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Hong Kong, Here We Come!

彭菲 Johanna Lou 2018-06-16 14:16

Western Galleries’ Journey to the East 

A new landmark was added to the map of the Hong Kong art tour this spring: H Queen’s, located at 80 Queen's Road Central. At present, this mansion has no less than seven galleries spreading from the 5th to the 17th floors. Among them, the international magnates David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth respectively rented two floors as their first show of the Hong Kong branch. The old Japanese gallery, Whitestone Gallery, which three years ago was located on Hollywood Road, is now on the seventh and eighth floors. Meanwhile on the twelfth floor is Pace Gallery, which has already successfully opened in the Beijing and Hong Kong markets, expanding its presence within Asia’s art scene. Making their Hong Kong debut is Seoul Auction, who have a gallery on the eleventh floor, and you’ll also find Pearl Lam Galleries and Galerie Ora- Ora from Hong Kong, and Tang Contemporary Art from mainland China in H Queens. 


On March 26th, dozens of invited guests lined up on the ground floor to attend the opening of selected galleries within the building. However, just like what happened at the Pedder Building in previous years, the venue’s elevators were “not enough". Slowly but surely, guests eager to witness the excitement began taking the stairs – regardless of how well-dressed they were. 

David Zwirner in Hong Kong, which opened in January this year, held a solo exhibition of German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. The Whitestone Gallery showed the "fantastic glass" of American artist Dale Chihuly. Pearl Lam Galleries held the first solo exhibition in Asia for the Italian artist Arcangelo Sassolino. Seoul Auction presented the works of artists such as Ufan Lee and Yayoi Kusama. Pace Gallery brought Yoshitomo Nara's new work. Hauser & Wirth announced their start in Hong Kong with the works of American artist Mark Bradford. Galerie Ora-Ora held the solo exhibition of Chinese artist Xiao Xu . 


On this day, these galleries – especially western galleries with decades of history – seem to proclaim: China, here we come. 

“There is no better place for the galleries to ‘live in groups’ than here throughout the whole Central.” "There's a lot of space here and the floor is over four meters high, suitable for displaying art of different sizes and forms," said Guo Qianqian, the senior director of Hauser & Wirth in Asia. "We (the gallery) heard that David Zwirner had chosen this place, and after a site visit, we felt the same way and decided to settle here too,” said Cai Lixin, senior director of Hauser & Wirth. Last fall, Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner announced plans to expand in Hong Kong. In January this year, David Zwirner started their journey to Hong Kong with a solo exhibition by Michael Borremans. 


In fact, ten years before the opening of H Queen's, the international galleries already began to vie for market share in Hong Kong. In 2009, Ben Brown Fine Arts became the first international gallery to enter the Pedder Building. "The ceiling was about 3.8 meters high, about twice as high as the average building. However, Hong Kong people are more reluctant to go up the hill (to the Hollywood Road), and it is also difficult to ask them to go further to Aberdeen and industrial areas,” said Andreas Hecker, the gallery’s Hong Kong Director. Two years later, Gagosian moved into the seventh floor of the building and began to tap the Hong Kong market. At the time, Emmanuel Perrotin, who was also picking an address for Galerie Perrotin, considered being a neighbor to Gagosian. Perrotin later said in an interview that the rent had “doubled" from last year, leading the gallerist to choose the Agricultural Bank of China Building, itself is not far from Pedder Building. In the same year, White Cube also settled down there. After 2012, Simon Lee Gallery, Lehmann Maupin, and Pace Gallery came to Hong Kong as well. 


Why do western galleries love Hong Kong so much? This has a lot to do with its geographical advantage and tax exemption policy. As a business-friendly port connecting China to the world, Hong Kong is home to collectors from all over the world. Particularly, Asian collectors are increasingly important clients of international galleries. Last year, high net worth Asian collectors bought a slew of high ticket works at Art Basel Hong Kong, including George Condo’s Russian Girl (USD2 million), Anish Kapoor's Mirror (Red to Purple) (GBP725,000), A.R.Penck’s Standart-West KO (USD600,000), James Turrell’s Elliptical Glass: KEPLER 62 f (USD590,000), Yoshitomo Nara’s Your Puppy (USD550,000), Ufan Lee's Dialogue (USD250,000). Xavier Hufkens, who runs a gallery in Brussels, echoed the sentiment shared by many European galleries trying to establish themselves in Hong Kong: "I've been running the gallery for 30 years, and trying to do things I haven't done every day. Now, we are very interested in understanding the interests of Asian collectors.” 


In addition to Hong Kong, Shanghai has gradually become the next target of international galleries. Korea's Arario Gallery and Japan’s Ota Fine Arts have already entered the West Bund, and Galerie Perrotin has announced that they will enter the Bund by the end of the year. "We're doing things that other international galleries haven't done. We want to be the first one to eat crab,” the gallery said in a characteristically off-beat statement. 

Despite this, the vast majority of western galleries are still hesitant to choose a location within the mainland due to domestic art tax policies (import tariffs is 3% and value-added tax on imports is 17%). As such, participating in Art Fair in China and holding exhibitions with domestic art galleries is the safest way for them to decode China 

Beijing Abstract Keeping Quiet in a Noisy Neighbourhood 

March is the busiest art season in Hong Kong, with the world's top galleries and institutions all trying to stake their place here by bringing their biggest and best shows to wow audiences. After a week of visual and physical impact, the noise is scattered, and the quiet of the empty space is just enough for people to look closely at each exhibition. When it comes to quiet, Parkview Art Hong Kong's Beijing Abstract exhibition is keeping a serene profile in the noisy neighbourhood. 


Beijing Abstract is an art group initiated by eight artists living in Beijing - Mao Lizi, Ma Kelu, Ma Shuqing, Yuan Zuo, Tan Ping, Meng Luding, Feng Lianghong and Li Di. These artists originally engaged in representational art, later turning to abstract styles, which became the dominant discourse within Chinese art of the past 30 years. As such the sentiment within the ‘Beijing Abstract’ exhibition is like a long-overdue style of painting: after three decades of maturation there is no declaration or constraint within the style, instead a unique kind of consciousness. 

Abstract art in China is not like western abstract art; there is no ‘system’ or academic definition. What we call abstract elements in Chinese art mostly refers to the unspoken parts of traditional art, with modern abstraction did not begin to appearing until the 20th century. In the beginning, Fengmian Lin, Xunqin Pang and other artists studied in France, bringing expressionism to China with them. Later, Chu Teh-chun and Zao Wou Ki continued the exploration of abstract painting, integrated the artistic conception of Chinese aesthetics into modern painting, and eventually formed a lyrical abstraction with oriental charm. By 1981, the works of American artists such as Jackson Pollock were exhibited at the National Art Museum of China. The impact of western modern art caused Chinese contemporary art to explore the abstract painting trend, eventually developing into a distinctive abstractionism with roots in eastern philosophy and ideas – all of which occurred during a period of very limited external information. Several of the artists whose works were on display were freed from the barriers that beset their predecessors, leading each to develope a very different creative direction. However, they also have experienced significant changes in China over the past 30 or 40 years. Some have been living abroad for some time, ultimately forming a unique artistic language that formulates the unique painting styles seen in ‘Beijing Abstract.’ 


The exhibition included works created in the 1980s, such as Mao Lizi’s 1980 work Abstract. Another piece of Mao’s, Floweriness, was created in 2017. Although the materials and methods of the two are different, their temperament still has similarities that show the artistic conception of Chinese traditional aesthetics. In the 1970s, another artist, Ma Kelu, started to pursue abstraction in a variety of styles, producing work closely related to his personal emotions. 


Tan Ping began abstract exploration in the early 1980s after dabbling with the occasional abstract texture of etchings. After this, he then reverted to painting as a means to understand the tension between control and chance. His works in three stages in the exhibition continued this exploration of complex and simple relationships. 

Having been fascinated by sports since the his early years, Meng Luding’s abstraction began to take shape in his work during the 1980s. In this exhibition, his piece Yuan Rate was created in 2015. They are not a representation of speed, but a record of the speed of painting. Meng Luding seeks to restore painting to pure visual experience. 

Ma Shuqing, on the other hand, is modernist to the end, focusing on building his own art world composed of colorific breathiness, charm and light. 


The combination of abstract works from different artists form a powerful but gentle aura, with the entire exhibition space giving the audience enough space to breathe. In the noisy Central of Hong Kong after the craziness of art week, there is a place for meditation, and you can carefully admire the works and feel the world inside the paintings. 

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