From its cutting-edge architecture to its dazzling geography, Hong Kong is truly a place unto itself. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. In the years since it has witnessed the growth of a rich art scene and an evolution of its distinctive culture. International blue-chip galleries like White Cube and Gagosian have opened outposts there, and David Zwirner recently said that he wants to join them. The centerpiece of this rising scene: Art Basel Hong Kong, now the dominant art fair of Asia, located in a jewel of a convention center that’s nestled against the harbor. Explore the robust Hong Kong art scene, with its museums, galleries, and fairs, and find out for yourself why it’s like nowhere else.
Art Basel Hong Kong, March 24-26
Prior to the debut of ART HK in 2008, the city’s art scene was fairly limited, but since then it has completely transformed: Art Basel purchased ART HK and debuted Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013. In contrast to ART HK’s inaugural 100 exhibitors, this year’s edition will have 239. Last year, the fair made the decision to move from May to March, which not only offers less competition with Frieze New York but also avoids the humid month of May. If the Hong Kong art scene has finally arrived, Art Basel’s edition there can be seen as its tent pole, the main event that has helped spur several satellite fairs.
Art Central, March 23-26
While Art Basel Hong Kong is about bringing the West to China, the upstart Art Central is about showcasing what the East has to offer. Started last year by ART HK co-founder Tim Etchells with just 77 exhibitors, this year’s edition will feature more than 100, a vast majority of them from Asia. Art Central also distinguishes itself by focusing on contemporary art—a somewhat underrepresented field when it comes to Asia. Set on Hong Kong’s Central Harborfront, Art Central is just a 20-minute waterside walk from the convention center that houses Art Basel Hong Kong. Go here for a taste of a quirkier, more regional selection of work.
Asia Contemporary, March 24-27
The Asia Contemporary fair is staged in the rooms of the tony Conrad Hotel (a perhaps novel concept to some, but New York’s Armory Show actually began this way, at the Gramercy Park Hotel, in 1994). Now entering its eighth edition, this year’s Asia Contemporary is expected to have more than 100 exhibitors, with an emphasis on Asia and emerging artists with whom fairgoers may not be familiar. This business model plays to the strengths of a hotel fair, which is more intimate, allowing dealers to better discuss a work with a potential buyer. As with Art Central, price points are a bit lower than at Art Basel, which means entry-level collectors might be comfortable buying here. It’s worth a trip if only for a visit to the upscale Pacific Place, home to numerous shops and restaurants, where the hotel is located.
Pacific Place, 88, Queensway
The aptly named Upper House, designed by Andre Fu, is an elegant minimalist affair that merges a quiet Asian sensibility with the sleek modern look of a futuristic-looking Hollywood film set. The rooms all feature an iPod Touch for room service and other amenities, along with gasp-worthy sights of the mountains and harbor. Also, the bathrooms: “I took two baths,” a New York Times reviewer has cooed about it, “(and I never take baths).” It’s right above the Pacific Place complex, home to a high-end shopping mall, and numerous other sites to explore, but guests almost don’t need to leave the hotel. The roof features a secret “lawn,” and the 49th floor’s Café Gray, led by legendary chef Gray Kunz, offers culinary heights appropriately suited to the views.
16 Tsing Fung Street, Tin Hau
It’s not often that luxury can be described as bleak, severe, or industrial, but such is the case with Tuve, the Design Systems hideaway that opened last year in the Tin Hau district. You could almost miss the entrance, a small door set to the left of large metal doors. Inside, concrete, granite, metal, and grey-veined marble dominate the aesthetic, down to the cavern-like walk-in marble showers of the “premiere” rooms. (If this sounds overwhelming, there are also wood-paneled “comfort” rooms.) The design ethos comes from a series of photographs of solitary lakes the by Danish architectural and landscape photographer Kim Høltermand. The space is also home to the Silver Room restaurant, situated near the peaceful Victoria Park.
Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
The Peninsula is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, dating back to 1923, and from the outside nothing has changed: It’s hard not to picture a tuxedo-clad Jazz Age crowd rolling up to the Art Deco exterior (an image helped by the famous fleet of green Rolls Royces always on call out front). The cavernous lobby is a throwback, with gold-on-white columns and large leafy potted plants, the kind that might be hiding a fezzed assassin (the hotel appeared in the James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun). Comfort fiends need not worry, however: In 2012, the interiors underwent a major face-lift geared at upgrading everything to 21st-century standards. Food is a major draw at the Peninsula, with the Philippe Starck–designed, view-happy Felix on the top floor; Gaddi’s, a hidden speakeasy in the basement; and, curiously, the Swiss eatery Chesa. (This is to say nothing of the impressive Cantonese and Japanese restaurants.)
118 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
This design hotel brings over-the-top funk, with a wavy, purple-lit exterior that showcases the (no pun intended) off-the-wall talents of Charles Allem and Colin Cowie, interior designer and events planner to the stars. Inside, it’s like the best, sleekest bat mitzvah you’ve ever been to, with pink and purple lighting covering every surface, and a surprising number of jewel-themed ensembles (don’t miss Coco, the impressive patisserie on the ground floor). NSA fans take note: It’s the hotel where Edward Snowden was staying when he made his international debut, so if you’ve seen Citizenfour, you know how the rooms look. At times, Hong Kong can be drab, and the Mira offers a stunning counterpoint. The whole place is a bit of a nightclub, yet its popular lounge, Vibes, is actually an open-air oasis with a quiet seduction about it. Don’t miss the restaurant Whisk, where celebrity chef Justin Quek (Singapore’s answer to Jamie Oliver) spends two weeks a month.
1 Duddell Street, Central
The restaurant Duddell’s launched the same year as the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013 and was an immediate success with the art crowd. (It’s popular enough that things can in fact get pleasantly noisy inside.) Last year featured an exhibit curated by Philip Tinari of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. Art is a major focus in the interiors, by British designer Ilse Crawford, and it pops against the marble and gold look that dominates both levels. The terrace on the top floor is a work of art in its own right. As for food, award-winning chef Siu Hin-chi has riffs on Cantonese ingredients and classics. The signature dish is prawns two ways (deep fried and sautéed), which speaks to the governing ethos of the cooking: quality ingredients go a long way in refining centuries-old recipes.
M31, Prince’s Building, Central
Though flow-y, pattern-y, Eastern-influenced clothing may be in vogue, clothing label Tabla dates back to 1999 and has been an influential voice in the fashion scene ever since. It has made its way to Harrods and Fred Segal, and has attracted the attention of the likes of Kate Moss and Elizabeth Hurley. The flagship boutique is located on the mezzanine floor of the Prince’s Building in Central Hong Kong. Tabla’s designer, Tania Mohan, first trained as a journalist and a lawyer before realizing that her Indian heritage was fertile ground for designer casualwear. Inspired by the example set by the karigars (or artisans), Tabla is known for the quality of its craftsmanship. The clothes incorporate techniques such as zardozi (jewelled embroidery), chikankari (white on white embroidery), and mukaish (matte sequins). Last year, Tabla opened its first international location, in London.
Miramar Shopping Centre, 132 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
If you’re looking for modern Chinese, you could hardly do better than Chateh, the Nelson Chow–designed space in the tony Miramar Shopping Centre. Chef Pak Loh’s menu is inspired by the kind of food found in the bazaars of the eastern province of Chiu Chow. This means you can expect meaty fare, and since dim sum is the star attraction, you should be open to experimentation. (The pig’s lung soup, for example, may be a little much for some, but it’s hard to pass up the salted cabbage with tripe.) The restaurant features a series of swirling, egg-like spaces that cozily envelop diners, inspired by Malaysian fishing baskets. Every surface is meant to invite sitting, and elaborate slat structures twist up vertically, giving the whole place a liberating feeling, despite its relatively limited scale.
PMQ Art Collective
35 Aberdeen Street, Central
Built in 1951 as a complex for police officers and their families, the renovated Police Married Quarters (PMQ) opened alongside Art Basel Hong Kong 2014, boasting two buildings and 18,000 square meters dedicated to showcasing the best of Hong Kong art and design. Thomas Chow Architects headed the renovation, and the end result embraces the monotony of the original design, filling the original quarters with a diverse array of quirk. Since opening, the brands have flocked, from Herman Miller to Found Muji to local endeavors like the A Day with Fé yoga studio and a number of galleries for up-and-coming Chinese artists. Come for the ogling, stay for the food: The show-stealer there is Aberdeen Street Social, a gastropub in the former officers’ clubhouse from Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton and Yenn Wong.
Joyce Yung is a professional photographer whose Instagram handle features all kinds of slices of Hong Kong life, from food to couples. @yungjoyce
Jason Capobianco’s known for his celebrity and fashion photography, but on Instagram he’s a bit more artistic, showing the lonely streets and art installations of Hong Kong. @jasoncapobianco
Jack Fung is a young design student with an eye for color, and for capturing the city’s trendy neighborhoods. @jackfz
If there’s good art to be seen, Artforum’s Instagram handle will be on it. Artforum has agents in every city. It’s like the CIA, if the CIA employed attractive rich kid art history majors. @artforum
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