When Hong Kong emerged as Asia’s art capital in 2012, some eyebrows were raised. What does a city of bankers and office workers really know about art?
But the ball had started rolling. The lively Chinese metropolis had already been branded Asia’s World City. since 2001. Under its hard and lustrous capitalist shell, it is also known for its vibrant culture of rich Cantonese traditions, a prolific film industry, as well as venerated, ancient Feng Shui practices. Once home to the now demolished Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong’s “dark” and seductive side has captured the imagination of artists around the globe.
However, Hong Kong’s rise to the top of the art world meant that it had to cast off the pessimism that has haunted it in the last decades. For a start, this historical port city appeared to be more preoccupied with its past glory than with its future potential. Cynics easily dismissed it as merely a money-making machine and a point of transit with no distinct cultural identity. To add insult to injury, professor Ackbar Abbas had famously warned about the death of Hong Kong after the 1997 handover to China.
But despite the voices of doubt, Hong Kong in the recent years has proved that it is has what it takes, as it successfully transformed into an exciting art hub and the place to be for creative souls.
And, surprisingly, its money-making capacity served as the catalyst.
Being a vibrant entrepôt for trade between China and the world, a former colony with long-standing relationships with the West, as well as one of the most iconic vertical cities in the world were all determinants of its artistic proliferation.
In the years that followed since the Sino-British Joint Declaration there has been an ongoing discourse about Hong Kong Culture and Identity that inevitably derived from the unique political status as “One Country-Two Systems”. It triggered a process of awakening and self-reflection as well as a wave of handover angst. In this climate of alertness, the interest in self expression increased, and a new creative vibe took over the city.
But perhaps the major driving force behind this success has been China’s growing appetite for art, which lead to important investments by new and already established art collectors. As a result, the funding for arts in Hong Kong has nearly doubled since 2008, making Hong Kong the most important arts capital after London and New York.
Events, Galleries and Institutions: In the recent years, Art Basel Hong Kong and its edgier peer, Art Central placed the city right in the centre of the international arts scene. With annual shows running yearly and featuring more than 3000 artists, they showcase art from the most established art galleries in Asia and the globe.The brand new M Plus, Hong Kong’s new museum for visual culture that is destined to open in 2019, already presents diverse programmes and “nomadic” exhibitions such as the M Plus Rover, a travelling creative studio that tours at secondary schools and community places.
In addition to these major events, a plethora of local galleries enrich the city’s diverse art scene. Experimental contemporary art space Para Site was founded 1996, preceding Hong Kong’s handover to China, and has since served as one of the most important independent art institutions in Asia. Gallery 10 Chancery Lane showcases work from South East Asia’s emerging artists including Cambodia and Vietnam, and supports established and emerging artists from around the world.
What’s more, the city became a hotspot for important foreign galleries that wish to expand globally,such as the White Cube galleries that since 2012 founded its first non UK branch in Hong Kong Central, and has hosted major exhibitions including Damien Hirst and Gilbert&George.
The cultural institution Tai Kwun which is housed in the former Central Police Station, one of Hong Kong’s most iconic colonial buildings, aims to serve as “a cultural brand for Hong Kong”, and is planning to host contemporary art exhibitions, heritage and leisure programmes.
Street Art and Public Art: In a climate of unprecedented proliferation of creative ideas, local and international street artists scramble to put their mark on Hong Kong. Recent projects include transforming a worn-down dirty building in Sham Shui Po into a rainbow-coloured three dimensional work of art by Madrid based Spanish artist Okuda, as well as eye-catching graffiti brightening up the streets at the annual graffiti festival Hong Kong Walls. Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto transformed a moving tram into a work of art in his work Debris .
Public Art Hong Kong (PAHK) is a leading public art promoting organisation which strives to make public art accessible to all, while its vision is “to enhance the quality of life of the people in Hong Kong by bringing excellent contemporary art that offers impactful experiences to the people and the cityscape.” It promotes several temporary and ongoing projects in collaboration with the Hong Kong Arts Centre.
Being such an important part of the city life, the Hong Kong public art scene has proved that it has the maturity and confidence to embrace challenges. From a giant inflatable rubber duck floating in the Harbour by Dutch artist Florentijin Hofman, to Anthony Gormley’s rooftop sculptures, Hong Kong welcomes bold projects.
In 2016’s Event Horizon, Gromley installed 31 “naked” men sculptures on rooftops in Central, often letting passerby people to think that they were humans attempting suicide. Even though the exhibition was no doubt controversial, it was the most extensive public art installation ever seen in the city.
Hong Kong is not only a famous tourist destination and a dynamic architectural hotspot, but a culturally rich and diverse Asian city, whose art scene is enriched and organic.
To those who love the city, Hong Kong is a time capsule that is transforming into a large, vibrant and colourful art piece. All eyes are on Hong Kong hoping to see more exciting cutting edge art originating in this unique Chinese city.