Hong Kong has never been known for the arts. Shopping, yes. Cheap, delicious food and a rowdy bar district, definitely. But art? Not unless you count streets brimming with shops peddling questionable antiques and curios.
reputation as a capital of kitsch is clearly fading, though. This year's Hong Kong International Art Fair, a four-day affair held at the end
of May, attracted more than 63,000 visitors – a nearly 38% increase over the
previous year, which puts it in the same attendance ballpark as Switzerland’s Art Basel, an annual contemporary art fair that the Daily Telegraph once called "the
Olympics of the art world". In April, at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, a new work by pioneer
video artist Zhang Peili sold for $23 million Hong Kong dollars, more than nine
times its estimated value. And recently, it was announced that a former police
station and prison in the middle of SoHo will house a contemporary arts
complex, opening in 2014.
earth is clearly tipping eastwards on its axis, and Asia is playing a more
important role in all our lives, be it economically, politically or culturally,”
said Magnus Renfrew, director of the Hong Kong International Art Fair. “The art
market tends to follow the money and there is immense wealth being created in
further along the horizon is a new cultural district in West Kowloon, set to be
completed in stages between 2012 and 2026. Despite multiple delays, criticism
and turnover in project leadership, $22 billion Hong Kong dollars have been
allocated to develop a 40-hectare area devoted to the arts, including a new
museum called M+, which is being led by Lars Nittve, founding director of the
Tate Modern in London. The West Kowloon Cultural
District Authority plans to build a temporary pavilion for M+ in 2012, and
the main building is set to open after 2016. The district is a large step for a former colony whose
government generally caters to real estate moguls' high-rise towers and
last few years, Hong Kong’s growing interest in the arts has most visibly
manifested itself in the arrival of several internationally-recognized
galleries. Increasingly curious buyers, growing affluence, low taxes and low
import fees have all combined to create an environment amenable to gallery
owners. And until the museums open, these dynamic Hong Kong galleries are a
visitor's best hope at catching a glimpse of coveted works from emerging and
established western and Asian artists.
One of the
early arrivals, back in 2007, was Sundaram Tagore, a gallerist with outposts in New
York and Beverly Hills who focuses on the intersection of Western and non-Western
art and shows pieces that further a global dialogue.
Kong is] the hot spot for an international gallery. That's the truth in what
I've experienced," Tagore said. "What's happening in Asia is, because
of the boom, there is a voracious appetite, and that's very positive."
recent exhibition was a collection of striking black-and-white prints by
photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who highlights issues of poverty and
globalization in striking landscapes and emotional portraits.
Ben Brown Fine Arts turned up two years later, in 2009. Though he
was born in Hong Kong, Brown waited to start a gallery in his hometown until he
felt the market was ripe and that buyers had gained a real appreciation for
western art. Large abstract paintings by Spanish artist Miquel Barceo are on
display until 29 July, their thick texture belying the artist's background as a
sculptor who works with metals.
Next came Edouard Malingue, a French art dealer whose focus is on selling Impressionist and Modern
works to Asian buyers. Opening with a bang last September, Malingue curated the
biggest Picasso show Hong Kong had ever seen, and a subsequent exhibition
showcased the likes of Magritte, Ernst and Pissarro. On view through 30 June in
Malingue's white, sunny space are works by contemporary Chinese artist Zhang
Huan, who uses ash to craft paintings and sculptures that denote the
impermanence of human life.
behemoth Gagosian Gallery opened its doors in January with a widely
lauded exhibition by Damien Hirst. In a city where space is hard to come by,
the high-ceilinged 5,200-square-foot gallery is making the statement that Hong
Kong is worth the investment. Director Nick Simunovic said the gallery's goals
mirror its ones in other parts of the world: to mount "museum-quality
exhibitions" and to help serious collectors add to their coffers. But
Gagosian also aims to represent a wide range of artists of interest to both
Asian and Western collectors. "I have been fielding requests for artists
as diverse as Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Roy
Lichtenstein, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso, among many others,"
Pascal and Sylvie de Sarthe brought a branch of their flagship Phoenix, Arizona gallery
to Hong Kong. The gallery highlights works ranging from Abstract Expressionism
to Pop. The couple is the exclusive dealer for photographer and surrealist
artist David LaChapelle in Asia and launched their Hong Kong outpost with a
successful show of Chinese artist Zao Wou-ki's colourful abstract canvases.
mainstays agree: Hong Kong still has a long way to go before it can be seen as
a hub on par with New York, Paris or London. But it is clear that a city oft criticized
as commercial and superficial is finally developing some cultural depth.