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Art Basel Hong Kong: Director Angelle Siyang-Le on How Connection Drives the Fair

From its inception in 1970 by Swiss gallerists to its current manifestations in Basel, Miami Beach, Hong Kong, and Paris, Art Basel has become one of the world’s most iconic art fairs and a crucial platform for the business of art. And for more than a decade, Angelle Siyang-Le has worked to develop the fair in Hong Kong and Greater China, witnessing—and driving—its growth over the years.  

In late 2022, Siyang-Le stepped into the position of Director for Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK). Her second fair as Director this March marks a return to the fair’s pre-pandemic scale, with a 37% increase in exhibitors from the previous year.

Featuring 242 galleries from 40 countries and territories, and a full slate of various “sectors” including curated presentations and public programmes, ABHK 2024 promises a stimulating weekend of viewing, selling, buying, and talking global modern and contemporary art. We speak with Siyang-Le about the city of Hong Kong, shifts she’s observed in ABHK through the years, and connections between the fair and Southeast Asia.

Angelle Siyang-Le, Director of Art Basel Hong Kong. Image by Tory Ho, courtesy of Art Basel.

Putting down roots

Increasingly, cities in Asia are hosting and organising international art fairs—from Art Taipei to, more recently, Frieze (Seoul) and ART SG (Singapore). It’s a development Siyang-Le is glad to see, “because it offers the rest of the world more opportunities to see different sides of Asia, and the diversity of Asia.”

But after more than ten years in Hong Kong, Art Basel remains committed to the city. With its accessible geographic location, free port status, tax benefits, and highly advanced art logistics system, says Siyang-Le, it’s still “one of the best cities to conduct art businesses.” Beyond these, though, are also the roots Art Basel has put down in Hong Kong, and the creative synergies it’s cultivated.

“…[B]uilding very deep relationships with the art community here—it’s something we value a lot,” she expresses, citing ABHK’s close connections with cultural organisations like Para Site, Asia Art Archive, and the Hong Kong Gallery Association. This year, the first edition of the Hong Kong International Cultural Summit (put together by the West Kowloon Cultural District) opens within a few days of Art Basel, but concludes before the fair’s first day. 

For Siyang-Le, these interactions are vital to the art scene’s success. “We believe that Hong Kong is thriving now in terms of art and culture,” she asserts, “because this ecosystem is growing in a very balanced and healthy way.”

Art Basel Hong Kong 2023. Image courtesy of Art Basel.

Art in the city

During Siyang-Le’s long tenure, ABHK has changed in many ways. For one thing, the clientele has gotten younger. In tandem with this, the diversity of artistic mediums on show has increased, with installation and performance gaining visibility. Younger audiences, she notes, “are just generally more open-minded when it comes to what sorts of contemporary art, in terms of format and mediums, they can accept.”

Over the years, the fair has invested energy into engaging a broader public. In particular, Siyang-Le emphasises the importance of art education: “If we want more audiences to pay attention and be aware of ABHK, we have to make sure that the general education of art is widely spread.” While the fair is ticketed, this year’s edition boasts an area that is free to enter, where the Film and Conversations (panel discussions featuring artists, collectors, and curators) sectors will take place.

ABHK also works closely with local cultural institutions to not only present booths, but also take art beyond the convention centre and into the city. This year, it’s partnered once again with the M+ museum and the Union Bank of Switzerland to light up the M+ facade, presenting a film by Chinese artist Yang Fudong that turns a nostalgic lens on the architecture and streets of the city.

Yang Fudong, still from “Sparrow of the Sea” (2024). Image courtesy of the artist.

Going forward, the fair has confirmed a multi-year partnership with M+, and is also collaborating with cultural compound Tai Kwun for the first time to showcase artists, performers, and DJs. Other collaborators include nonprofits such as 1a space and CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Art, and Textile), educational institutions, and university museums. 

Says Siyang-Le: “This is how the art fair is evolving—we want to bring art into the city, and more directly into people’s lives.”

Southeast Asian art abroad

Amidst ABHK’s cosmopolitan roster of artists and galleries, Southeast Asians are making their mark. The Singapore Tyler Print Institute’s Emi Eu, for instance, and Jun Tirtadiji from Jakarta’s ROH Projects are representing the region as part of the Selection Committee and as an Expert for the Discoveries and Insights sectors respectively.  And as part of the Conversations sector, Eugene Tan (CEO of the National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum) will chair a roundtable on decolonising cultural institutions.

Siyang-Le notes that Southeast Asia has long had strong connections with Hong Kong—ABHK and the museums draw visitors from the region, while prominent Hong Kong collectors like Alan Lo and Yenn Wong acquire and invest in Southeast Asian artists.

Ming Wong, “Friendship First, Competition Second” (2024), two-channel video installation. Image copyright of the artist and courtesy of Ota Fine Arts Shanghai/Singapore/Tokyo.

These connections are evident in this year’s ABHK lineup, with Southeast Asian art and galleries found across the fair’s main booth sector as well as its smaller divisions. Within Encounters, a sector of large-scale installations first introduced in 2023, Singaporean artist Ming Wong and Ota Fine Arts present Friendship First—a special commission examining the use of table tennis in US-China diplomatic relations. In the Kabinett sector, which emphasises curated thematic displays, Siyang-Le especially highlights works by Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak (presented by Yavuz Gallery) and her collaborative relationship with her son, a textile and fashion designer.

Pinaree Sanpitak “A Pot, A Pan, and A Stove” (2022-2024), paper, needle, brass, and metal, dimensions variable, shelf 60 x 30 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Ames Yavuz.

Visitors to solo presentations of emerging artists in the Discoveries sector will encounter works by Aracha Cholitgul and Nawin Nuthong (Thailand), Kara Chin (Singapore), and Thao Nguyen Phan (Vietnam), as well as Chinese artist Tan Jing’s journey into her Thai-Chinese roots. Presented by both regional (Bangkok CityCity Gallery, Nova Contemporary) and international galleries (Galerie Zink, Linseed), the works explore everything from cultural commodification to apocalyptic futures, employing diverse mediums such as 3D-printing, film, and photography. 

Kara Chin, “Rover” (2023), mixed media, 110 x 90 x 67 cm. Image by Rob Harris, courtesy of the artist and LINSEED.

“The exchange,” notes Siyang-Le, “between Hong Kong and Southeast Asia has never really stopped.” With artists from the region represented across the fair, those hoping to find Southeast Asian art at ABHK 2024 will have no shortage of things to see. 

Coming together

In her more than ten years with Art Basel Hong Kong, Siyang-Le has seen the fair—as well as the city’s art scene as a whole—change and grow in dramatic ways. But as Director, she’s only just getting started.

“If 2023 is about reopening,” she explains, “then 2024 is about reconnecting … [W]e serve as a platform in the centre of the art ecosystem. [Our goal is] to connect each road of the art ecosystem together, as well as introduce new art lovers to our platforms.”

Going forward, she aims for ABHK to nurture more collaborations with institutions, commercial brands, and the public sector, and to draw upon regional networks to “elevate Asia’s contemporary art scene onto a more international level.”

But whether she’s cultivating new partnerships with cultural organisations or reaching new audiences through public programmes, the newly minted Director of ABHK certainly won’t be going it alone: “It takes a village to influence through art.”


Art Basel Hong Kong takes place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 28-30 March 2024.

Header image (cropped): Art Basel Hong Kong 2023. Image courtesy of Art Basel.

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