Art Central, Hong Kong March 2015

Blog — 02 Apr 2015

Our clients, Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus, established Art Hong Kong in 2008. They then sold it to Art Basel in 2012 - the year we were appointed as designers for the last fair they controlled. Today Art Basel operate three fairs, Basel, Miami and Hong Kong and this year they shifted the Hong Kong fair from May to March, as among many other reasons, it coincided with Hong Kong Art Week.

Art Central was conceived as a complimentary satellite fair to Art Basel. It was facilitated by the availability of a site on the harbour front created by the latest land reclamation project that brings the Island ever closer to Kowloon. Art fairs are a global phenomenon, there are over 200 annually, and they vary enormously in range, size and approach. But I doubt that any city has been transformed in the way Hong Kong has as a result of hosting an Art Fair. Hong Kong is now a cultural destination, and more importantly it is a City that has embraced art and artists, with over 90 private galleries, districts where studios are blossoming and the construction of a 40 hectare new Cultural District in West Kowloon is underway.

Art Central was housed in a vast tent structure, our brief was too make it feel fresh and fun, edgier and more youthful than Art Basel across the Tamar Park. Unusually we were not working in an existing building, the Melbourne, Sydney and London fairs we design are all in listed buildings. Our approach, as ever, is defined by budget and sustainabilty, we always try to use materials and fittings that can be reused or recycled. We decided to use standard plywood sheets to create the walls and floors , in effect timber trays that contain the entrance area, VIP lounge and restaurant. This provides the backdrop for coloured elements, desks, bars, seats that were inspired by Matt Utber of The Plant's brand identity. (We got into designing the fairs thanks to Matt Utber, we worked together from the conception of the Jamie's Italian projects.)

The Art Central restaurant was operated by The Continental, a new venture at Pacific Place owned by Swire, but with our old friend and client Rowley Leigh as executive chef. So it was great not only to see Rowley working away in our fair kitchen, but also to spend some time with him in Hong Kong.

The fair was a great success, the visitor level far exceeded the target, and almost 30,000 visitors came over the four days. This success was matched by very good sales for the galleries and a permanently busy restaurant and street food area. Most pleasingly the feed back on the design was almost entirely positive, visitors and critics alike enjoyed the spaces that we created.

After Hong Kong some of the team went on to Sydney to prepare for the Sydney Contemporary Fair in September. As I have said before in this blog, Sydney is a great City, somewhere I really wished I had discovered when I was younger, it is such a vibrant, green, friendly place, full of independent shops restaurants and bars. It was especially nice to spend an evening at Rick Stein's house whilst we were there, Rick is an old fried of Tim Etchells. By coincidence we are designing a new restaurant for Rick in the UK, so it was a great way to have a catch up on the design.

The challenge when designing art fairs is to make them feel fresh and new each time, to take the last edition and develop the positives and improve the areas that need it. We like to change the look too, it should feel like a new experience every time you go. Importantly there is a lifestyle element too, the restaurants and bars are really important, the visitors need to relax and have a day out.

Next up we have Art 15 at Olympia in London in May. This promises to be the best edition yet, as well as more galleries than ever, once again we will have the Food 4 Art restaurant operated by a different top London chef everyday.

It has always been important to our practice that we work in different sectors and do not become specialists in one field only, but re reading this food seems to be a consistent theme.