At precisely 8:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, the 118-story ICC tower, which is visible from just about everywhere in Hong Kong, began flashing to a pulselike rhythm. It was as though some strange creature had landed in the city set on pumping it with energy. And, in many ways, it had.

Art Basel in Hong Kong — the second spinoff of the world's most prestigious art fair, Art Basel (the first being Miami Beach, which started in 2002), had just opened to the public a few hours earlier, trailing a retinue of some 120 galleries from the Asia-Pacific region, 120 more from Europe and the Americas, hundreds of cashed-up collectors, hundreds more art journalists and dozens of museum curators from the world over.

The fair's arrival in the island city was announced not only by its occupation of the giant harbor-front Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, but by ubiquitous street banners, a fleet of Art Basel-branded BMW limousines, and — in the evenings — that pulsating tower, which represented the happy marriage of German artist Carsten Nicolai's vision, the Hong Kong government's apparently boundless amenability to all things Basel and, of course, the Swiss operator's curatorial genius.