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A detail from Ben Quilty’s painting 2016, on show now at Art Basel Hong Kong
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Tolarno Galleries

Art Basel, arguably the world’s most famous (and commercially viable) contemporary art fair, opened its doors to the public today at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, on Victoria Harbour.

This year, 242 galleries from 34 countries (over half of which are from the Asia Pacific region) will participate over the course of five days, showing works spanning from the early 20th century to the present day, including an extensive film program that opened on Monday. As is the case with each international outpost of Art Basel – including Miami, and of course, Basel – the galleries, artists and their offerings are sprawling, the scale as seductive as it is daunting.

Herewith, a few highlights from the Australian contingent of artists and galleries showing at the festival’s fifth edition, in the likely event that you won’t be popping by before the weekend.

Sullivan + Strumpf: Booth 3C16
Sydney contemporary gallery Sullivan + Strumpf are hosting an extensive group show featuring the work of artists like Karen Black, Sanné Mestrom, Sam Leach, Darren Sylvester, Tim Silver, Tony Clark and Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo. The booth is anchored by the always magnetic Lindy Lee’s almost alien stainless steel sculpture First Innumerable. Dutch-Australian artist Sanné Mestrom is also presenting a body of work titled The Bathers as part of the fair’s Encounters program, which was curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, the Executive Director of Artspace in Sydney. As part of Encounters, the artist has created enormous, curvilinear resin sculptures modelled after the abstract figures in Paul Cézanne’s painting of the same name. In their size and subject matter, they share an affinity with the work of British sculptor Henry Moore.

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Sam Leach, Sofa (after superstudio), 2017 oil and resin on wood, 40.6cm x 40.6cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Sullivan + Strumpf

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Tony Clark, Section from Clark’s Myriorama within a feigned frame, 2017, acrylic on canvas 296 x 220cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Sullivan + Strumpf

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Lindy Lee, First Innumerable, 2017, mirror polished stainless steel
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Sullivan + Strumpf

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Darren Sylvester, To Live (01-04), bronze and porcelain, 11cm × 12cm × 13cm 
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Sullivan + Strumpf

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery: Booth 1C07 
This year, Paddington stalwart Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery will present a selection of works by Brook Andrew, Daniel Boyd, Fiona Hall, Newell Harry, Tracey Moffatt and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. The New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai will also be featured in this year’s Encounters sector. His work, Putto, features a larger than life Baroque cherub slumped over on the ground, its head propped up on a nearby bench. For the work, audiences are encouraged to sit next to the titular Putto, whose genitals are obscured by oversized simulated pixels – a canny commentary, perhaps, on the all-too-common fall from grace contemporary figures of worship are subject to now on a seemingly weekly basis.

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Daniel Boyd, all Untitled, oil, charcoal and archival glue on canvas, sizes variable
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Roslyn Oxley9

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Brook Andrew, Systems of Substance V, 2017, Hand coloured silver gelatin photograph, 127cm × 142cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Roslyn Oxley9

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Tracey Moffatt, Beauties, 1994, black and white photograph, colour tinted in lab during printing process, 100cm × 71cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Roslyn Oxley9

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At right, Fiona Hall, Nests from Tender, US dollars, 210cm × 60cm × 60cm, and right, Newell Harry, The natives are restless, neon, 15cm × 330cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Roslyn Oxley9

Darren Knight Gallery: Booth 1c43
On paper and in the Darren Knight booth, the work of Rob McHaffie and Ronnie van Hout wouldn’t seem natural bedfellows, but they share a common thread in the unearthing of the sublime and surreal in the mundane. Exhibiting as part of the upcoming multi-venue arts festival The National later this month, Ronnie van Hout’s bizarre, often subversive sculptures flout any pretence toward hyperrealism (like the work of Ron Mueck, or Art Basel co-exhibitor Patriciai Picinini) and instead veer at times toward the macabre. In a similar sense, McHaffie’s portraits of suburban life rendered in lurid colours and depicting suburban moments are writ large by a potent sense of humour and pathos.

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Ronnie van Hout, Empty Doorways, 2016, painted urethane on expanded styrene, clothing, hair and resin coated and painted MDF, 60cm × 120cm × 40cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Darren Knight Gallery

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Rob McHaffie, Parliament Station, 2016, oil on linen, 106cm × 76cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Darren Knight Gallery

This is no fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery: Booth 3d23
Two other seemingly disparate artists exhibiting alongside one another in the booth of THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Chris Bond and Kirsten Coelho, are also showing two new bodies of work. Despite their ostensible differences, in their hands, seemingly innocuous items become fascinating objects of enquiry, interrogating the concept of how objects shape cultural memory. Bond’s illusory paintings in particular are absolutely captivating. Having the appearance of very real books, they are instead total works of fiction in every sense – from the author and subject matter to the hand-painted Dewey Decimal codes and their canvas construction. Uncannily large in size, they appear embedded into the wall as if flung at impossible speeds and can take up to three months each to complete.

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Chris Bond, Resch Nel Irk, oil on canvas, , calico and board, 57cm × 44cm × 6cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Instagram

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Kirsten Coelho, Necessity, Porcelain, matte white glaze, banded iron oxide, saturated iron glaze, 29cm × 9cm × 7cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Dianne Tanzer Gallery

TolArno Galleries: booth 1b18
Included amongst the Tolarno Galleries booth is a body of work by lauded Australian painter Ben Quilty, each painting in which depicts one of 12 life jackets for each of asylum seekers who have lost their lives while in Australian detention centres in recent months, while awaiting their refugee status to be confirmed. They are dedicated to each by their first name. Pictured top left in the series is the memorial to Reza Berati, 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who was murdered during the February 2014 riot inside the Manus Island detention centre.

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Patricia Piccinini, The Bond, Silicone, fiberglass, human hair, clothing, 162cm × 56cm × 50cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Tolarno Galleries

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Ben Quilty, Oil on linen, 130cm × 110cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Instagram

Jensen Gallery: booth 3c34
The Auckland/Sydney-based Jensen Gallery is exhibiting works by a number of European artists, alongside those by a diverse range of Australians, including painters Aida Tomescu and Jude Rae, and an alumni of next week’s Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize, Coen Young, whose liquid-like silver nitrate surfaces and alluring patinas are near inseparable from the origins of photography. According to his late gallerist William Wright, “Young applies various media and chemicals in multiple layers… onto a sheet of cotton rag paper; the last being silver nitrate, which is applied, fixed and washed just like a sheet of photographic paper. Each process leaves its trace on the paper, evident at the edges, and evokes a sense of the object’s history as it slowly reveals itself to the viewer. The result is a highly polished surface that claims a certain objectness that is also its antithesis, revealed in the tension between the surface and the ‘image’, which is only manifested in the reflection.”

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Aida Tomescu, Under the Iron of the Moon, Oil on canvas, 183cm × 306cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Art Basel Hong Kong

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Jude Rae, Untitled, Oil on linen, 61cm ×  56cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Art Basel Hong Kong

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Coen Young, Study for a Mirror 1 and 2 (March), Acrylic, marble dust, urethane and silver nitrate on paper, 230cm × 140cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/Art Basel Hong Kong

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery/Instagram

thoughts?