The Wick - Angelle Siyang-Le, Director, Art Basel Hong Kong Courtesy of Art Basel. Photo Vivien Liu. The Wick - Angelle Siyang-Le, Director, Art Basel Hong Kong Courtesy of Art Basel. Photo Vivien Liu.
Monday Muse

Interview Art Basel Hong Kong director Angelle Siyang-Le

Interview
Angelle Siyang-Le
25 March 2024
Interview
Angelle Siyang-Le
25 March 2024
Angelle Siyang-Le has been instrumental in catalysing the Hong Kong art scene since she joined Art Basel Hong Kong in 2012 at a time when there were no world class museums in the city. Over the next decade, she oversaw its business development in Greater China, as well as its strategy and gallery relationships, finally taking the reins as director of the fair in 2022. During that time, Hong Kong has become a magnet for international galleries, thanks in part to the growth of the fair, and to the arrival of a handful of major new museums.

Ahead of the 2024 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong (26 – 30 March), she tells us about her own experiences of the city’s creative trajectory, what to expect from this year’s fair and what to prioritise as collecting newbie.

THE WICK:   Hong Kong has been a leading destination for the culturally curious since you joined the Art Basel Hong Kong team. How have you experienced this evolution?

Angelle Siyang-Le:   It’s definitely changed a lot. Hong Kong was always known as the financial hub back in the day. But now it has one of the highest numbers of international galleries in Asia and the top auction houses. New world class museums opened during COVID, including M+ and Hong Kong Palace Museum, which represent not only the city but Asia as a whole. Hong Kong now has a very comprehensive art ecosystem.

TW:   What shifts will we see in this week’s edition of Art Basel Hong Kong?

ASL:   It will be much more diverse in terms of mediums and art forms, now that COVID restrictions have ended, and many more galleries have returned. Visitors will discover an increased number of large-scale installations, many of which have been installed by the artists themselves, who will give tours of their works.

We have 16 installations in the Encounters section, 11 of which were made specially for the show. Among the highlights will be a work by South Korean artist Haegue Yang (shown by Chantal Crousel), who also has a major show coming up in London later this year at the Hayward Gallery. The Argentinian artist Catalina Swinburn will be showing in Hong Kong for the first time, bringing a brand new installation.

Our goal this year is to increase the connections between the show and the city, engaging with the public in areas such as the atrium of the high-end shopping mall Pacific Place, where visitors will discover a work by Aboriginal artist, Daniel Boyd. On a big screen on the M+ Museum facade facing Victoria Harbour, we will be showing a brand new work from legendary Chinese artist, Yang Fudong. His film style has evolved over the years but, for this work, he returns to his early style recalling Hong Kong cinema of the 1970s and the 90s. It will be very poetic.

TW:   At a time when the world has become increasingly fragmented, what do you think the relevance of an art fair is?

ASL:   Art is more needed than ever. After COVID, we all have to reconnect, and art is a universal language. For us, working in Asia, 2023 was about reopening, but 2024 is all about reconnecting with international art lovers who haven’t been to the city for several years because of the pandemic.

TW:   What is your go-to fashion brand or designer to wear for art fairs?

ASL:   I always try to discover local designers. I have a few go-to Chinese brands, like JNBY, a young label founded by a well-respected art collector, who regularly comes to our shows. I became friends with her and have even visited her in Hanzhong, where she has developed the entire district with her factories, offices, and art museums. Her designs are very avant-garde, Chinese, and provocative.

Shanghai Tang is also a great Chinese brand. I’m from Shanghai originally so I take pride in representing my hometown.

“Being a true collector is not only about buying artworks but supporting the art ecosystem and the artists themselves, helping them to develop their careers. Art collecting is also about passion and patience.”

TW:   As a woman in leadership, what do you attribute your success to?

ASL:   I attribute my success to my team. I’m a community-driven person. When you’re putting together large-scale events like Art Basel, you need a village to support you. We look after each other.

TW:   What are your top restaurants for a post-gallery hop in Hong Kong?

ASL:   I love Yardbird, a trendy and casual spot. Apart from its delicious food and drinks, what I love most about it is the service. It always hires young people with style and you can tell that they love their job.

If you come to Hong Kong, you have to try the street food style restaurants. There’s one called Tung Po, owned by an entertainer, who performs every Friday.

TW:   Who is your ultimate muse?

ASL:   I can’t pinpoint one person, because the art world evolves so fast and there are many people who motivate me. I deal with a wide range of female gallerists and many of them have been my inspiration, including Barbara Gladstone – I am driven by how she takes care of her business and trusts her team. Sadie Coles carries a lot of the weight in the art world, while also being a working mum. She is very humble and willing to learn from the younger generations and, during COVID, she brought together the community of galleries in the UK. I also admire Chantal Crousel, who started her gallery as someone outside of the gallery world, and Monica Lee-Müller, managing director of the Hong Kong Convention Centre, our show venue in Hong Kong – the busiest convention centre in the world. She deals with a huge range of people on a daily basis and all the politics that goes with that but, when you meet her, she’s the calmest and most stylish of women.

TW:   What piece of advice would you give to young collectors starting their collection in 2024?

ASL:   Being a true collector is not only about buying artworks but supporting the art ecosystem and the artists themselves, helping them to develop their careers. Art collecting is also about passion and patience. If you only treat art as an investment, you might as well just go and buy stocks.


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