Australia is an Asian country

Published May 27, 2011

Hong Kong is very shiny. Mirrored glass buildings reflecting each other in an endless spiral of narcissism: money admiring itself. What a perfect place for an art fair. The tactic of splitting the fair into two floors has worked better than anyone might have expected. It is a clear division between the rich and powerful dealers downstairs, with their expensive suits and supercilious expressions, and the eager, small traders upstairs. Neverthless, people seem to like what they see. After checking out something for $3 million downstairs, they race up the escalator to spend $30,000, feeling that they are getting a bargain.
Last night at yet another party, I was able to inform a beaming Will Ramsay, one of the owners of Art Hong Kong, that the Sydney Morning Herald has just revealed that women are not attracted to men who smile. “Lucky I’m already married!” he replied. I’d be smiling too if I’d just sold a massive hunk of Art Hong Kong to Art Basel. This happy transaction has caused a lot of speculation as to the direction the fair will take next year. More Eurocentric? It won’t be that simple. Asian money is less and less in thrall to the west. The most important part of Art HK is its strong Asian identity, and Asia – from China and Korea to India and Indonesia – is producing the world’s most dynamic contemporary art.
Today the arts journalists went on a gallery crawl, visiting Gagosian, Ben Brown and Hanart TZ, all conveniently located in the same building; then moving on to Hollywood Road. I’m sorry that Gagosian New York got Picasso and Marie Therese while Gagosian HK got Richard Prince. Although I could only admire the way the gallery manager spoke about the Richard Prince with a straight face, as if it were a museum exhibition, I am bewildered as to how something so trashy ever became so big. Not only is it bad, it’s deliberately, self-consciously bad: dumb jokes, sleazy pictures of girls from old biker magazines, etc, etc. It’s so cheerfully sexist we have to see it as an ironic comment on sexism. This kind of smart-arse approach makes one think fondly of old-fashioned sexists.
The crawl ended at the Savanah College of Art and Design Gallery, with a complicated show featuring work by the talented Chinese multimedia artist, Cao Fei, in collaboration with a Hong Kong outfit called Map Office. Line drawings, animations and photos are combined in an installation that restages Hurricane Katrina in the virtual community, Second Life. Don’t expect an elaborate explanation in a blog.
You may think that Savannah is in Georgia, and indeed it is, but SCAD is also in Hong Kong. Everywhere one looks during the art fair, there is evidence that the transnational world is gradually emerging. Many dealers now seem to have galleries in several different cities and two or three continents. A curious aspect of this fair is that many Australian galleries have been inserted into a section called Asia One – resolving in one stroke the vexed issue as to whether or not Australia is an Asian country. Why not? It’s better to be where the action is.