From the fervent Frida Kahlo to the tempestuous JMW Turner, movies about some of history’s greatest artists have held audiences rapt in recent years. Be it documentaries, biopics, experimental shorts or video installations, the art world in particular has become fascinated by film.
Since Art Basel in Hong Kong started its film sector two years ago, curious fairgoers have strolled over to the Hong Kong Arts Centre and sat for hours in the darkened agnès b. Cinema. Once again in 2016, a selection of shorts chosen by Beijing- and Zurich-based curator, multimedia artist and producer Li Zhenhua is being shown at the cinema.
Also this year, for the first time, feature-length films are screening in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), the Art Basel venue, making it easier for busy collectors and art lovers to sneak away from the commercial whirlwind to enjoy a more intense, uninterrupted encounter with art. Here are four films at HKCEC not to be missed.
The Chinese Lives of Uli Sigg
Arriving in the city on the heels of its Zurich premiere, this documentary plunges viewers into the life of the omnivorous Swiss collector Uli Sigg. It’s a fitting film for Hong Kong audiences in light of his donation and sale of 1,510 works from his legendary collection to the forthcoming M+ museum. Directed by Michael Schindhelm, the documentary follows the rise of the entrepreneur and diplomat and tells the story of how he came to be one of the most influential collectors of Chinese contemporary art. We see how the visionary Sigg became a mentor of sorts for China’s biggest artists. Along the way we witness his relationship with personalities such as Ai Weiwei and Cao Fei, and go inside Beijing’s art ateliers, parties thrown by Hong Kong billionaires and an abandoned Chinese steel factory. Bubbling in the background is China’s rapid growth and transformation in the post Mao-era.
YOU Art Project, Zeng Fanzhi
Zeng Fanzhi is easily one of the most expensive artists working in China today. In 2013 his monumental painting The Last Supper broke a record for a living Asian artist when it fetched US$23.3 million at Sotheby’s. Directed by Shi Li-Sanderson and Philipp Stölzl, this film is a close-up study of the market darling whose work continues to command astronomical prices. This screening is an abbreviated version of the documentary, for which the filmmakers spend a marathon 73 hours following the painter as he creates his signature abstract works. The film has an academic bent, as it explores the development of his vigorous yet meditative painting process over the course of 12 years. It also touches on the concept of you, which translates from Chinese to “the highest attainment of freedom”, an idea that’s significant in his practice.
Poet on a Business Trip
Directed by independent Chinese filmmaker Ju Anqi and produced by curator Li Zhenhua himself, this bare-bones, black-and-white film took home the Grand Prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival in Korea, where it floored audiences. “It is simple, curious, artful and ultimately very moving,” said jury member and Greek actor Vangelis Mourikis. The protagonist is the poet Shu, who lives in Beijing and has never been on a business trip. Imbued with a sense of the absurd, the film traces his self-imposed “business trip” to the remote Xinjiang region. During a 40-day, 4,000km journey through mountain ranges, forest, lake country and desert, he writes 16 poems.
10 Drawings For Projection, William Kentridge
South African artist William Kentridge is known for his rough, raw charcoal sketches brought to life in stirring low-tech animations. Composed of quivering lines, which he carefully erases and redraws, this series of short animated films is as aesthetically sensuous as it is dramatically compelling. Viewers witness the exploits of the rotund Soho Eckstein, a troubled business tycoon, and the romantic artist Felix Teitelbaum, both reflections of Kentridge himself. The films unfurl across the traumatised landscape of Johannesburg during the waning years of apartheid. From dreamy to destructive, soulful to sobering, they document Eckstein’s awakening from a closed-minded capitalist to a solemn penitent.