Latest Posts

Claire Lee

The Awakening 
Charbon Art Space
Hong Kong
Oct 14 – Nov 11
Caroline Ha Thuc

Claire Lee’s new series, which she started in early 2016, pertains to the figure of the bison, a species on the brick of extinction. The artist doesn’t question the bison’s perception but rather follows an anthropomorphic approach, using the mighty but fragile body of the animal to reflect on our human condition.

The series needs to be contemplated as a whole, and the setting itself is part of the work. At the back of the gallery, sheets of poetry have been hung on the branches of trees, recalling shamanic prayer trees. Visitors can sit there and listen to the artist’s voice reading some of her poems. Most of the drawings are unframed, hung slightly away from the walls as if floating, or laid on rough wooden tables. The installation, in black, white and wood colours, creates an ethereal feeling and invites meditation.

Lee’s drawings constantly play with the juxtaposition of calmness and sorrow, violence and healing, as she grabs the ephemeral and flickering poetry of life on the eve of its collapse. They are deeply rooted in the soil, made from bitumen patches and brown hues on paper.

Her backgrounds seem to emerge from a burning process, which would metaphorically serve as a backdrop for the ongoing violence she feels is spreading over the world. Some of the charcoal and ink drawings are made on a raw beige paper wrinkled by the artist. This process gives depth to the works while hinting at prehistoric cave paintings.

The starting point of the series is the study of the bison’s eye, which Lee has sketched from different perspectives and isolated from the animal’s face and body. Some look like matrixes or origins of life, with one long eye seeming to give birth to another small animal.

Then come portraits of the animal in rapid inkbrush strokes, a condensation of energy and passion. Projecting her own feelings onto the bison, the artist gives them human expressions. She captures the intimate moments of fragility and compassion that we usually tend to hide. Could even a bison – symbol of strength and virility – cry? In the series Tears of Fear, the bison’s eye is not only crying, but also looks back at us in a mirror game.

How would a bison look at us? The bison, here, remains silent, accepting its death. The peacefulness of the works stems from its acceptance of its fate. Will we also contemplate our own self-destruction with tears in our eyes and poetry in our hearts? Lee’s awakening is her faith in overcoming death and pain: “There is another world behind the sky,” she says in one of her poems.

As the series continues, the drawings become more abstract and almost mystical. Progressively, the ink and bitumen patches absorb the figure of the bison, which melts into a cosmos-like background image. In the final work of the series, framed in a light box, a line has been cut within the sky, then sewn up and cut again, leaving a long scar lined up with pieces of white thread that resemble a flight of birds.

The series begins and ends with unknown holes, dark and infinite bison’s pupils on one hand and open scars on the other. Lee wanders in between, between dark and light, animality and humanity, soil and sky, vulnerability and violence.

Image: Installation view, The Awakening at Charbon Art Space. Courtesy the artist and Charbon Art Space.

Eric Fok

Far East Chronicle
Karin Weber Gallery
Hong Kong
Nov 17 – Dec 30, 2017
Valencia Tong

During the Age of Exploration, European men set sail to distant lands in the Americas, Africa and Asia to expand their empires. The treacherous journey to conquer new territories accelerated the development of cartography and mapmaking. Such maps have been an instrumental part in the history of colonialism; they depict boundaries and are expressions of power that reveal the geopolitical dynamics of a region. In this exhibition, Macau-born artist Eric Fok uses the rhetoric of the Age of Exploration in his intricate map-like works to explore the postcolonial condition of cities in Asia. He combines the imagined with the real, as well as history with modernity.

The exhibition is reminiscent of a maritime museum showcasing historical artefacts. The meticulously hand-drawn illustrated maps are framed and hung on the walls of the gallery, dimly lit by the warm yellow light that floods the space. At the far end of the gallery is a wooden briefcase displaying one of the artist’s works. Despite the vintage look of these so-called maps, created with ink on tea-dyed paper, the subject matter features modern elements such as skyscrapers, cars and aerial views of highways. Not only does the artist illustrate landmarks in formerly colonial Asian cities like Hong Kong and Macao; he also portrays European landscapes and figures.

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2047.12 by Eric Fok, Ink on tea-dyed paper, 39 x 54 cm, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Karin Weber Gallery.

Ever since the voyages of the Age of Exploration, interactions between nations have set off waves of migration. Several of Fok’s illustrations in the exhibition allude to Noah’s Ark, with animals of all sorts roaming the city streets, and some on boats as if they are migrating elsewhere. The phenomenon of migration parallels the uncertainty brought by changes of sovereignty. The titles of each of Fok’s works in the exhibition all point towards the expiry date of Hong Kong’s One Country, Two Systems, due to run until 2047, 50 years after the city’s handover from the UK to China. The former British colony has been experiencing anxiety over its identity and future. Much like the animals in Fok’s maps, both the Hong Kong diaspora and local citizens are seeking their place and direction in the postcolonial context.

We now live in the Age of Globalisation. As intercultural communication becomes
frequent, much like the time when trade flourished during the Age of Exploration, Fok’s maps resonate with our experience of living in an Asian city. By placing eastern and western elements in the same pictorial frame, the boundaries become blurred. The artist’s work destabilises our perception of the scientific authority of cartography and exposes the fragile nature of marking territories.


Toshio Matsumoto

Everything Visible is Empty
Empty Gallery
Hong Kong
Sep 9 – Nov 18, 2017
Katherine Volk

Visitors to the new Toshio Matsumoto (1932-2017) show at Empty Gallery were immersed in the artist’s experimental visuals as soon as the elevator doors to the gallery opened. Pulsating, coloured waves radiated from a central void and filled the opposite wall, while the entrance space was filled with cosmic sounds. White Hole (1979) simultaneously startled and mesmerised, taking the viewer on a journey into the void. This captivating start to the exhibition was only a taster of what was behind the next door.

The gallery consulted with the late artist’s archive to present a retrospective of his newly restored work. The dark space, enclosed between black walls, ceilings and floors, was the perfect setting to display the dynamic aesthetic of the post-war image maker. Empty Gallery brought together a selection of the artist’s documentaries and short experimental films from 1960 to 1979, each featuring drastically different subjects, but connected through their enquiries into the complicated conditions of a changing Japanese society.

Phantom (1975) and The Song of Stone (1963) were paired in a juxtaposition of ethereal and earthly. Accelerating, repetitive tapping sounds, a male voice and chimes opposed otherworldly audio, birdsong and orchestral carnival music; black-and-white images of granite manufacturing, human labour and production facilities were contrasted with flashing, colour-saturated frames, ranging from a shirtless man in yoga poses to statues and an eyeball. Like Phantom, Atman (1975) played with a heightened colour palette produced using infrared film specially imported from the US. Positioned downstairs, Atman depicted a single figure in a demonic Noh theatre mask. Still images encircled the actor, stitched together to jumpy effect, like a stop-motion flipbook, as the video pans around and zooms in on the seemingly serene individual sat alone in a field.


For The Damaged Right Eye by Toshio Matsumoto. Photo: Michael Yu. Courtesy the artist and Empty Gallery.

For The Damaged Right Eye (1968) was one of the most intense, emotional pieces on display. Two projectors side by side created a split-screen image, while a third projected the same clips on top of them. All videos and images were sourced from media, advertising and other material that represented contemporary cultural events in Japan. These heightened visual stimuli were abruptly interrupted by strobe lights, leading to a shocking, overwhelming visual overload that aggressively demonstrated the fluctuating social atmosphere of the era the piece dates from. Perhaps it was intended to serve as an awakening to those with a “damaged right eye”, who view the world through a squinted, distorted viewpoint, alerting them to progressive social changes.

Empty Gallery’s two-storey maze of Matsumoto’s films offered an insightful, intense, unsettling yet enjoyable glimpse into this pivotal artist’s practice.


Crossing Hong Kong’s Harbour

By John Batten

The very first art objects mass-exported from China to buyers in Europe, Asia and the Ottoman Empire were designed-to-order, ceramic and porcelain chinoiserie items, often purely utilitarian: crockery dinner sets, jars and storage urns. In the 18th century worldwide trade expanded due to growing demand, sturdier ships and established trading routes. Canton, as Guangzhou was then known, was China’s only port open for foreign trade, and encouraged by the success of the porcelain trade the earliest China Trade paintings were created there. This established the practice for visiting European traders and military personnel to buy or commission a painting as a souvenir of their visit or an export product.

Executed by Chinese artisan painters, China Trade paintings were completed in a western landscape painting style, often naive and using rudimentary perspective. The paintings focused on depicting Canton life, including factories, trading houses, foreign diplomatic quarters, landscape scenes and visiting ships – subjects that appealed to Europeans.

The monopoly on British trade with India and China held by the British East India Company for more than two centuries ended in 1834. Direct British government rule in India began 23 years later, and coincided with and encouraged Britain’s full-tilt colonial trading and military expansion in Asia and Africa during the 19th century.


George Chinnery, Pencil on paper, 15 x 18 cm, c. 1850. Courtesy Wattis Fine Art and Ping Pong 129.

In 1842 the British colony of Hong Kong was founded after it was conceded by China in the unequally negotiated Treaty of Nanking following the First Opium War. Hong Kong gave Britain a strategic regional military location and an alternative trading entrepôt to China’s Canton. By the 1870s Hong Kong had become a key military, communications and trading link with the world and particularly other foreign concession trading ports along the China coast, inland and around Asia.

A variety of businesses set up shop along and behind Hong Kong’s busy waterfront praya. Artists and photographers, many Chinese and some European, catered, as the Canton artisan painters did, to traders, tourists and military personnel. Marine scenes, often depicting visiting sailing ships, paddle steamers and local shipping, were painted in the China Trade style. A new identifying motif emerged in these paintings: Hong Kong’s magnificent natural Victoria Harbour and its defining land feature, The Peak. And, to accommodate Europe’s thirst for knowledge, European correspondent artists based in Hong Kong would courier paintings and drawings of scenes and events by ship, to be engraved in London and other European cities, and then appear months later as news or feature items in newspapers and magazines such as The Illustrated London News.


Untitled by Eika Kato, Gouache and watercolour on paper, 31 x 14 cm, c. 1915. Courtesy Ping Pong 129.

Ping Pong’s exhibition Working Harbour is an introduction to the diverse visual impressions of Hong Kong’s beautiful, vibrant Victoria Harbour and the surrounding seas, ranging from the colonial period to the present.

Representative of the China Trade painting tradition is the depiction of HMS Plover (1859), in the harbour to replenish supplies and arms. It sank in battle in a failed attempt to capture the Taku Forts, on the Pei Ho (now Hei) River, near Tianjin, during the Second Opium War, in 1859.

Changes in painting style, particularly the freer plein air of impressionism, itself influenced by the colour and airy otherworldliness of Japanese woodblock prints, can been seen in Eiko Kato’s early 19th-century views of The Peak.

Arthur Hacker and George Chinnery lived a century and a half apart, but they shared an interest in street life. Hacker was a trained artist and designer recruited directly from 1960s Swinging London to oversee design at Hong Kong’s Government Printer, where he oversaw many publications with a modernist design sensibility. Hacker’s own art was pop art-inspired with sensual, psychedelic curves and geometric lines, seen even in his depictions Hong Kong’s swarthy “sampan girls” (1973), who ferried sailors to their offshore ships, supplying provisions and services including cleaning and repainting to visiting ships.

Chinnery chronicled the street and sea life of Macau and Hong Kong in his evocative, loosely drawn sketches (1850), the equivalent of spontaneous contemporary street photography. Richard Winkworth’s use of sea-blue in his paintings recalls the famed Chinese willow-pattern blue so eagerly copied in Europe for centuries. His encaustic paintings (2017) are beautiful, minimal impressions of the sea, salt spray and shorelines on Hong Kong island’s rugged southeast Shek O headland.


A Replica of a Painting in 1988 by Tsang Chui Mei, Acrylic on fibreboard, 25 x 35 cm, 2012. Courtesy the artist and John Batten.

Hong Kong’s best modernist artist was Luis Chan. His pioneering ink paintings from the 1960s to 1990s depict fantasy landscapes made up of Hong Kong’s islands, surrounding seas and harbour, with a circus-like line-up of people, fish and magical greenery that becomes the city’s new topography. Similarly, Tsang Chui-mei’s early oil paintings are mindscapes that tease out the psychological cracks of a big, busy city such as Hong Kong. Her painting A Replica of a Painting in 1998 (3) (2012) is a remembered version of an earlier large painting of the same subject – memory plays tricks; sections of the original painting are missing, but the swirly sea and sky remain.

Despite the love Hong Kong has for Victoria Harbour, it has been exploited for commerce and development since the city started to expand. The former Hong Kong island Star Ferry building and clock tower were controversially demolished  in 2006 for the latest Central reclamation project – and, to impede a similar demolition, Queen’s Pier was occupied by protesters in 2007. The documentary photographer Ducky Tse spent those months recording the occupation, protests and life on the pier until the final negotiations: an agreement with the government to place the pier in storage for its future rehabilitation.

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I Have No Enemies by Kacey Wong, Fine-art print on Hahnemühle paper, 100 x 65 cm, 2017. Edition of 9. Courtesy the artist and Ping Pong 129.

In a personal protest, Kacey Wong made a steel seat (2017) and secured it on rocks on Ap Lei Chau, at the end of Lee Nam Road near Horizon Plaza. As the sun passes overhead the drilled holes in the seat cast shadows, and the name of Chinese Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo is daily imprinted on the rocks below, memorialised with his dates of birth and death in prison in mainland China.

João Vasco Paiva returns us back to Hong Kong’s rich marine history: his installation (2014) is an evocative flag, of a type flown on a ship’s deck before modern radio, satellite and internet communication. In the shape of a cross, it suggests Hong Kong’s role as a crossroads for trade, cultures, people, ideas and communication – a place for sea, ships and visitors to come and go across Hong Kong’s harbour.

courtesy of the artist, Edouard Malingue Gallery and MAAP-Media Art Asia Pacific.

Flag by João Vasco Paiva, Fabric, 152 x 111 cm. Courtesy the artist, Edouard Malingue Gallery and MAAP-Media Art Asia Pacific.

This essay accompanied the exhibition Working Harbour at Ping Pong 129, December 2017 to February 2018. A version was also published in Ming Pao Weekly, December 9, 2017, translated from English by Aulina Chan.

Masatoshi Masanobu

Axel Vervoordt Gallery
Hong Kong
Nov 15, 2017 – Feb 10, 2018
Valencia Tong

The word Gutai suggests wild, expressive gestures and performances, but the work of late Gutai artist Masatoshi Masanobu (1911-95) from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s in this exhibition at Axel Vervoordt Gallery is rather controlled and subdued. Masanobu met painter Jiro Yoshihara, co-founder of the post-war avant-garde group, in Kobe in 1947; Yoshihara founded Gutai in 1954 when Masanobu was 43. A prolific artist,
Masanobu participated in a number of Gutai exhibitions until the group dissolved in 1972.

The earth-tone enamel colours of the paintings in the current exhibition, coupled with
the primitive yet abstract composition, make them oddly calming. The emphasis on the materiality of the paintings, rather than the fleeting performative actions, creates
an illusion of weight and solidity. The mind becomes lost as the eye follows the wriggling lines, hand-drawn but calculated – unlike, for example, the casual scribbles of Cy Twombly. The brushstrokes recall a magnified version of the patterns of felt or knitted fabrics. As the Gutai Manifesto says, “Gutai art does not change the material but brings it to life”.

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Masanobu’s art does just that. The exhibition showcases works that mark the transition of Masanobu’s style from his earlier motifs of flowers and plants to the use of repetitive circular forms. Masanobu overlays shapes and colours to create the intensity and depth in his work.

Masanobu is part of the older generation of Gutai artists. Compared to the explosive
dynamism of works by other Gutai artists born during the following decade, such as Shozo Shimamoto, Saburo Murakami and Kazuo Shiraga, Masanobu’s art is much more meditative.

In Masanobu’s Work (1971) in the show, the composition of a cross in the pictorial frame is reminiscent of abstract works by Malevich and Ad Reinhardt. It is as though Masanobu’s art is an amalgam of the language of modernity and the texture of
raw, organic forms. On closer inspection, the background is filled with hasty flecks of light blue, orange and beige, like Pollock’s drip paintings. It demonstrates the tension
between the still composition and the underlying gestural approach in Masanobu’s work.

Justin Kennedy

Pizza Express founder Justin Kennedy talks about three of his favourite works from his collection.

I first encountered Michael Wolf’s work in a gallery in Shanghai. From a distance I saw an image depicting a beautiful geometric pattern. I thought this was an abstract print – it was only when I got closer that I realised it was a photograph of a Hong Kong public housing estate. Closer still the geometric regularity gave way to the irregular signs of human habitation. The residents of the flats had adapted each unit to their needs and each had left unique signs of their occupation. These were buildings that I had passed many times, but only through Michael’s framing was I able to see their elemental beauty. Over the next few years I bought quite a few of Michael’s pieces both for my home and the Pizza Express restaurants that we were building at that time. The last piece that I bought was this one, a119, which depicts the inner courtyard of a building in Quarry Bay. This work appeals to me on several levels: scale – it is huge at 180x240mm, and at this size one feels immersed in the image; detail – when you look closely you see the paraphernalia of everyday existence, adding character and depth to the buildings; and perspective – it has an amazing feeling of three-dimensionality. It’s one of the later pieces in Michael’s groundbreaking series exploring the hidden beauty of Hong Kong’s high-rise housing. We tend to think of high-rise public housing as ugly, brutal and neglected. But Hong Kong, without a viable alternative form of housing, has been particularly creative at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Michael Wolf

Architecture of Density #119 by Michael Wolf, Hong Kong 2008. Courtesy the artist, Justin Kennedy and Blue Lotus Gallery Hong Kong.

There used to be a small exhibition space outside the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui and about five years ago I spotted one of Dick Lai’s paintings there. It was a triptych showing the trolley men who work at the Mongkok fruit market hauling fruit. He had painted it on a discarded cardboard fruit box. The market as well as the way of life of the men in the painting was about to be discarded in a similar way to the box. In 2015 we built a new Pizza Express restaurant on Wellington Street. We worked with the designer Hugh Zimmern to create a space that celebrated Hong Kong’s recent street-level architectural heritage. I had always loved the markets in that area, which run along Graham and Gage Streets, and wanted Dick to paint some of the characters that manned the stalls, as I knew that before too long they would be moved on by redevelopment. He came up with the brilliant idea of painting their portraits on large, round chopping boards like the ones used in the market. He painted nine of them in total, and every time I visit the
restaurant it brings a smile to my face to see these neighbourhood characters preserved for posterity.


Hong Kong Market by Dick Lai Chun Ling, Acrylic on chopping board, 31 x 4 cm, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Justin Kennedy.

As a city we have become world leaders in reshaping the natural environment to our needs but here and there nature reasserts itself. Siu Wai Hang‘s series Metropolis Chlorophyll celebrates the tenacity with which nature clings on in small patches all around Hong Kong. Throughout the city there are trees growing in the most improbable places – some aided by people and others in spite of them. Wai Hang used infrared photography to bring out the contrast between the trees and their surroundings; as a result the trees pop in slightly unfamiliar rusty hues while the urban landscape that surrounds them is grey and dull. This series is a wonderful celebration of perseverance and an apt metaphor for Hong Kong’s own story of continued survival against the odds.


Queensway, Admiralty by Siu Wai Hang, Digital archival photo paper, 50.8 x 91.44 cm, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Justin Kennedy.


David Zwirner Hong Kong Inaugural Exhibition by Michaël Borremans

Michaël Borremans: Fire from the Sun

Jan 27 to Mar 10, 2018
Opening Reception: 6-8pm, Saturday, Jan 27, 2018

David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by Michaël Borremans, inaugurating the gallery’s space in Hong Kong. The exhibition will be the artist’s first solo show in Hong Kong and his sixth overall with David Zwirner.

Fire from the Sun includes small and large scale works that feature toddlers engaged in playful but mysterious acts with sinister overtones and insinuations of violence. The children are presented alone or in groups against a studio-like backdrop that negates time and space, while underlining the theatrical atmosphere and artifice that exists throughout Borremans’s recent work.  Reminiscent of cherubs in Renaissance paintings, the toddlers appear as allegories of the human condition, their archetypal innocence contrasted with their suggested deviousness. Other paintings in the exhibition depict obscure machines, whose enigmatic presence appears foreboding in the context of the toddlers and suggests an element of scientific experimentation.

Borremans has gained worldwide recognition for his innovative approach to painting. Combining technical mastery with subject matter that defies straightforward interpretation, his charged canvases address universal themes with a specifically contemporary complexity. As Michael Bracewell argues in new scholarship on the artist, published in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, viewers are “caught in a strange time loop, in which the nobility of execution ascribed to Old Masters―the re-creation in painting of human presence, caught both stilled, in a particular instant of its being, and for eternity―is placed in the service of vertiginous modernist vision.” As Bracewell further notes on these works, they portray psychological states that are not intended to be decoded: “the scenes depicted by the majority of paintings comprising Fire from the Sun show a state of being or society in which the primal is uncontrolled, without bearings, in a state of anarchy―the Id of Freudian primary process run riot, with no Ego to mediate between instinctual behavior and ‘reality.‘ The art of Michaël Borremans seems always to have been predicated on a confluence of enigma, ambiguity, and painterly poetics―accosting beauty with strangeness; making historic Romanticism subjugate to mysterious controlling forces that are neither crudely malevolent nor necessarily benign.”

5-6/F, H Queen’s
80 Queen’s Road, Central
T (852) 2119 5900
Tu-Sa 11am – 7pm

Image: Fire from the Sun by Michaël Borremans, Oil on Panel. 20 x 22.5 cm, 2017.
© Michaël Borremans Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong.


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Art for the People

What is the purpose of art in a world troubled by environment and political disasters? 

Why art?

Try convincing people of the importance of art in their lives, and that’s the question you’ll often hear. To most people out there, art isn’t a daily life necessity. It might appear on their radar when it comes to decorating their home, as we see from the growing popularity of fairs selling “affordable” art. Art is seen as an investment tool when multi-million-dollar auction results make news headlines. And art has also grown to be a popular backdrop for selfies – just scroll down your social-media feeds.

But art aims to serve much greater purposes. And in order to convert the masses into believing in art, we ought to tell them what art can do for them, just as some people believe in religion to save their vulnerable souls.

Recently I returned from Hong Kong to Berlin, where I previously lived for three months in 2015, as a fellowship alumna for a study tour organised by the Internationale Journalisten-Programme with support from the German government. 

The programme’s focus was far beyond my comfort zone – it was about energy transition, climate change and smart cities. It sounds like it has little to do with arts and culture. But by the end of it, I got to reflect on the purpose of art on a much grander scale.

In addition to learning about the hard facts of climate change, we encountered community initiatives demonstrating what ordinary citizens can do when facing such adverse conditions, which make most of us feel helpless. Art can have a big role to play.

We were introduced to Lars Zimmermann, an artist and economist based in Berlin who’s produced open projects dedicated to building a sustainable environment. One of them, The City Is Open Source, is an artistic, activist research project that promotes the concept of “city hacking”. Zimmermann said the idea is to do what we want with a system, rather than what the system wants us to do with it. He said it was about “intervention” and “repurposing the tools of the city”. And in order to achieve that, a great deal of creativity is involved.

One of the examples Zimmermann cited was French artist Florian Rivière, who calls himself an “urban hacktivist”. Rivière sees the city as an urban playground in which everyone can have fun if they apply their creativity to turning it into a place where everyone wants to be. He has created a playground swing at a bus stop, turned a parking meter into a bottle opener, and transformed a bench into a beach lounge chair by adding an extension created from the wood of a broken floor dolly. None of this was particularly complex or used precious materials. Instead it just required creativity, imagination and courage.

“We can turn the city into a botanical garden or a museum,” said Zimmermann. It sounded crazy, but only because we have been conditioned to think that it’s impossible – what he called “the prison of imagination”. An artistic attitude can help us to free ourselves from this virtual prison, hacking what is available and repairing, recycling and repurposing it into something new and sustainable.

One of Zimmermann’s proposals is urban farming, which not only produces the food we need, but also serves an artistic purpose, with farms potentially becoming installations that transform our cityscapes. In Berlin, where people rent their homes rather than buying, the rent already includes gardening services in some buildings; it could include an urban gardener whose job is to grow food for the community.

City hacking is also possible in Hong Kong. The Umbrella Movement in 2014 was probably the largest-scale hack the city has ever witnessed. The protests might not have achieved their political goal of bringing universal suffrage, but protesters were able to transform the busy districts of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok into self-regulated, sustainable environments with makeshift objects and street art for 79 days. The city was a canvas for citizens to show off their creativity.

Art might not be able to address the technical issues of climate change, but it can free our minds and empower us to create a world we want to live in. That has far greater value than the big numbers of the art market.

Image: Grow Food In The City Everywhere – The City Is Open Source. Licence: CC-BY-SA-4.0 Courtesy Lars Zimmermann.

Art Partners

Meet the three women behind some of Hong Kong’s most ambitious large-scale public exhibitions.

On a recent December afternoon at the Ladies’ Recreation Club, three women gathered to discuss art. They were passionate, vocal and slightly stunned at the speed with which their lives have shifted. For Levina Li-Cadman, Sarah Pringle and Vita Wong-Kwok, art is not about recreation. This is a high-octane, professional partnership, reflected in the name they chose when they launched their company exactly a year ago: Art-Partners. 

The core founder was Li-Cadman, whose background is in luxury-goods and media marketing. In 2003, when the Financial Times launched its Asia edition in Hong Kong, her job was to build its relationships with high-end clients. One of these was Christie’s, and she was subsequently asked to become the auction house’s Asia-Pacific director of business development. 


Event Horizon by Antony Gormley, presented in Hong Kong by the British Council, 2015–16. Photo: Oak Taylor-Smith. Courtesy British Council, Hong Kong.

After that, she began consulting for White Cube and for the Royal Academy of Arts in London. As Hong Kong’s second Art Basel fair approached in May 2014, the Peninsula hotel was keen to demonstrate its artistic sensibilities through an installation on its facade. The hotel asked Li-Cadman; she asked White Cube; the gallery asked Tracey Emin; she agreed to show one of her neon works, My Heart is with You Always.

“I was looking for a projection machine, and I knew Sarah was the art specialist with technical installation experience,” says Li-Cadman. Pringle, the only one of the three partners with a formal art education (Bath Academy of Art and Chelsea School of Art in the UK, and Cooper Union School of Art and Design in New York), has been an art consultant in the city since 2003, with particular expertise in public projects.

Li-Cadman and Pringle knew each other from the ceaseless round of openings that is Hong Kong’s art world, but this was their first collaboration. At about the same time, Pringle was involved in trying to bring Antony Gormley’s Event Horizon, consisting of 31 statues dotted at high and low levels around a cityscape, to Hong Kong. After a man jumped from a tall building in Central, however, main sponsor Hongkong Land pulled out.

teamLab (Est. 2001), Gold Waves_installation

Gold Waves’ by teamLab, Digital Work, continuous loop, 8 min, 2017. © teamLab. Courtesy Pace Gallery and Henderson Land.

Tim Marlow was then in charge of exhibitions at White Cube, which represented Gormley, suggested that Li-Cadman become involved. In November 2015, having being obliged to find new funding from scratch, Event Horizon finally arrived. There was initial public uncertainty: in the first fortnight the police received 29 reports of potential suicides, and the Highways Department briefly fenced off a statue in Central after a complaint about an “obstruction”.

“We love Hong Kong’s energy but it can sometimes be incredibly risk-averse and cautious,” says Pringle. “What was so wonderful was that Hong Kong people really enjoyed it. The predicted disasters didn’t happen.”

Event Horizon lived up to its name by widening perceptions of what public art could be. By then, Li-Cadman and Pringle had again collaborated with the Peninsula on British sculptor Richard Wilson’s technically demanding work Hang On A Minute Lads… I’ve Got a Great Idea, in which a coach balanced on one of the hotel’s parapets. The reaction to both high-risk art ventures exceeded expectations.


Hang On A Minute Lads… Ive Got A Great Idea by Richard Wilson, Installation view Peninsula Hong Kong, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Art Partners.

In January 2016, Li-Cadman contacted Wong-Kwok, whom she’d known for a decade. Wong-Kwok had joined Louis Vuitton in 2002 and in 2010 she’d established and managed its cultural projects across Asia. She’d liaised with local artists, arranged educational programmes and talks, where she encountered Marlow, and advised head office in Paris on acquisitions.

After she’d left Louis Vuitton in 2014, she’d set up her own art consultancy. “I’d got to know a lot of the artists,” she says. “I didn’t want to give up this fantastic relationship.” Li-Cadman and Pringle wanted her help on a project for Henderson Land’s H Queen’s in Central. Its hoardings presented an opportunity to brand it as an art building and showcase 10 Hong Kong artists during Art Basel.

The following year they conceived Voyages, 200 LED screens showing video art from galleries that were due to become the uncompleted building’s tenants. One of those works, courtesy of Pace in New York, was teamLab’s Gold Waves, an arrestingly beautiful display of aquatic movement that transfixed social media.

By then, they had founded Art-Partners. “People would ask me about something and I’d say, ‘You know what? You should meet Levina and Vita’. And we’d arrive with different name cards,” says Pringle, who came up with their collective name. 

They worked on 16 projects during 2017’s Art Basel. “We see a lot of art; we travel round the world; we go to Art Basel, Documenta, Frieze, Venice,” says Pringle. When Swire wanted an entertaining, engaging piece for Pacific Place, for example, Art-Partners sourced Julius Popp’s Bit.Fall. The work, in which words from internet news sites are generated within a waterfall, was thought-provoking, mesmerising and freely
available to all – a perfect example of what they want to bring to the city.

Julius Popp - bit.fall pulse, 2017 at Pacific Place. Image Courtesy of Swire Properties (3)

bit.fall pulse by Julius Popp, Installation view at Pacific Place Hong Kong, 2017. Courtesy Swire Properties.

Someone like Popp, who isn’t represented by a gallery, had to be persuaded to see Hong Kong as a worthwhile art destination. “Your pitch is as much to the artist as to your client,” says Pringle. “You have to describe the cultural landscape of this city, to explain that a shopping mall really is a public space; it’s not like a mall in Germany, where Popp is from.”

The trio are naturally attracted to the concept of the gallery without walls. To that end, they’re working with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Hong Kong Arts Centre to create what’s being called the Harbour Arts Sculpture Park for March 2018. The idea, still being fine-tuned, is to show sculpture, by international and local artists, in the public space between Art Basel and Art Central. With luck and official blessing, the harbourfront park could last longer than the brief, intense flurry of those late-March fairs. It will be curated by Fumio Nanjo, director of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, and Marlow, now artistic director of London’s Royal Academy of Arts.

Alex Prager at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, January 18

Lehmann Maupin is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by Alex Prager. The Los Angeles-based artist returns to Hong Kong with her signature style of theatrical and meticulously staged photography and film, as well as her first exhibited sculpture. In her most recent series, Prager manipulates scale and dimension to challenge our understanding of the boundary between fiction and reality. The gallery will host an opening reception on Thursday, January 18, from 68 pm, at the Pedder Building.

Those familiar with Prager’s work will recognize elements that recall past series, such as Face in the Crowd (2013), in which her compositions highlighted the contrast between crowded public spaces and a lone heroine. These latest works push the theatrical narrative potential of her prior series. The imagery lays bare the artifice in its creation, achieved through impossible, contrived viewpoints, layering of incongruent scenes—such as a rainy day on top of a sunny one—and other formal and technical controls that challenge the assumed naturalism of photography and film. 

One such formal device is scale—a major component in the production and installation of the work—with Prager varying the dimensions of the photographs according to the level of distortion she intends to achieve. In Hand Model (2017), a woman’s outstretched hand is blown up larger than life, referencing the often unrealistic scaling and cropping of images in the advertising and fashion industries, a concept reinforced by the title. The same image of the hand also appears in miniature scale as a prop advertisement in Star Shoes (2017), and unexpectedly, as a sculpture protruding from the gallery wall in Hand Model (detail) (2017). In this multifold presentation of the same image, the meaning is conveyed in two radically different ways—as the emphasized subject and a trivial detail. Throughout the exhibition, Prager expertly guides the viewer to a predetermined end, using the play with proportion and form to question the assumption that a photograph faithfully represents reality.

With this new body of work, Prager realizes an ambitious formal approach to achieve the dynamic tension she previously created through more traditional storytelling devices. Prager removes the certainty of the omnipotent perspective of the viewer through scale, dramatic cropping, layering, and uncontextualized settings, replacing it with a disorienting awareness of the constructed nature of most “real world” imagery we encounter. Contemporary society is awash in visual information—we are presented with versions of reality in marketing, news, and social media, but we rarely pause to consider how our thoughts are guided in the process of looking. Prager’s work calls this into question, and not only reveals the scene she intends to present, but makes the viewer aware of the psychological processes involved in their own observations. 

For more information about Alex Prager or other Lehmann Maupin artists, please contact Marta de Movellan or Kathryn McKinney at +1 212 255 2923, or visit


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