New Emissary

Real Hong Kong Art

Most galleries in the city focus on China. Where can works by local artists be found? The Hong Kong Museum of Art is a good start, as is a unique winter event in Fo Tan.

(This is the second 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.)

When I travel, I want to understand the local customs and concerns of the people. The food, the people I meet and what I read in the papers at a given destination are what provide me insight into the culture, but itʼs even more important for me to see local artworks. Art is a window into the concerns and culture of local people. So now in Hong Kong, I want to see what the artists here  are doing. However, itʼs not as easy as you might think since, as I mentioned last week, the focus here in many Hong Kong galleries is on China.
Upon first arriving, I headed straight to the Hong Kong Museum of Art on the Kowloon side of the city which shares a museum complex with the Science Museum and the Hong Kong Cultural Center. The buildings are surrounded by magnificent sculptures. I could have sworn that one of the large pieces in the shape of a crab was by recently passed artist Louise Bourgeois, (it looks a bit like a spider) but itʼs by Hong Kong artist Cheung Yee. You can see such sculptures all over Hong Kong. The government and private companies have provided support for artists to create very large public works thus creating more opportunities for visitors to stumble upon something great.

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Cheung Yee
As you might expect, the Hong Kong Museum of Art has a large collection of work by local  artists. The curators maintain close relations with local art societies and universities. Some of the artists whose works are included in the collection, including my tour guide and gallery artist Chung Tai Fu, also teach at the Chinese University of Hong Kong or the University of Hong Kong. A fan came up to Chung Tai Fu, while he showed me around, and told me about Tai Fuʼs work in the Hong Kong Cultural Center. Tai Fu is so modest—he never told me, but we headed over that way and I saw a huge work installed over the main doorway.
After we finished our touring, we headed straight to the restaurant near the Cultural Center to feast on some delicious dim sum. Over lunch we talked about one area in particular where you can see the work of many Hong Kong artists, especially at a certain time of the year.  
In January 2011 is the Fotanian open studio event when you can see work from artists who live in the Fo Tan area of Hong Kong. 'Fotanians,' as they call themselves, are a group of artists who live and work in Fo Tan's industrial buildings that were once warehouses and factories. There are all-round benefits of having such a community: The artists get cheap rent here, the vacant buildings get used and Hong Kong gets a place that bursts with creativity. (Thereʼs a website with more information on Fo Tan and its events.)


Last January, almost 6500 people attended the January open studio event in Fo Tan and close to 200 artists participated in the 2 weekend period when most studios in this area opened their doors. Now, the Hong Kong government has plans to make some of the buildings available for offices, but there is hope that the conversion of the buildings in the area will be minimal. Iʼd like to see Hong Kong officials recognize the value the artists provide and further develop this part of the city as an art area, rather than use the buildings for more office spaces. 

Chung Tai Fu

If you do go visit, take a look at the minimalist paintings of Lui Chun Kwong, a well-respected artist who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. They remind me of the works of American artist Agnes Martin. He creates paintings with vertical patterns of stripes which explores some of the basic activities of our daily lives.

Images: Fo Tan development in 2008 by WiNG (top), sculpture by Cheung Yee (middle), work by Chung Tai Fu (bottom).