New Emissary

Hong Kong: Art in Big Batches

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New Emissary

Hong Kong: Art in Big Batches

How is the art in China’s major hotels chosen and by who? What are the big trends in Hong Kong’s art market now? An inside look into this and more.

(This is the first in a series of dispatches by New Emissary blogger and Tokyo art gallerist Bob Tobin, as he travels through Asia on ‘art business’ …and more.)

Hong Kong doesn’t walk, it runs—in never-ending sprints. You are enveloped in the speed the minute you arrive at the airport (which is often considered one of the world’s best). Even the escalators go fast. And when you get to your hotel and go out into the street, you get caught in a torrent of people that stops for no one.

I’m here to meet to meet with Chung Tai Fu, one of our gallery’s artists. I’ll also connect with several agents, hotel owners, gallerists, friends and do what every other art lover does—hunt for great art. I am lucky to have Chung Tai Fu as my guide. He is well-known here and when we visit museums and galleries, he is greeted like a celebrity. I have known his work for more than 20 years, since I first came here as a backpacker. If you have ever stayed in a Four Seasons Hotel in Asia, it is likely that you have seen his paintings. He is one of those multi-talented artists who excel in painting, printmaking and painting.

Our first two appointments in Hong Kong were separate meetings with art consultants, Sandra Walters at Sandra Walters Art Consultancy and Nicole Jelicich at Enjay Art Consultancy. They collaborate with designers and property owners in providing art for hotels and corporate clients. They work in a volume unheard of in any gallery. Think thousands and tens of thousands of artworks. A new hotel—and there are hundreds under construction in China now—needs thousands of works for the rooms and the public areas. Both consultants have provided work for Ritz Carltons, Intercontinental Hotels, Four Seasons, Morgan Stanley and hundreds of other clients.

If you’ve stayed in a hotel with dismal artwork (and there are many), the hotel owner must not have worked with Sandra or Nicole.

Sandra and Nicole are pros in this very special business. They are people who know and love art, listen intently to what the clients need and know the portfolios of many hundreds of artists. They work with hotel designers and owners in choosing art and arranging commissions that will create the right ‘look and feel for the hotel.’ I took a look at some of the art they have chosen for various projects and I’m impressed with the work they have done. Later in the week, I heard many compliments from a hotel company president about their work. I also had a chance to see the work of some of the artists they work with in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. (If you don’t stay there, it’s a great place to meet friends for a drink or two.)

Lobby of Four Seasons Hong Kong

When I met with these consultants, I was struck by how similar their approach is.

They don’t recite their resumes or tell me what they have done. They know that art is really a relationship business, especially in Asia, and they want to know about me, listen to what I have to say and see work from the artists I work with. I had prepared a slideshow on my MacBook Air and we stopped at certain points to talk about artists that might be a good fit with their projects.

I used a similar approach and got the same vibe from Michelle Lee, a consultant and gallerist who specializes in sculptural projects. Her office/gallery is filled with huge sculptures that make me wish I had a larger art space or home.

Than Nguyen Truc, a Vietnamese artist we work with, captured substantial interest with Sandra, Michelle, Nicole and other consultants I meet with in Hong Kong. It seems that texture really matters. Truc creates collages from strips of Vietnamese newspapers and magazines which he layers in patterns on top of acrylic paintings. He wants the outside world to be known and remembered. Not surprisingly, some people tell me his paintings look like books lined up on shelves.

Than Nguyen Truc

All week I also got positive responses to the work of Jun Ogata, Giang Nguyen, Koseki Ono and Agus Purnomo. When I meet with consultants and potential clients this week, I’m tempted to talk more about the work, but I follow the cardinal rule for any creative business: ‘let the work speak.’

I’ve noticed that the best gallerists talk very little and let you appreciate the work on your own. Ditto for the best writers, the best chefs, etc. I have witnessed many sales lost because of too much talking, never for talking too little. Whether you are a writer, chef, website designer or artist, you don’t need to tell others how great your work is. People can see it from the words, the taste or the image.

‘Let the work speak,’ and let the client ‘listen’ with their eyes, their thoughts, their mind and their heart. If the work is great, there is very little you need to say. Customers will ask questions and tell you what they like about the work, but mostly they will think and enjoy. It’s the same for food, music, writing and websites as well as art.

The number of galleries focusing on artists from Shanghai and Beijing has proliferated in the past ten years. It must be tough, I think, for local artists. What about Hong Kong artists? Next week, I will write about where and when you can see their work.