Most of the time, Wan Chai’s sidewalks are bustling with office workers in their suits, exhausted mothers with a baby in a sling and a kid in tow rushing for the bus, domestic helpers dragging their shopping trolleys full of food, cardboard and garbage collectors whose carts take up most of the pavement, some hip European dude wearing jeans and puffing on a cigarette, buskers, beggars, some promoters trying to either to sell you a flag sticker by preying on your conscience or handing out brochures for a new cafe, elderly or intellectually disabled people walking side by side with their helper… it’s pretty crowded.
So, when you see super hip and glamorously dressed people walking around Wan Chai MTR and around Queens Road East, you know something major is going on.
It can only be Art Basel.
This event can be described as one of the most high-heeled and sought after by anyone with a bit of disposable income and an interest in seeing how the wealthiest live. Well, of course it’s to see the most avant garde and upcoming artists’ work and to see if you’re able to make an emotional connection to a particular piece or obtain a new perspective.
But no. For most people, Art Basel is the most fantastic Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat selfie opportunity where every backdrop is probably worth at least 50K USD (up to millions). This particular exhibit drew a huge number of photos and selfies.
The event has become so large it takes up two floors in the Wan Chai Convention and Exhibition Center. The daily queue for the on site tickets starts at the main entrance and winds its way all the way onto the pavement towards the Renaissance hotel.
It must be the absolute pits when you spend the day standing in line and then you see the dude with this signboard. (Please try not to strangle him, it’s not his fault.)
In previous years, we queued early on the first day to buy our tickets. We never made that mistake again. Now we buy them well in advance so that we can breeze in and out during the day. It’s almost impossible to see and appreciate everything going on in there in one go. Especially since they only open the exhibit at 1pm (forget trying to get in early).
There have been several improvements over the years.
1) strollers and prams are permitted in (unlike the first year, which they stupidly told parents to leave strollers and all belongings in the cloak room)
2) much more F&B selection and outlets
3) benches for resting and admiring the large works in the exhibition halls (like any good art gallery would have)
There are also some annoying additions:
1) continuous loud announcements about how the exhibition is getting crowded and for everyone to move along and mind their stuff. It was so loud that it would wake babies up.
2) 2 VIP entrances and one entrance for the general public at the very far end of the corridor. What is this all about? Why do VIPs need two entrances? For crowd control they should just assign entrances depending on the number of people coming in. There were disproportionate numbers of staff at the first two entrances.
3) what is it with only opening the exhibition at 1pm…? Wouldn’t 11am be a presentable enough hour for exhibitors to get their hair done? Unless you’re coming in from Shenzhen.
I really enjoyed the exhibits this year and I love it that the gallery owners gamely allow everyone to take as many photos as one likes, just as long as you keep your hands off the artwork.
Here’s a small selection of what I liked best.
I wasn’t able to see all the exhibits due to limited time and the need to refuel frequently. But the Art Basel app is beautifully designed and well worth downloading if you’d like to see what was shown this year. Unless you have a favourite artist or gallery, be prepared to scroll through more than ten thousand exhibits before you find the one you like the most.