While larger galleries boasted of seven-figure sales early on at the inaugural Art Basel in Hong Kong fair (May 23-26), a young Singapore gallery celebrated a quieter victory.
Chan Hampe Galleries sold the contents of its booth, a project by Singaporean artist Dawn Ng, before Tuesday evening's vernissage, according to director Benjamin Milton Hampe. He also pointed out that the gallery hosts the fair's only solo presentation of a Singaporean artist.
Ng's project, Sixteen (2013), consists of nested wooden boxes, from the size of an antique shipping trunk to the size of a jewelry box. Each is lacquered in a bright color, and sports a brass plaque inscribed with text on its lid. The set on view (one of an edition of three) sold for $50,000 to a Shanghainese businesswoman who collects work by female Asian artists, Hampe said.
"If you open this box," promises the plaque atop the first, which is the largest, "it will change your life forever." The 31-year-old artist led A.i.A. through the 16 boxes, opening each and reading the text on the plaques. "Okay, maybe nothing has changed," admits the text inside.
The plaque inside the second maintains the playful tone. "Since you have already opened two boxes, you might as well open a third. After all you consider yourself a curious person. Also it seems a little pathetic to give up so soon."
The texts draw on several aspects of Ng's biography, she told A.i.A.
"In my 20s, I moved countries a lot," she said, "and I found that my life could fit into 16 boxes. When I went to college in Georgetown, I was moving west to follow opportunity, as were others in my nomadic generation. Then China boomed and we wanted to come back!"
For the last year Ng has lived in Singapore, whose art scene she says is a bit like the Wild West.
"It's very fresh, a very young country," she said, and one whose customs are sometimes difficult to make sense of, as box four alludes to: "When you open this box you will be transported to a world filled with different sights and possibilities."
Inside: "Welcome. It is legal to chew gum here."
Gum-chewing is forbidden in Singapore, Ng explained, though prostitution is legal.
It's the third time at the Hong Kong fair for Chan Hampe, which has been open just three years and shows mainly Singaporean artists. "The first two times were a tough slog," Hampe told A.i.A., "which is perhaps just part of breaking into a new market. But the viewer is drawn in to an intimate experience of Dawn's piece, which is what I think makes it successful."