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Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong Museum of Art’

Is Hong Kong a cultural desert? How can you become a better collector? Answers revealed at Asia Art Forum

Posted by artradar on June 30, 2010


ART PROFESSIONALS HONG KONG ART INDONESIAN ART ART COLLECTING

Guest writer Bonnie E. Engel, a Hong Kong freelance journalist, presents Art Radar Asia readers with her perspective on the talks of two speakers at the this year’s Asia Art Forum, held in Hong Kong in May. Hong Kong art critic and curator Valerie Doran discusses the question, “Is Hong Kong a cultural desert?” and Indonesian private art collector Dr. Oei Hong Djien divulges his collecting secrets.

Engel attended the third edition of Asia Art Forum’s three day gathering of talks and artist studio visits, designed for emerging and established collectors and presented by influential curators, collectors and experts. This year’s forum focussed on Chinese art. Read more about why organiser Pippa Dennis set up the Forum here.

Valerie Doran: Hong Kong curator and art critic

Curator and art critic Valerie Doran spoke on Sunday morning at Hong Kong’s Ben Brown Fine Arts. She covered the history of fine art in Hong Kong, trying to answer the question, “Is Hong Kong a Cultural Desert?”

 

Art curator and critic Valerie Doran.

Art curator and critic Valerie Doran.

 

This perception is fed by the lack of facilities in the city in which to show Hong Kong contemporary art and relatively few full-time artists who are more or less invisible unless collectors hunt them out. These artists are nourished on the peripheries of the territory, out in the new territories like Kowloon and the industrial sections of Hong Kong Island, rather than in Central or Causeway Bay.

The audience was grateful to see works by the older generation of artists in Hong Kong, who seemed driven to create art without a market or venue, artists such as Luis Chan and Lui Shou-kwan, who were born at the beginning of the 20th century, and Wucius Wong, Gaylord Chang, Ha Bik Chuen and Chu Hing Wah, all born before World War II. Most of their works are small, possibly reflecting the lack of space in Hong Kong.

Doran explained that Hong Kong’s art industry developed outside the concept of the art market. A lot of the art made in Hong Kong is installation (temporary) or conceptual, mainly due to a lack of space and resources, and the need for a supportive community rather than one so focused on making money.

Post-war artists also failed to rise to any great heights, but after the 1989 incident artists rose to the occasion and responded by creating conceptual and performance art pieces, perhaps a pivotal moment in the development of Hong Kong art.

As Doran relayed, part of the problem is the lack of governmental policy regarding artists, or rather that the official policy seems to be to ignore the arts. Recently, with the newly created West Kowloon Cultural District, built on reclaimed land, artists and curators are beginning to worry that the government will begin to establish arts policy, much to the detriment of arts development in the territory. To date, the government has sponsored performing art shows and events more substantially than the visual arts, perhaps a legacy of the culture-starved colonials from the UK before 1997.

She highlighted one successful governmental project, the art space Para/Site, which receives some funding from the rather new Arts Development Council, an organisation not noted for promoting local arts or artists without a lot of red tape and many meetings. The city’s major museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, is closed to outside curators (unless you are Louis Vuitton or other big money sponsors), so it was unique that Doran was allowed to create the Antonio Mak show there. Although many people agree that Hong Kong needs a contemporary art museum, Doran sees more hope in the integration and cooperation of the Pearl River Delta cities, an action that could sweep Hong Kong up into the larger regional arts scene.

Doran concluded by noting that Hong Kong’s artists are beginning to participate in the Venice Biennale and other internationals shows, and collectors are gathering in the territory twice a year for major auctions of Chinese and Southeast Asian art. Artists such as Kacey Wong, Lee Kit, Stanley Wong (anothermountainman), Tozer Pak, Sarah Tse, Luke Ching Chin-waiAnthony Leung Po Shan, Chow Chun Fai, Lam Tung Pang and Warren Leung are starting to shine at local and international galleries.

Valerie Doran is a critic and curator who, after spending seven years in Taiwan, is now based in Hong Kong. She specialises in contemporary Asian art with a special interest in cross-cultural currents and comparative art theory. She is a contributing editor of Orientations Magazine. Her Hong Kong curatorial projects include Simon Birch’s multi-media extravaganza, “Hope and Glory” and the controversial exhibition “Looking for Antonio Mak” which showed at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 2008 and 2009.

Art Radar Asia has published a number of articles on Valerie Doran, including this exclusive interview.

Dr. Oei Hong Djien: Indonesian art specialist and collector

 

Indonesian art specialist and collector Dr. Oei Hong Djien.

Indonesian art specialist and collector Dr. Oei Hong Djien.

 

Dr. Oei Hong Djien, the final speaker on Sunday, was born and is based in Indonesia. He has been collecting art for nearly thirty years, focusing on modern and contemporary Indonesian art. The collection comprises about 1500 works, a fraction of which is on public display in his private museum, known as the OHD museum, where he is the curator. A book about his collection by Dr. Helena Spanjaard was published in 2004: Exploring Modern Indonesian Art: The collection of Dr Oei Hong Djien.

More open than most collectors, perhaps because he already has a large collection and has built a building to house it, Dr. Oei’s presentation was refreshing and candid. His “essence of collecting” vocabulary should become the bible of collectors: money, knowledge, passion, patience, courage, relation, quality, timing, luck and experience. He expanded upon these words, giving sage advice, and combined this with a showing of some of the best examples of modern Indonesian art.

His insistence on courage was very telling, as he advised new collectors with limited funds to go after young artists, buy unpopular works that go against the mainstream, look up forgotten old masters and get masterpieces that include unsuitable subject matter. This advice is predicated on hard work, self-education and endless observing, reobserving and observing again, to learn what quality art is and how to buy it. Most importantly, he said not to be afraid to make mistakes because that is how a serious collector becomes better.

Bonnie E. Engel has been a freelance journalist in Hong Kong for about 25 years. She is an Asian art specialist, covering all forms of visual arts. She travels around the region to visit artists, galleries, auctions and art fairs, and meets international artists when they come to Hong Kong. She has written for Hong Kong Prestige, Hong Kong Tatler, Gafenku, Muse Magazine, Asian Art Newspaper and other publications.

Editorial disclaimer – The opinions and views expressed by guest writers  do not necessarily reflect those of Art Radar Asia, staff, sponsors and partners.

Related Topics: art collectors, events – conferences, art curators, Hong Kong artists, Indonesian artists, venues – Hong Kong

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Posted in Art districts, Art spaces, Artist Nationality, Bonnie E. Engel, Business of art, Collectors, Conference, Curators, Dr. Oei Hong Djien, Events, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Artists, Indonesian, Professionals, Promoting art, Valerie Doran, Venues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Curator Valerie Doran on ‘Hope and Glory’ and challenges for Hong Kong art world – interview

Posted by artradar on May 28, 2010


HONG KONG CURATOR INTERVIEW

Valerie Doran, Hong Kong-based independent curator, writer, and translator

For a place that has been repeatedly touted as a cultural desert, Hong Kong has managed to attract arts practitioners from many walks of life who are dedicated to working with the challenging realities present within the Chinese city-state. These creative professionals are forging an atmosphere in Asia where the contemporary arts are accessible and alive. Valerie Doran, an independent curator originally from Rhode Island in the United States, embodies the spirit of these determined arts professionals who are striving to transform the parched art landscape of the former British colony.

Her most recent project, Simon Birch’s Hope & Glory: A Conceptual Circus, has been lauded by Art Forum Online as a ‘critic pick’ and praised by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times. However, Doran asserts, the exhibition represents more than a critically acclaimed artistic endeavor, and serves as an ‘intervention’ into the Hong Kong art world, “finding a way to do something in a place where it’s impossible to do it.”

A creative spirit seeking revolution

Valerie Doran is a dichotomy: a gentle creative spirit who harbors an intense attraction to revolutionary ideas. As a Wellesley educated translator and arts scholar who majored in both Chinese and English Literature, she effortlessly exists in both eastern and western cultural worlds. As a Chinese translator and expert in traditional Chinese literature, she can read and speak fluent Mandarin.

Valerie arrived in Hong Kong in the early 1980’s as a Wellesley-Yenching fellowship recipient at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where she studied Chinese intensively and taught classes in the English department and core curriculum programme. She later studied at the National University of Taiwan while the territory was still under martial law, and became involved in the burgeoning local avant-garde arts scene, which was riddled with political activists. Of the mid-80’s Taiwanese art scene, she says:

“Artists and the dissidents were very linked, and were all kind of loosely affiliated during this interesting time. There was a lot of patronage of artists by corporate people who themselves were quite liberal… Many of these people were early supporters for what became the Democratic Progressive Party.”

Her Path to Curating

Doran’s journey to becoming an independent curator included working for the distinguished Johnson Chang at Hanart TZ Gallery, which has been an instrumental gallery in pioneering contemporary Chinese art. During her 3-year stint at Hanart, Doran first began dabbling in curating contemporary art exhibitions. It was then her interest in curatorial practice was thoroughly peaked, and she enrolled in the Hong Kong Art School’s curatorial studies program, run jointly at the time with New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

In 2008, Doran was one of the first independent curators selected to curate a show for the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Her exhibition, Looking for Antonio Mak, earned wide attention, and was named as the best Hong Kong exhibition of 2008 by Time Out Magazine, as well as being cited as one of the 10 best exhibitions internationally of that year by the China edition of Artforum Online.

Most Recent Project: Hope & Glory with Simon Birch

Her most recent project is Hope & Glory: A Conceptual Circus, inspired by Hong Kong’s British expatriate artist Simon Birch. The show encompasses 20,000 square feet in ArtisTree, a non-profit art space that exists within a sprawling office complex, and is one of the largest multimedia art exhibitions ever created in Hong Kong. The show’s installations utilize video, sculpture, costume and sound design, live performers and 2-dimensional paintings to create a fantastic, interactive environment. Running themes include the journey through life and transformation, the ‘hero’ mythologies of various cultures, and science fiction. The show also maintains a definitive preoccupation with craftsmanship and the process of producing art.

Art Radar’s writer and researcher Erin Wooters met with Valerie Doran to discuss her experience and the challenges of curating Hope & Glory, a mammoth and unprecedented project, with no comparable exhibition ever attempted in Hong Kong. Valerie’s revelations are surprising, and include details of the conceptual performance that didn’t come to fruition in Hope & Glory due to the grave injury of the human ‘artwork’, how exactly the Birch Foundation managed to secure government funding for the show within Hong Kong’s hyper-competitive and chronically under-funded art scene, and what this exhibition means for the future of contemporary art in Hong Kong.

'Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Paul Kember. Curated by Valerie Doran.

How did you meet Simon and become involved with this project?

Simon was one of the artists in my ‘Looking for Antonio Mak’ show, so that’s how I met him. What I was looking for [in artists for Antonio Mak] was not a style—I was looking for a level of sensitivity and a voice. There were artists that I liked and I wanted to work with, and I wanted a figurative painter.  I had seen a painting of Simon’s, and I didn’t know who he was, but when I saw one of his paintings I was very struck by the texture of the brushwork. So I met him. He had never heard of Antonio, and I showed him Antonio’s catalogue and he was almost in shock because he responded so strongly to the work and the imagery. So he wanted to do it … After that show completed, he asked me if I’d work with him on ‘Hope and Glory’.

Can you describe the process of curating the Hope & Glory show?

We met for over a year, working on this concept, the floor plans, the narrative, and the sub-narrative. There was a lot of discussion. Then, 3 months before the show opened, Robert Peckham from Hong Kong University, who is a history professor who had seen both the ‘Antonio’ show and a smaller show that Simon did during his illness, which was a really powerful show called ‘Out of the Darkness’, got to know Simon and was very interested in this project, so we had discussions with him. There was a lot of in-depth conceptual thought and discussion, which lasted for about a year, that went into this show. The show was very formed in Simon’s mind and he already knew certain things that he wanted to do. However, the show as it is now also has elements that were changed, or gotten rid of.

This is a very unique show. How was curating this exhibition different from your previous experiences?

It was a very different experience from curating a show that I generated the idea. This is a situation in which an artist came to me with a concept for a complex multimedia installation, and asks to have it curated, so what does that really mean? It is a very different role. The closest analogy that I can come up with to describe our relationship is an editor and a novelist. Editors come across novelists with all different levels of formed work. Some may be very sketchy, or have just a few chapters. It depends on what stage you get into the relationship with the writer. So, you must challenge the language, challenge the structure, and challenge the concept.

'Crawling From the Wreckage', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot, including an interactive viewer. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Douglas Young. Curated by Valerie Doran.

Were there any surprises or unexpected difficulties in the making of ‘Hope & Glory’?

One of the key installations, the living room installation, originally wasn’t like that. It was originally all stage, and a key concept that ended up not being able to happen, was that he hired a guy he knows to transform himself into a super being. To transform himself, an everyday guy, into an iron man athlete over the course of a year. So, the guy started training for about 6 or 7 months, and filmed himself everyday, and that was to be edited into a film about his transformation. And then over the course of the exhibition, over 2 months, the man was to always be sitting in the living room. What happened was that 6 or 7 months into his training, the guy almost broke his neck during training. It was just before Christmas, and he severely injured his neck, almost severed his spine. So obviously that didn’t happen. Simon has him on video on one of the TVs on the floor, but the overall concept had to go. It didn’t happen. We decided then it would be fun to change the living environment into the computer vector cage, and create a cage for humans in the living room space.

When it came time to build the show, it was also so complicated to build that he hired a production company that usually sets up rock concerts. Because, no one knows how to do an art show here, except people who work at the museum. No one knew how to build it. We had to start from scratch with everything. It was hideously difficult.

I also knew I was taking a big risk, as was Simon, who was taking the biggest risk of all, because he’s put everything he has into the show, and he busted his butt for over and year and had to find a way to do something in a place where it’s impossible to do it.

'Spinal Mount Starcracker', 2010. Hope and Glory installation shot, by Simon Birch. Curated by Valerie Doran.

Are you satisfied with the show? Does it achieve your intentions?

I think it fulfills Simon’s vision, and I believe it’s achieved something. I believe we’ve constructed a pretty interesting world for people to enter and take something away. I think it has communicated a lot of personal vision of the artist, and I think it is conceptually multilayered and very interesting in that way. I think in terms of the physical realization of the physical works, that partly due to time limitations and all the other limitations when trying to do this, such as money and space, that certain things weren’t pushed to the limit and there are things we weren’t able to realize.

I think my collaborative experience with Simon was more problematic than expected, but that’s ok. On many levels I feel very amazed by his achievement, and I’ve learned a lot… The fact that we were able to pull together so many interesting people in the forums, and to see the students coming in, it’s awesome.

The show has gotten a lot of attention and a lot of press, and there is a really great article in the International Herald Tribune, and that’s all great, but that’s not the key issue for me.

Were pieces transported into the space or built in ArtisTree?

The large-scale sculpture pieces like the star and the steel ball, and the letters were made in a factory in Guangzhou, according to the technical drawings. The production supervisor would go out there and send photographs back.

The steel frame for the trophy ball was created in Guangzhou, and the trophies were put on by hand, one by one. And engraved one by one. The cage living room (‘Crawling from the Wreckage’) was put up string by string.

What is inscribed on the trophies?

On the ‘Spinal Mount Starcracker’… The name of every artwork Simon’s ever made and every person he’s ever loved or has been a friend to him is on those trophies, so that’s why he calls it ‘my life in a thousand cheap trophies.’

Can you tell the story about how this was funded?

Simon is an outsider in the art scene. He’s a Westerner. This is a very personal show for him, and he’s taking risks and exposing himself to a very unsympathetic, hermetic contemporary art scene.  The show has done a lot of amazing things in a lot of ways, but people are suspicious, asking, why is there government funding? Why did the tourism board give money for the show? We find this criticism quite hilarious, because Simon was working on the show for two years, with me for one year, and was maxing out all his credit cards and scrounging for sponsorship.

We heard about a mega-event fund, through somebody over at the NGO art organizer. They said, there’s this crazy fund you should try for, because they’re supposed to fund entertainment, sports, and cultural events, and they’ve got a ton of money. The main criterion is that you have to guarantee that at least 10,000 people will come to your event. The second thing is that you have to show that it will attract tourism, and that it will help benefit the image of Hong Kong. So Simon was like, let’s go for this. I’m thinking, are you crazy, they’re never going to give this to a visual artist. But why not try it, what have we got to lose, right? So, I asked a friend of mine who worked with me on the ‘Antonio’ show, who used to be a government accountant and is now an emerging curator, to come look at these forms and help us understand them. Simon also did a lot of research online about how to fill out these forms.

We filled out the forms, submitted them, and Simon was really surprised when he got short listed and called back for an interview. Then, we made the second cut, which meant that we were one of nine proposals asked to submit a seven minute PowerPoint presentation to their selection committee. That amazed us. This was all in February—we didn’t even know we had any government funding until March. All these artists are accusing- oh, they could only do this because they got government funding—which is wrong.

We had KC Wong with us for the presentation, who is a friend of Simon’s and a really great artist. He was originally going to do a piece in the show but it didn’t work out. The 3 of us went to meet 20 people in business suits at the Tourism Bureau and Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and there was a question and answer session and it wasn’t hostile. I was so surprised they were actually interested in knowing more. I never expected they’d give us money.

We were really shocked when around February we were told they were going to give us a matching grant for up to 2 million [HK] dollars for production costs. That means that we have to spend 4 million [HKD] on production and they’ll give us 2 million. However, the overall value of the show is over 15 million Hong Kong dollars [approximately 2 million USD] . That includes the sponsorship, venue (which we didn’t have to pay for), the graphic design, and the banners. This is all sponsored. For our education program, we got $50,000 HKD from Louis Vuitton to do our forums, which we are also using to pay for buses to bus in students from less advantaged areas.We were able to invite the Symbiotic Dance Troupe, a community-based group incorporating physically handicapped dancers, to perform at our first forum, and they did an interactive work inside the installation, which was absolutely beautiful. So we’re using the money very wisely and producing an educational pamphlet for students.

All the actors in the films, the designers, the film directors, and the musicians—they’ve all done this for nothing or for very little. So the main cost is the production but the value of the show is on the scale of the Tate Modern.

So does this mark a first for artists trying for this government fund?

Well, it is a relatively new fund and most artists would never even consider it. They all go running to the arts development council, where artists usually get money… Yet, here is something interesting, because it’s supposed to raise Hong Kong’s international image. Hong Kong is trying to strengthen its creative industries and make itself the creative capital of Asia, but still does not include the fine arts or visual arts within their definition of a creative industry. So, the fact that we are able to get this money actually for a visual arts project from this unlikely source, and they are willing to take a risk and fund us, is a very good thing.

'Twilight Shadows of the Bright Face', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Prodip and LucyAndBart. Curated by Valerie Doran.

How do you feel about the critics who call Hong Kong a cultural desert?

The way I look at it is this: Hong Kong is not a cultural desert, and there are a lot of talented people that are doing excellent work whether in the performing arts, music, visual arts, or theatre. The ‘desert’ is the lack of platform for them. The desert is in the cultural policy of the Hong Kong government. It’s a conceptual desert, not a real desert.

So, what is the definition of a desert? It is a place where things don’t get watered. There are plants, water them! If not, they have to move elsewhere to survive. Except for the performing arts, which has more of a platform and is better known, everything else has to move to the periphery to find ‘water’. They have to water themselves. That’s the desert.

Of course art can never be government generated, but, in the West you have a mixture. You have the Guggenheim, a private museum created by a collector, you have PS1, and there are artist-generated spaces. But here, space is at a premium—it’s valuable, it’s money. The government also doesn’t know what to do, because they don’t trust the artists. Even the ADC [Hong Kong Arts Development Council] —if you apply for $120,000 [HKD], they give you $50,000 [HKD] because they assume you are exaggerating funding needs. Everybody is always under funded.

What do you think the show means for Hong Kong?

I don’t know. I just think it’s this weird entity that happened. One thing it means for sure is that more people have been exposed to a serious multimedia installation by an artist, and been exposed to an artist’s vision. That’s amazing. That’s what you want.

What is the biggest challenge for advancing the arts in Hong Kong?

Space is a huge issue in Hong Kong—space for the visual art, where  is it? The museum? No.

1A Space is great but it’s way out there. Artists have to invent their own spaces here in Hong Kong. They are amazing in that way.  But the problem is that they’re not accessible to most people so there tends to be this kind of interiority or privacy, a self-contained, almost clubbish atmosphere here in the contemporary art scene. If you’re not a member of the club, it’s a problem. When it’s like that in art, it’s not a good thing.

There are a lot of new laws, like the ‘80% law’, which I find to be criminal. For instance, if developers are able to convince 80% of tenants to sell their properties to them, then you would be forced to sell your flat. People talk about post-colonialism, but I don’t believe there’s any such thing. There is just always a new colonizer, and right now the colonizer is the developers, and the government allows it. Together, they are colonizing Hong Kong space. That has to stop, and needs to be more rational.

Which Hong Kong arts organisations do you appreciate?

In terms of an organisation that has made a new contribution in the past five to ten years, definitely Asia Art Archive. I think Asia Art Archive is a very important organisation.

1A Space is good, and has been struggling to stay open. They are artists in a government owned space; that’s really tough.

There are some important grass roots initiative projects run by artists. The Kai Tak River Project is run by artists and architects who are trying to preserve the Kai Tak River Area as a cultural space, and this involves a whole lot of other issues.

The musicians and theatre performers in the San Po Kong district who moved into factory areas to have rehearsal and performance space have also formed an organization. The government has a new initiative to develop the San Po Kong area, so they are trying to throw everyone out. But, where are they supposed to go? They have formed their own group to try to change things. [The San Po Kong Creative and Cultural Industry Concern Group]

'Tannhauser', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Gary Gunn. Curated by Valerie Doran.

Are there any particular galleries you value in Hong Kong?

When it comes to commercial galleries I prefer not to answer that question, but in terms of non-commercial galleries, I can say that it’s really great there are some new locally run galleries showing more conceptual works with a less commercial and more experimental style. Like the YY9 Gallery, and the Exit Gallery. These put on small and interestingly conceived shows that are less commercial, which I think is really great.

Do you attend biennales?

Not really. Frankly I don’t have a lot of time to travel because I’m very busy. I have a child and I teach. I get to some things here and there, but biennales are not a compelling interest of mine.

How do you stay informed about the art world? What do you read?

I think I read very much at random. I’ll read some of the Western art news, like Art Forum, Art News, and The Art Newspaper. I actually find a lot of interesting stuff in the Financial Times; they have a great Arts and Culture section. Occasionally the Wall Street Journal. I’ll also look at Yishu, which is a contemporary Chinese arts journal published out of Canada. And Orientations Magazine, because I am also interested in traditional art, and I have a background in traditional Chinese painting.

However, I do research a lot of particular topics that I’m teaching. For instance, I may read about Indian art or the contemporary scene in miniatures from Pakistan. I’m not the kind of person who regularly reads a whole range of things; I’m very much driven by my personal interests.

What literature and writers have influenced your thinking?

There is a very intriguing text by the 17th century ‘eccentric’ painter Shi Tao, called in English ‘Enlightening Remarks on Painting. It is quite a radical and conceptual text in its way, and I have re-read it and drawn from it many times since I first read it more than twenty years ago.

Another book is ‘Ways of Seeing’ by the British humanist and critic John Berger. In fact, the text of Hope & Glory’s educational pamphlet, which we designed for students, (conceived by myself and Robert Peckham of HKU, with text by Robert) was inspired by Berger’s approach.

What projects are you looking forward to next?

[Laughs] Sleeping! Actually, I am involved in another project but we have not gotten to realize it yet, partly because of Hong Kong’s weird ‘creative industries’ definition. The project is ‘In Dragon Garden, which is a beautiful private garden in Tsuen Wan, and the granddaughter of the founder has managed to preserve it from developers. With her aunt and uncle, who now own it, they want to create a public cultural and artistic environment and garden. However, getting the support to do that is very difficult. So I’ve been working on a prototype art project with that, and so far we have not been able to realize it because of funding issues.

I would like to do another show that breaks the mold of how things are usually done here. I would like to work with a single Hong Kong artist and just do a major show in a major space, because no one does that. Like in New York. I just want to do that to change the paradigm. It’s great to have art in these private intimate spaces, and that’s why Hong Kong art has developed the way it has, in a very interesting way. But we need to break out of that and think about projection.

The other thing I’d like to do is create a different kind of space. And I’d love to be a curator and get paid for it. That would be exciting. [laughs]

EW/KN

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‘Guerilla’ gallerist on introducing Banksy to Asia, art atmosphere in Hong Kong- interview

Posted by artradar on April 14, 2010


HONG KONG ART MARKET

Two year old gallery Fabrik, known for its unique guerilla exhibitions and for bringing Western iconic artists to Asia, sets up permanent home in Hong Kong.

The Fabrik Contemporary Art Gallery is young in Hong Kong, having exploded onto the art scene about 2 years ago with its first show LOVE ART, which caused a sensation introducing works by the notorious street artist Banksy, who had never before been exhibited in Asia. Although the Fabrik Gallery is young, it stands out in Hong Kong’s Chinese-saturated art market for its rare support of Western and contemporary pop artworks and its unique practice of holding ‘guerilla exhibitions’ in temporary or borrowed spaces. In fact, 2 years into its business of promoting art, Fabrik Contemporary has just recently found itself a fixed home in the heart of Central in Hong Kong.

The gallery is a joint venture, owned and operated by Sean Coxall, Jurgen Abergas, and Mark Saunderson, and was originally intended as a platform for the art enthusiasts to share and market their ever-expanding private collections of Warhol and other iconic pop artworks.

The business partners recognized the void of popular Western artworks within the Hong Kong art market, which generally does not expose art lovers to Western phenomena.

The gallery’s flagship Banksy show in April 2008 shocked the art community with its overwhelming success, drawing unprecedented crowds and attention. This Spring, Fabrik fittingly celebrated the opening of their permanent space with another show featuring Banksy, accompanied by the likes of Damien Hirst, Francis Bacon, and Gilbert & George in ‘The Great British Show,’ which ran February 25-March 25.

Art Radar catches up with the Fabrik Gallery’s lively co-owner and curator Jurgen Abergas, a London-educated cosmopolitan whose background includes growing up in the Philippines and living in Los Angeles and China. He shares his perspective on the Hong Kong art scene, Hong Kong’s reaction to Western pop art, and tells all about the series of serendipitous events that culminated in bringing Banksy to Hong Kong.

Was it logistically easy to have the Banksy LOVE ART show in Hong Kong?

Yes, it was actually, because there is no tax on importing art here. We were not yet even registered as a company at that time. We were just working as a private dealership. We collaborated with the Schoeni Gallery, because [the Gallery Director] Nicole Schoeni loves Banksy and wanted to bring him here too. This was also a jump starting point for Nicole’s Adapta Gallery project in Hong Kong.

The show was comprised of 3 days in the Hong Kong Art Centre, and then another 2 weeks with additional pieces for the Schoeni show.

What is the mission of the gallery?

The mission of the gallery is to encourage first time collectors. We try to provide known iconic pieces that accurately represent the style of an artist. For instance, if you want a piece by Hirst, you wouldn’t want a piece that is only a squiggle or a dot, because that is not a known Hirst. We show work that is more iconic and familiar.

Japanese Apricot 2, 2005, by Chiho Aoshima. 55 x 77.8 cm Lithograph. Contact Fabrik Gallery.

What type of art did you intend to share with Hong Kong?

Definitely Western contemporary art. The Japanese art was not a fluke; I’ve been into manga since I was a kid, and it was something that my two partners only got eventually.

We were at a gallery showing of Murakami and other artists, and I told them we should definitely show Murakami. I mean, we go to London, New York, Los Angeles, and we see all these [Murakami] retrospectives, but we don’t see it here. I thought it would make a difference in the Hong Kong arts scene if someone showed works of Murakami here. And also, we wanted to prove that what Murakami does is beyond just Louis Vuitton.

When we opened this gallery, it was supposed to only be a stockroom. But, I said, let’s just do it properly. We were just kind of sick and tired of showing art out of our homes. It’s not ideal, but there are many dealers in New York and London that show art out of their home. However, in Hong Kong it is so crazy outside that you really need your home to be sacred space.

So, we launched the Murakami show, and we pre-sold most of the art before hand! It was one of those shows where we were struggling because clients wanted their art immediately and not wait until the end of the show! So, we were re-hanging stuff that wasn’t even Murakami anymore, because we ran out of the pieces that were actually in demand. We didn’t see that coming at all. Nobody was specializing in Murakami in Hong Kong. However, I have to credit Nicole [Schoeni], because she had works by Chiho Aoshima, who is another artist by Murakami. Aoshima is a lady who just paints women. Nicole had an amazing Japanese apricot lithograph. It is a piece that is really stuck in my head. After seeing that, I was like, ok, let’s include other artists with Murakami.

How is the Fabrik Gallery unique among galleries in Hong Kong?

I think we’re unique because we deal with art that is not generally represented in Hong Kong, and we do not deal with Chinese art.  I love Chinese art, but in a sea of contemporary Chinese art, there is only so much you want to see. We are looking to offer something different.

We also think it’s important to educate the viewer of the message behind the piece. You can go to galleries and think a work is beautiful, but not understand the inspiration for a work. We support more people, especially students, coming into the gallery and reading about an artwork so they do not have unprocessed thoughts about art. When you have a guide to read or someone who will explain the art to you, it really makes a difference and makes a lasting impression on someone who visits the gallery.

Can you describe the Fabrik Gallery’s ‘guerilla’ approach to art sales?

Basically, we went to different venues, like the W Hotel, rented out space, painted it, put up lights, and showed our works there.

Which galleries and arts organizations do you work closely with?

We work closely with White Cube in London, Aragon Press (the publisher of Damien Hirst), Other Criteria (again, Damien Hirst.) Hirst is our specialty. Also KaiKai Kiki, which is Murakami, the Helium Foundation, and other galleries in New York for our private collections.

Do you attend art fairs? Are you participating in Art HK?

This May we will be. We’re going to Art HK. One of the reasons we did the Banksy show is because we were rejected from Art HK in 2008. We were accepted this year, but we’re still deciding whether we should go. They prioritize the international galleries and we notice that most of the galleries here in Hong Kong are not participating.  I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s a very weird process.

Although we were rejected the first time, it’s the best thing that ever happened to us. If we had done Art HK, the Banksy show never would have happened.

What was your impression of Art HK?

I love Art HK. It’s a great way to see art! I think it’s one of those events that can give a platform and democratize the buying of art and make international artworks accessible to a wider audience. However, I don’t approve of hard sales tactics, and showing artworks without providing the context of the artist. In art fairs in general, it is hard to create the intimacy of an actual gallery.

What was Hong Kong’s reaction to your flagship show featuring Banksy?

It was phenomenal, they loved it. No other exhibition has ever graced the front page of the City section of the South China Morning Post. The turnout was around 1,000 people, and people from Christie’s and Sotheby’s were lining up. We had to hire security because it was just too packed. It was a very well publicized event that just happened in about 3 weeks. People usually plan this sort of thing 6 to 8 months in advance, and we did it in only 3 weeks. We worked around the clock, and were so tired afterward. Before we opened the Art Centre the next day, people were already lining up to see the show.

Was the turnout local?

It was a combination of both local and expatriate people, which is good. I think people in London and Europe are more passionate about these things, though. It’s weird, because when we opened the Banksy show, Banksy-style art of monkeys appeared on the bridges, and the next day it was already erased. A lot of people thought the graffiti was actually authentic Banksy. If this was in London, they would have preserved that. If it was in New York, they would have preserved it. But here in Hong Kong, it was wiped the next day.

The government needs to promote more sensibility toward the arts, especially here in Hong Kong Island. We’re on the cusp; we’re still not there yet.  The Hong Kong crowd still has a lot to see compared to London. However, we’re never going to be London and we need to make our own niche in Hong Kong, and make a city where art and commerce blend in. It’s still a financial city; that is what we are all about. We are not exactly an art city. That is one of the disadvantages of being here in Hong Kong. We are not exposed to a lot, and important art can get erased the next day by the cleaners. Because it’s not important to them.

Has Banksy been featured in Asia prior to your first show?

We definitely wanted Banksy to be our first show. It is the first and largest show of Banksy in Asia; Tokyo rejected it, so we were glad to take it. Ironically, now Tokyo is hungry for his works.

Does the Fabrik Gallery intend to feature other street or urban artists?

Paul Insect, Icon 8, 2008. Wooden panel, gold leaf, natural powder paint, shellac, acrylic paint.

We are planning to bring Lazarides U.K. artists Antony Micallef and Paul Insect before the end of the year. We love their works and they relate well to Warhol, especially Paul Insect. He creates appropriated images that reference historical art.

How does Banksy promote his art if his identity is kept secret? Does he directly work with galleries for his shows?

He’s not with his manager Steve Lazarides anymore, since they had a falling out. They had different intentions; it’s hard when you’re turning art into a commodity. Banksy doesn’t work directly with galleries either, and doesn’t show up in exhibitions. He just wants his identity to be secret and to keep a low profile, and to continue creating smart work and churning out really good stuff.

Why do you think Banksy created the sensation in Hong Kong?

His works confront a lot of issues and are very tongue in cheek, yet also is close to the heart. Banksy’s art talks to each individual and is easy to relate to. It makes you think, but it makes you smile as well.

Do you see any major differences between the art of Banksy and the art of the other artists in the ‘Great British Show’?

His work, whether it is rendered in canvas or in print, is from the street. There is a roughness that you can see and feel, although it is a screen print. It is still raw, and there is something sinister about it. You know the artist made this on the street in the middle of the night and ran away from the police, knowing he could get caught at any time while he was painting.

Are you familiar with the street art scene and artists in Hong Kong?  If so, who would you consider important artists?

I am familiar with Hong Kong street artists, like the ST/ART Collective… However, in general the street scene in Hong Kong is not very prolific. Funnily enough, I saw a tagging by the U.K. artist Word to Mother on a wooden board in the market. I am sure that it’s his authentic tag, since no one else can really do that. Someone just used the board to cover the fruits they were selling.

Do you view Hong Kong as an international art hub?

With Art HK, the success of ArtWalk, and the international galleries— The Gagosian Gallery is coming, Ben Brown is here, and the Malborough Gallery is opening here. Obviously people are looking at the potential of Hong Kong, and there is a big market here.

Tsang Kin-Wah, 2006. Untitled wallpaper detail for Shu Uemura in California.

What is great about the local art scene?

There are particularly 2 artists that I really like. One is Tsang Kin-wah. He was commissioned to create the wallpaper of The Pawn restaurant in Wan Chai. He made repetitions of words to create a flock wallpaper pattern. He has had exhibitions in New York, Paris and Norway. He’s really a major artist, but he’s very humble.

Nadim Abbas is another Hong Kong artist who used to work for Plum Blossoms, and is now showing his art at Para/Site. He’s a very conceptual artist, and was featured in the [Hong Kong Museum of Art] Louis Vuitton show representing Hong Kong artists. I love artists who work from their stream of consciousness, and he obviously does this.

I also like the illustration style of Carrie Chau, [featured at the Wun Yin Collection Gallery] at the Homeless boutique on Gough Street.

What news sources do you read to stay informed about the art world?

Art Observed.com is my number one resource. The Art Newspaper is good too, although I’ve noticed that not all their stories are up to date. Sometimes their news seems to be relevant to say, 1o months ago.  I also read Frieze MagazineThe Art ReviewThe Guardian, blogs, anything!

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a dealer gallery in Hong Kong?

Show only the artists that you love and the artists that you’re passionate about. Art is a very personal thing, and the general public may come in and hate it. Be prepared to be judged.

Is there any particular information, news, or advice you would like to share with our readers?

Start collecting now.  If you like something, save your money and make it your goal. In the next few years you will probably regret not getting it.

What is your next show at Fabrik Contemporary Art?

In the Name of Pop, featuring Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring will run May 6-June 10, 2010.

Visit Fabrik Contemporary Art’s new and permanent home at 412, 4F, Yip Fung Building, 2 – 18 D’Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong.

EW/KCE

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Louis Vuitton, A Passion For Creation review – the fine art of branding in Hong Kong

Posted by artradar on July 28, 2009


LOUIS VUITTON EXHIBITION REVIEW HONG KONG

The historical roots and modern artistic expression of a luxury brand are revealed at  ‘Louis Vuitton: A Passion For Creation,’ presented as a 3-part series by the Hong Kong Museum of Art.  In the first installment of the exhibition, the story of the brand’s evolution is told through the display of original products and artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries and the new millennium. The show begins quietly, showcasing old original Louis Vuitton pieces that champion form and function. However, soon aspirations are revealed to challenge the limits of brand identity and demonstrate the ever-evolving nature of this luxury name.

'Louis Vuitton: A Passion For Creation' Exhibition Entry, Hong Kong Museum of Art

'Louis Vuitton: A Passion For Creation' Exhibition Entry, Hong Kong Museum of Art

The brand is shown from its humble beginning, when the spirit of travel inspired the original concept for Louis Vuitton. However, a new identity emerges under the art direction of Marc Jacobs, who was appointed in 1997.

The show demonstrates LV’s progression with pieces that reflect modern international urban culture by Takashi Murakami of Tokyo, and Stephen Sprouse, who emerged from the arts scene in New York.  The chosen works on display suggest that Louis Vuitton has grown from its origins as the image of Western sophistication into a reflection of international artistic attitudes, sometimes fantastic or defiant, but always luxurious.

'Panda' by Takashi Murakami, 2003. Fiberglass.

'Panda' by Takashi Murakami, 2003. Fiberglass.

Of particular significance is Murakami’s Panda, made in 2003. The massive multicolored, cartoon-like fiberglass panda appears to be rising out of a classically inspired Louis Vuitton trunk, suggesting the surreal new direction he envisions for the brand. Indeed, Murakami’s vision for the modern Louis Vuitton is a frivolous world, a brightly-colored childish fantasy. In contrast, Marc Jacob’s Spring 2008 interpretation for the brand challenges boundaries with a provocative ‘naughty nurse’ theme, and Stephen Sprouse’s Spring 2001 graffiti-inspired pieces challenge the established high-end identity with defacement.

Louis Vuitton Spring 2008, by Marc Jacobs

Louis Vuitton Spring 2008, by Marc Jacobs

Although this show may first appear to be another form of marketing, it does a fair job of demonstrating the art of creating a powerful brand and the evolution of its identity. It would be over-reaching to say the Louis Vuitton products themselves are presented as special works of art. Instead, the real magic that Louis Vuitton shows is the ability to build off an original concept while not changing its foundation, and continually applying a fresh mystique every few seasons by modeling products after fine art by edgy, of-the-moment artists.  Louis Vuitton is artfully alive and growing, but its roots are still intact.

It is still unknown who exactly came up with the concept for the show. Although the show would have more legitimacy if it was the brainchild of Mr. Tang Hoi-Chui, Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and his associates at the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department, it is unlikely they alone conceived the premise for an exhibition on Louis Vuitton . Who approached whom for this collaboration is unclear, and Art Radar will be investigating the source of the show. In the meantime, however, expect to see commercialism and art continue to merge in the Asian art scene, which like Louis Vuitton, is also alive and growing into something different.

Showing at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, May 22-Aug 9, 2009.  $30 HK admission

Contributed by Erin Wooters

Other Reviews of Louis Vuitton, A Passion for Creation:

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Posted in Branding in art develops, Brands, China, Chinese, Consumerism, Crossover art, Events, From Art Radar, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Artists, Logos, Museum shows, Museums, Reviews, Shows | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The distinctive style of young Hong Kong Fine Line artists: what is it and who are they?

Posted by artradar on February 20, 2009


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Bovey Lee, Atomic Jellyfish, papercut

 HONG KONG ART REVIEW

Meticulous, pale and delicate, the work of a group of artists from Hong Kong is getting noticed well beyond its borders. Characterised by fine lines and sophisticated irony, these understated works in a variety of media show a provocative subtley which turns its back on the ‘in your face’ thick outlined, neon-coloured flat art derived from Japanese cartoons and Murakami influences ubiquitous in Asia.

In his January 2009 show Music Families at the Singapore Tyler Institute, Wilson Shieh (1970) displayed a series of prints showing naked human figures who , with characteristic irony, are transformed into musical instruments being ‘played’.

A Time Out Singapore review describes his interest in classical techniques: “Shieh’s love of ancient Chinese arts compelled him to master the meticulous 17th-century fine-brush technique of gongbi, a style that calls for precision of detail and a measured hand.”

Last year Wilson Shieh was included in the Hong Kong Museum of Art’s show New Ink Art: Innovation and Beyond and was also selected by Claire Morin of Time Out as one of the Magnificent Seven Hong Kong artists.  Shieh is popular with collectors too and is “arguably Hong Kong’s bestselling contemporary artist” says Morin . His three solo shows in the city since 2001 have completely sold out, and there is a waiting list for his new work. “I always think I’m the lucky one. When I started working in this style 14 years ago, I never dreamed I could sell my work and make a living.”

Wilson Shieh Music Families

Wilson Shieh Music Families

Shieh had a busy year in 2008. His works were shown in international art fairs in Europe and Asia, in June he took part in a two-week residency in Singapore’s Print Institute and he has been organising shows in UK and Taiwan.

 “Artists can do their bit working in their studios, but we need help from others in the art field, the galleries and curators,” suggests Shieh of the current Hong Kong art scene. “Right now we’re lacking curators who can bring our work to an international platform, and galleries who can promote our work.”

Eclipsed by the attention showered on mainland Chinese art, Hong Kong artists have been free from the commercial pressures of their compatriots allowing them to quietly develop a unique aesthetic.  Grotto Fine Art  was the first gallery to recognise it and, almost alone since it was founded in 2001, has been tireless in its promotion of Hong Kong art. It was Grotto who was responsible for bringing the work of Wilson Shieh to collectors in his first sell-out exhibition in 2001. This year Grotto will be active in Art Asia Basel in June 2009 – a debut fair of Asian art to coincide with Art Basel – and at Art Asia Miami in December. If you are a visitor at one of these fairs, it is worth making a special effort to see the Hong Kong works up close because, unlike some art which is enhanced by the backlighting of a computer screen, JPeg images do not do  justice to the subtlety and physical wit of these works.

Grotto’s current exhibition Liners’ Paradox (to Feb 29 2009) is a group exhibition of four Hong Kong contemporary artists, featuring works by Bovey Lee, Joey Leung, Angela Su and Wai Pong-yu. Each of these artists uses different media (paper cutouts, thread, ink, ball point pen) but the delicate lacy-lined aesthetic which ties the works together produces a group show which is successful in giving us a coherent view of what might be called Hong Kong’s very own Fine Line Art movement.

Angela Su, Aporophyla Lutulenta, embroidery

Angela Su, Aporophyla Lutulenta, embroidery

Related links: Hong Kong artists on the fringe – International Herald Tribune – Dec 2007 – we came across this link after this entry was written. A useful piece confirming and elaborating on aspects of the Radar story.

Sources: Grotto Fine Art, Time Out Singapore, Time Out Hong Kong

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