Southeast Asian Galleries Set Their Sights on Art Basel HK

This story originally appeared in New York Times.

By Ted Loos

BANGKOK — Next to a row of luxury hotels in a bustling business district here in Bangkok, the art gallery Nova Contemporary occupies a former storage area at the base of a high-rise apartment building.

“There’s no gallery area per se in Bangkok, so this is fairly normal,” said Nova’s cheery owner, Sutima Sucharitakul, of the location of her sleek space. “Everything is fairly spread out.”

On view at Nova through Sunday is a conceptual exhibition called “The Uncertain,” featuring works by the Thai artist Jedsada Tangtrakulwong.

By design, the show changes depending on the weather: On sunny days, some of the works are not available to be seen, remaining hidden in various ways, and the response to that offbeat approach has been mixed. Some visitors have been angered and have shared their feelings emphatically with Ms. Sucharitakul and her staff.

“This is pretty advanced for Bangkok,” she said with a shrug.

Her hunt for an appreciative new audience for her artists is precisely why she will show her wares for the first time at Art Basel Hong Kong, alongside about 240 other dealers, from Friday through Sunday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

Nova reflects the stronger Southeast Asian presence at the fair, now in its seventh edition, demonstrating the event’s status as a market hub in a vast and diverse region.

There is no shortage of collectors with money or artists with ideas; they simply need a place to find each other.

“The presence of the Southeast Asian dealers is quite remarkable this year, and quite varied,” said Adeline Ooi, the Asia director for Art Basel.

“It’s wonderful — but I’m biased since I’m from Malaysia,” she said, laughing.

In addition to galleries from mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan — already known as market forces — the fair this year includes Richard Koh Fine Art, with spaces in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore; Artinformal and Silverlens, both from Manila; and Nadi Gallery and ROH Projects from Jakarta, Indonesia.

“People think the Asian market equals the Chinese market, and that’s not true,” Ms. Ooi said. “Asia is a puzzle. But every year at the fair, we peel back a new layer and it gets deeper.”

Part of the issue is vast geography. The fair features six galleries that have exhibition spaces in India, which is more than 2,000 miles from Hong Kong.

“Asia is so massive,” Ms. Ooi said. “People think we know each other, and we don’t. We’re all still learning about each other.”

She added, “It’s one of the things that makes me hopeful — the show can be a platform for movements that don’t always catch the attention of the art world.”

Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, said he was in awe of the “unparalleled diversity” on hand.

Decatur Studio Loft