years, died unexpectedly in a Hong Kong hospital on 20 January. A few
days earlier Napack had told his friend, the curator Hou Hanru, that
doctors had found "fluid in his lungs". The exact cause of death is
still unknown. He was 39.
Napack started his career writing for a number of publications in New
York including the New York Observer and Spy, before moving to Hong
Kong in 1997 where he became increasingly involved in the Chinese
contemporary art world, championing artists through his journalism, his
contributions to exhibitions, catalogues and scholarly publications,
and most recently as ArtBasel's official representative in Asia.
News of Napack's sudden death, first reported on ArtForum's website,
shocked his many friends in the art world. Hans Ulrich Obrist, director
of exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery in London, who collaborated
with Napack on a number of projects including the travelling show
"Cities on the Move", described him as "irreplaceable". The London
dealer Maureen Paley said she is "stunned and deeply saddened."
In an email circulated to friends Hou Hanru wrote: "In our memory, he
will always be brilliant, funny and pungent…you'd be pleasantly
surprised by his insightful understanding of things, people, especially
about China, Hong Kong, and the rest of Asia! It's not only about
talent, it's about love and commitment! He's gone; the art community
has lost one of its most wonderful actors, and we have lost a dearest
friend. We'll miss him endlessly."
Cristina Ruiz, editor of The Art Newspaper, said: "Jonathan knew
everything that was going on behind the scenes in the contemporary art
world in Asia. I will particularly miss his frequent updates from every
corner of the world delivered in his inimitable style— a combination of
reportage, connoisseurship, and (unprintable) gossip."
Sam Keller, director of ArtBasel, paid tribute to his friend: "I am
shocked and saddened by the dreadful news of Jonathan's unexpected
death. He was one of my oldest and best friends in the art world. We
often travelled together and had shared wonderful and unforgettable
experiences. Jonathan was a very special person, a truly unique
character and absolutely irreplaceable. Those of us who had the
privilege to know him will miss him deeply. He had a fantastic sense of
humour and told surreal anecdotes; he had a detailed knowledge of the
culture and cuisine of the countries he travelled in. Jonathan's
curiousity was never satisfied and he was always looking for the truth
behind the hype. He was an adventurer, an explorer, an analyst, a
critic and an aficionado. His pioneering spirit took him far beyond the
beaten tracks of the art world. With Jonathan's death we lose a
brilliant expert, writer, and thinker. He connected the art world from
the East to the West. It is tragic that he leaves us just as the
bridges he built are starting to get used. I am grateful to have met
this man who never stopped being a boy at heart."
Napack was preparing to celebrate his 40th birthday in Bangkok in
His incisive journalism and irreverent sense of humour will be sorely
missed by everyone at The Art Newspaper.