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A space for learning

Adeline Ooi, Director Asia, Art Basel, will be looking at Asian art in greater depth in the March edition in Hong Kong

Work by Aditi Singh that will be shown by Chemould Prescott Road at Art Basel, Hong Kong, in March.
Work by Aditi Singh that will be shown by Chemould Prescott Road at Art Basel, Hong Kong, in March. (Photo courtesy: Art Basel, Hong Kong)

With protests still on and fears of a coronavirus spread, it is a tumultuous time for the special administrative region of Hong Kong. There has been speculation in the media about whether Art Basel, the world’s leading art show for contemporary and modern art, will open there according to schedule—on 19 March.

Adeline Ooi
Adeline Ooi

At the moment, they are going ahead with plans, Adeline Ooi, director Asia, Art Basel, says it’s always moving to see the entire city turn into an art village during the show each year. “This year more so because of recent difficulties, this idea of standing together in solidarity becomes even more precious and invaluable," she says. During a recent visit to Delhi, Ooi spoke to Lounge about Indian galleries—Jhaveri Contemporary, Chemould Prescott Road, Experimenter, Vadehra Art Gallery and Gallery Espace—participating at Art Basel, Hong Kong, 2020, and how the event seeks to build bridges between East and West. Edited excerpts:

In the past, you have talked about Art Basel not just building bridges between East and West but also within Asia itself. How are you taking this forward in 2020?

The DNA of the show allows that to happen—it is made up of more than 50% of Asian art, and the other half from the rest of the world. The show continues to be a space for learning. For instance, the Insights section features 21 amazing, precisely-curated projects, highlighting artists from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. This year, the Japanese photography projects, from the 1960-80s, will really stand out, as will works by pioneering Taiwanese artists from the 1920s. The geek in me, personally, loves this sector a lot as the timeline shifts so much. One of the favourite parts of my job is application season, as I get to read people’s proposals. From the proposals you learn a lot about art history.

Which other segments allow you to look at Asian art in greater depth?

The Kabinett section is one (it presents curated exhibitions in architecturally delineated spaces within gallery booths). In the Hong Kong show, a lot of galleries tend to use this as a platform to introduce lesser-known names, or names that are popular within their region but lesser-known outside. Beyond that, there is a sector on films and conversations—films made by artists or about other artists are always special. We try and programme the conversations segment in a way that is specific to Asia, but with a global view of things. As I say, we know each other, but don’t really know one another well. There are so many points of rupture—be it language or sociopolitical situations, which is why these conversations become important.

Over the years, what are the fundamental shifts you have seen in the Indian art ecosystem, and how have those been represented at Art Basel, Hong Kong?

The Indian art ecosystem has grown tremendously in the past few years—and by that I don’t just mean in the making of art. Look at the Serendipity Art Foundation, Reliance Foundation and many others that so many individuals have set up over the years, with Kiran Nadar (of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art) leading the charge. The India Art Fair has emerged as a wonderful platform, as has the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace, Jaipur. Recently, when I visited Kolkata, I was blown away by the fact that the Kolkata Centre for Creativity is just one year old. The efforts are deep and the vision is steadfast.

We have a steady group of galleries each year—there aren’t many, but we always have the best, or so I would like to think, whether it is Chemould Prescott Road, Vadehra Art Gallery, Gallery Espace, Experimenter or Jhaveri Contemporary (this year, Chemould Prescott Road is showing Aditi Singh’s work in the Galleries segment together with Mithu Sen, Dhruvi Acharya, Jitish Kallat, Atul Dodiya, Desmond Lazaro and Reena (Saini) Kallat, while Jhaveri Contemporary is participating in the Discoveries section with works by Matthew Krishanu).

How is the show representing people’s art—folk and indigenous forms—that doesn’t borrow references from Western concepts?

That is very much a part of our interest. The strongest representation would be from Australia on that front. For instance, even in Insights this year, artist Dan Murphy has a project with indigenous artists—siblings, actually. This is the first time they will be coming out of the Outback. One is also beginning to see works that borrow materials from indigenous practices, like those by the Sabah tribes, who work with mat-weaving as a form.

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