Monday, October 2, 2017

Asian antique items are the highlight works at Fine Art Asia 2017

Entrance to Fine Art Asia 2017
 Under the flags in the exhibition hall
Antique arms and armor on show and for sale at a booth
What constitutes fine art?  If one were to base one's definition on what's on exhibit (and sale) at Fine Art Asia 2017, one would include historic and rare whisky (since there was a booth -- Cask 88's -- devoted to that alcoholic beverage), antique arms and armor (the focus at Runjeet Singh's booth), jewellery (at a number of booths), antique furniture (ditto) along with paintings by the like of Corot, Monet and Picasso (on show and sale at Gladwell and Patterson's booths), sculptures in various media, and photography by the likes of Fan Ho.
Based on its far wider range of the items on exhibit (and sale) alone, it should be obvious that this particular art fair is very different than Art Basel (Hong Kong) -- whose 2017 edition I checked out this past March and found much to appreciate.  Actually, in view of Art Basel purporting to be a modern and contemporary art fair and Fine Art Asia showcasing antique works, it's actually surprising to find some overlap between the two art events; this not least because Art Basel exhibitors sometimes look to extend its purview chronologically back in time by including artworks created in the 19th as well as 20th and 21st century while works by contemporary, living artists can be found at Fine Art Asia along with artefacts dating back thousands of years.  
But although both art fairs have exhibitors from outside Asia as well as within the continent, it's quite noticeable that Art Basel's biggest draws are often from the West while the items I find most eye-catching and interesting at Fine Art Asia tend to be from within Asia, particularly the eastern portion of the world's largest continent.  More specifically, each time now that I've attended this particular art fair, I've been bowled over by the large antique Chinese (and, in 2015, also Japanese) screens showcased at the booth of Paris-based Ateliers Brugier; with this year's standout piece being a double-sided, 12-panel coromandel lacquer screen from the 17th century depicting the Taoist Paradise, complete with Xiwangmu (the Queen Mother of the West), Shuo Lao (the god of long life and luck) and the Eight Immortals (Pat Sin Leng).
The other highlight of Fine Art Asia 2017 for me was the special exhibition entitled Union and Reunion presented by the Hong Kong Antique and Art Galleries Association.  Telling stories of relationships between art works, it placed a spotlight on such as a Mongolian community whose people developed closed cultural ties with Tibet by way of their embracing Tibetan Buddhism, and whose material culture accordingly reflects this cultural relationship.
Most touchingly for me was the tale told about a pair of antique huanghuali tables made by the same artist, probably around the same time, but which were acquired by different owners who treated them very differently.  Whereas one had much care lavished on it, the other didn't.  Consequently, when they were reunited years later, one appeared as polished as an emperor while the other had become as rough as a martial artist.  Yet if one looked carefully, it was still obvious that they were "related".  And, indeed, when I did, it was so. :)

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