Adrift in Hong Kong

May 25, 2011
Floating figures by Fang Lijun
Floating figures by Fang Lijun

In Hong Kong the only way is up. One tower block after another in neat rows, all the way from the outskirts of the city to the centre; gigantic skyscrapers protruding from the skyline. But perhaps there is a horizontal dimension as well. This morning journos, collectors and assorted arty types were taken on a ferry into the harbour and parked adjacent to a strip of reclaimed land that will soon be the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD). Unfortunately there was nothing to actually see apart from a couple of angular grey and yellow buildings of indeterminate function. Consequently, we all sat on the boat lurching up and down, while director-in-waiting Large Knitwear, formerly of Tate Modern, reeled off the awesome statistics. A green-faced journo ran for the bow of the boat clutching her mouth, perhaps overcome by the magnitude of these figures.

When the WKCD is completed there will be 17 separate venues for the arts, the largest being 43,000 square metres (allegedy slightly bigger than Tate Modern, but who’s counting). The projected cost is HK$22 billion – roughly AUD$2.6 billion – and that money is already sitting in the bank account! By any standards this is impressive. I won’t mention Australia in this context.

Art Hong Kong began 25 minutes ago, following a sedate press conference in which there was much guarded discussion of Ai Wei Wei, who seemed to be the elephant in the room. Magnus Renfrew, the admired Director of Art HK, said he hoped “due process” would be observed. Alas, in China “due process” is only whatever the government says it is.

45,000 people are expected to visit the Fair over the next four days, making it the third biggest such event after Basel and Miami. The dealers are hoping that many of these visitors will be brandishing credit cards and suitcases of cash – the latter being a HK speciality.

I’m always happy to visit Hong Kong, but regret not being in Sydney today for the funeral service for Ann Lewis, one of Australia’s great art patrons. RIP Annie, after a long, valiant struggle with the big C, conducted with incredible strength of character. You can see that determination in Angus McDonald’s fine portrait hanging in this year’s Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.