Q&A: Art Central Fair Director Maree Di Pasquale

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Art Basel Hong Kong might grab the international headlines, but Art Central remains the city’s edgiest art fair. Hannah Hodson talks to Maree Di Pasquale, the fair director, about the home-grown fair

Having climbed the ranks from a junior gallery assistant at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane to setting up art fairs all over Australia and the UAE, Maree Di Pasquale knows a thing or two about art fairs. Whether selecting galleries or making sure that the exhibition’s floor is level, she’s in her element.

This fortnight, Di Pasquale’s attention is on Art Central in her role as fair director. Dedicated to supporting lesser known talent, the harbourside fair predominantly promotes artists who have never exhibited in Hong Kong before. Art Central may only be two years old, but already it has secured its place on the international art fair circuit. We talk to Di Pasquale about the event’s ins and outs...

Organising the fair is a yearlong undertaking, how does it all come together?
It’s incredible. It’s a big task; there’re so many facets to an art fair. You’ve got what I feel is the most important aspect of the fair, the gallery content, and that really does take a majority of my time.
In 2016 we have over 100 galleries and 75 percent of those galleries are from Asia, which is amazing and reflects Art Central’s distinctly Asian edge this year. After that and all the programming and sponsorship, we have to build and design an entire venue. We don’t have a traditional art fair space, so every corner, element and nook and cranny is thought about and conceptualised before it comes to life. Our team expands the closer we get to exhibition time. There are four of us in the core team, who are based in the region, but we draw on resources from the international team the closer we get to the fair.

What’s different about Art Central compared to everything else happening in Hong Kong during March?

There’s a lot going on, but we created Art Central to really expand that conversation. It’s important for us not to repeat what’s going on elsewhere and to provide the visitor and the experienced collector with something different. So again, we do feel that the strong Asian component of the fair offers something quite unique. Additionally, the actual content is quite different – we like to expose the new and emerging right alongside the already established. It’s about promoting that idea of discovery and experimentation, and you’ll see that in a very visible way at the fair.


Artwork by Locust Jones

Have there been any changes to the fair since last year?
I’m really excited about the installations this year. An Indonesian artist, Dwi Sentiano, is making a site-specific work. He’ll be creating a mural, entitled Broke. Part of it will be made before we open, but the rest will be created during the fair, which will be really exciting for visitors to watch. Another amazing installation is by a duo called Nanotac Studio, who are creating a new media installation that works with projection, light and sound.

Do you think Art Central has impacted the local art scene?
Absolutely. The founders of Art Central actually started Art HK back in 2008, which quickly became a major fixture on the international art fair circuit. I was very fortunate to come and work onsite and to support the team over a three-year period while it was still Art HK. Even from that experience I’ve seen Hong Kong change dramatically. The number of contemporary galleries has increased exponentially along with non-profit spaces; Art HK has transformed into Art Basel; and the addition of Art Central has managed to elevate Hong Kong to the status of an international art destination.


Art work by Manolo Valdés

What do you consider the highlights at this year’s fair?
It’s so hard to choose!  As a fair director, I feel very attached to all the galleries and artists. We spend a lot of time working with the galleries on what they propose. But if you were to push me, I think what’s exciting about Art Central this year are some of the newcomers. We welcome for the first time Galerie Forsblom – an amazing space from Helsinki – and one artist in particular that they’re bringing, Manolo Valdés. He’s probably one of the most well known contemporary artists in Spain and has major collections in places such as MoMA and the Pompidou.

This also provides a great contrast to an artist we see around the corner, Locust Jones, who is represented by Dominik Mersch Gallery in Sydney. Locust is very well known in Australia but not as well known globally, and he’s creating a site-specific installation for us. It’s incredible! It’s two 10m scrolls suspended from the height of the ceiling of the tent. He works on paper and with ink, which is a really interesting medium, particularly for Hong Kong, and he incorporates imagery and text based work in his practice. I think it’s a nice comparison to show one very well known international name against a very strong artist in Australia, who is not necessarily well known in an international context.

What’s the most rewarding part of the fair when it finally comes together?
It’s really nice seeing the visitors’ reactions to the space and the galleries, and seeing them interact one-on-one with the gallerists and the artists on-site. A lot of what we do is about showcasing new and emerging talents alongside the more established names and we really do try to do that without distinction. So seeing some of these unknown names becoming exposed is particular rewarding – that’s what Art Central is really about.

Art Central
Central Harbourfront, Central, Mar 21-26, 2174 0322; artcentralhongkong.com.

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