw rooms, and spicy tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes) and wine were on offer out back.

Choi’s P21 gallery has done Art Basel Hong Kong in the past, and has signed on for Supper Club, where it will bring paintings by Wu Jiaru.

Some Supper Club exhibitors will also be hawking their artists in the white-walled booths of Basel, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, like Tokyo’s Misako & Rosen, Shanghai’s MadeIn Gallery and 47 Canal.

“Alternative models like this fortify the idea that our peers are not our competition and that we need to support each other as small businesses,” the 47 Canal co-founder Oliver Newton wrote in an email.

MadeIn’s displays at Art Basel and Supper Club will include work by a variety of the gallery’s artists. Its Supper Club contributions include a story by Lu Pingyuan printed on paper. An “audience might not pay much attention to its relatively long text at a large and fast-paced fair like Basel,” MadeIn’s gallery manager, Xueer La, said. At the Fringe Club, though, “where the ambience might be more relaxed, the way of seeing might be different,” she added.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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