Long under-appreciated locally, marginalised socially and overshadowed by the talent on the mainland. That’s the oft repeated lament describing artists and the art scene of Hong Kong. But recognition of Hong Kong artists seems to finally be on its way. On Tuesday at the launch of Hong Kong Eye at ArtisTree in Taikoo Place, iconic curator and gallerist TZ ‘Johnson’ Chang declared, “Hong Kong is the best kept secret in the art world, but now the word is out”. It is a satisfying relief to finally see a show dedicated to Hong Kong contemporary art, and Hong Kong Eye couldn’t have come at a better time given the city’s preoccupation with art spurred on by the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong fair, kicking off on May 23.
Founded by David and Serenella Ciclitira of Parallel Contemporary Art, the Eye project was established in 2009 to help promote local artistic talents on an international scale. This is the third Eye exhibition of Asian art, following Korean Eye and Indonesian Eye, both previously held at the Saatchi Gallery where Hong Kong Eye also debuted last year, drawing over 20,000 visitors over a five week period.
Although a bit of mixed bag and exhibited in a space that seems like an oversized shirt for a few of the works, the larger space at ArtisTree certainly does the exhibition as a whole more justice than last year’s display at the Saatchi, which so cramped that only the most monumental — a wooden interactive army tank by Amy Cheung — was visible. Presented by Prudential Corporation Asia, and curated by Chang, Serenella Ciclitira and Saatchi’s Nigel Hurst, the Hong Kong show is an expanded version of London’s featuring over 60 pieces by 24 Hong Kong based artists, and showcasing works in a variety of media including installation, sculptures, video and drawing.
The only common thread tying the works together is geography. But then, the point of the show is to provide a general introduction to the Hong Kong contemporary art landscape, so to speak. It is an eclectic scrapbook of Hong Kong artists, with works reflecting their experiences and their response to the city, its history, society, and politics. There are works drawing on classic Chinese ink painting, such as Leung Kui Ting‘s unfurling ink landscapes; traditional craft, such as Kum Chi Keung‘s bamboo birdcage; film, as seen in Chow Chun Fai‘s ‘subtitled’ reproduced film-still paintings, which deal with Hong Kong’s culture and identity; and the urban. But the show is not without humour or the absurd. A life-sized distorted red Hong Kong taxi sits just ahead of the entrance, plucked from an Alice in Wonderland dream by artist Amy Cheung. Beside it, a large plush prostrate Mr Potato Head figure, LA-based Adrian Wong‘s ‘In Search of a Primordial Idiolect IV’, emits repetitive bovine moans and dialogue that resound throughout the exhibition space. Portuguese-born Joao Vasco Paiva brings the urban Hong Kong experience into the exhibition space with a kinetic sculpture of MTR turnstiles, reducing the mechanical quotidian experience of commuting on the subway to the abstract. Kingsley Ng‘s ‘Musical Loom’ echoes hauntingly and theremin-like from the other end of the exhibition space. The whole feels like a string of pieced together mini theatre sets where one can visit and get lost in a cacophony of sounds, shapes and colours.
Despite the broadness, the exhibition aims to shine a light on some of the work from Hong Kong and stimulate interest in and discussion about the relatively unknown Hong Kong art scene. But more importantly, it will hopefully foster more support for art and artistic development in Hong Kong, which is very much needed if the city is to have a thriving creative scene. One does leave with a sense of optimism for Hong Kong’s art future. “I hope it makes a statement about Hong Kong art today and the promise it has. But most of all that it gives Hong Kong a sense of identity and character that makes it different from across the border in the north and other parts of Asia”, says Chang.
The ArtisTree exhibition will run until 31 May, 2013 and will be complemented by another smaller exhibition to take place at the Mandarin Oriental‘s Clipper Lounge in Central from 6-26 May.
Hong Kong Eye
1 to 31 May
ArtisTree, 1/F, Cornwall House, TaiKoo Place, Island East, Hong Kong
6 to 26 May
Clipper Lounge, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong
Admission to the exhibition is free