Asia’s Art City: Hong Kong’s Role as a Global Art Hub

A casual stroll down Hollywood Road in Hong Kong, and one finds oneself lost in a string of art galleries housing a colourful array of paintings, sculptures and installations. Among the hustle and bustle of the financial hub, hidden away behind the steely, modern skyline, is a treasure trove of art. It’s little wonder that the city is a host to a number of events that celebrate some of the greatest artists every year. Art Central and Art Basel for visual art, the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and, of course, the Hong Kong Arts Festival are a few of the most notable events that take place in March and April every year in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s art month has kicked off with galleries and cultural centres that have been showcasing their best artists for exhibits and shows. On the other hand, with rising rents and costs for artists and galleries to display such events, there is a risk that Hong Kong’s booming art scene will face some obstacles in the long term and turn into a more exclusive industry for the elite.

Sarah Aiman, a gallery assistant at the Edouard Malingue Gallery in Central, provides a tour of their latest exhibit by Malaysian artist Philip Lai. Photo by Siya Kulkarni.

“These Art fairs are extremely crucial for the local artists and also their representing organizations,” says Sarah Aiman, a gallery assistant at the Edouard Malingue Gallery in Central. “These events are real and impactful opportunities to exhibit the work of our artists to a wider, international audience.” She adds that their gallery’s participation in Art Basel this week in Hong Kong allows them to display their work as well as to build networks.

Visitors line up at the entrance of Art Central, Hong Kong. Photo by Siya Kulkarni.

International galleries also have an immense benefit from these art fairs, according to Tony, a gallery assistant from Taiwanese gallery Capital Art Center. He says exhibitors pay a large sum for a booth at Art Central and Art Basel for the opportunity to network as well as to help artists showcase their work and hopefully make sales. “We don’t get a commission out of this. It is purely out of the opportunity to network and make ourselves known,” he says. Capital Art Center has several displays of famous Taiwanese contemporary artists, including Liu Guo Song.

A painting by York Hsiao, exhibited by the Capital Art Center in Taipei, at Art Central, Hong Kong. Photo by Siya Kulkarni.

“These events play a major role especially because there is a sense of leadership rising in HK, and Asia in general, with the current economy,” says Aiman. “Culture is recognized as a soft power and there is a platform for the local artists to gain recognition across Asia as well as internationally.”

“It’s not bent to a Western-centric vision, nor is it solely driven by a domestic cultural agenda. It’s up to us to make the most of that,” says a self-described cultural entrepreneur Magnus Renfrew, in an interview with the Hong Kong Tatler.

However, the city does face challenges in terms of the sustainability and ability to retain itself as a creative and cultural centre, with the increasingly gentrified neighbourhoods surrounding Hollywood Road, as well as the difficulty in sustaining livelihoods with exponentially rising living costs. Can more be done for Hong Kong as an art hub?

“More can be done, yes,” says Aiman. “By building major modern and contemporary art museums that will be easily accessible to the public.” She believes this would be a major addition to the HK art market, stating that there are fewer modern or contemporary art museums as those in other leading art hubs, such as New York or London.

A piece by Keith Haring at Art Central, Hong Kong. Photo by Siya Kulkarni.

“The major attention and work that are supporting the art market in HK are at art galleries, and independent institutions that promote and represent art and artists from HK and abroad,” says Aiman.

More is being done, with government pouring money into large art projects that will make a difference in the contemporary art world, the M+ museum being most notable.

Yorda Yuan, an artist from Beijing and a visitor at Art Central, believes China and Hong Kong can both learn from the West, to make art more accessible to the public.

A visitor takes a picture of a piece at Art Central, Hong Kong. Many Hong Kong locals consume art for aesthetic reasons. Photo by Siya Kulkarni.

“In European countries, children are introduced to art at a young age as they visit lots of museums,” says Yuan, who was at Art Central to network with galleries and understand how to showcase her artwork in Hong Kong. “They thus have a stronger sense of art in them. Here, we don’t have many museums.” She also believes that people in Asia are consuming more art for their individual enjoyment, even though it’s very difficult for artists to make money out of “pure art,” or traditional paintings, alone.

“M+ has the possibility to propel Hong Kong onto a completely new level, even above the relevance that the art fairs, the galleries, the auction houses have bestowed upon it until now,” says Renfrew, in the Tatler interview. The addition of M+ will fill the gaps that Hong Kong has faced in its journey to become an art hub and will make its status more concrete from a non-commercial standpoint, in Renfrew’s opinion. This is key to ensuring that the creative industry is not only for a niche audience, but also available and accessible to the masses. Huge donations to the M+ from large curators is another evidence that people wish for this industry to sustain itself for a long period of time.

Further to that, the recent government budget has made provisions for the arts, setting aside a whopping HK$20 billion to “upgrade the city’s cultural facilities and construct new venues,” according to a RTHK article. This money will go into projects that encourage local artists in cultural exchanges, acquisition of museum collections for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, support for overseas and local performances of artists, and the Hong Kong Arts Festival.

It should be noted, however, that while this money will go into upgrading infrastructure, many artists are still dissatisfied with the fact that it may not directly benefit them, as they struggle to fund the costs of production space, storage space, materials, and the tightening barriers to enter art fairs.

Yet, Hong Kong, as a city, is still a masterpiece in its own way: a jumble of buildings, old and new, arranged like a quirky collage of colours and textures, in the midst of verdant patches of hills and set against the shimmering backdrop of the South China Sea.

 

Editor: Evelyn Xinlei Ye

Reporter: Siya Kulkarni

Copy Editor: Seungyeon Choi

Content Manager: Wilson Wong

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