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2013.01.24 Thu, by Translated by: 陈婧婧
Hong Kong Eye

A rather un-conventional survey show aims to generate awareness of the art scene and bolster market attention

“Hong Kong Eye,” group exhibition by 18 Hong Kong Artists

Saatchi Gallery (Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London) Dec 5, 2012 – Jan 12, 2013

[Note: an expanded and different "Hong Kong Eye," along a similar curatorial theme, will be shown at ArtisTree (1/F Cornwall House, TaiKoo Place, 979 King's Road, Island East, Hong Kong) from May 1 - 31, 2013]

After so many years living in the shadow of Chinese contemporary art, Hong Kong began to rise with the tide of the art market. The ArtHK fair brought strong collectors and a crowd of powerful art professionals to the city, bringing international recognition to a scene that had been in a state of deep hibernation.

The city once cruelly labeled a “cultural desert” has now been described as an “art treasure hunt” by Serenella Ciclitira, a long-time art collector and co-curator of “Hong Kong Eye” — the third edition of the Eye series. The previous editions, “The Indonesia Eye” and “Korean Eye,” achieved significant international exposure, particularly the Korean survey that last summer occupied the entire Saatchi Gallery, coincided with the London Olympics, and was accompanied with an artist profile book of the same name.

The news about “Hong Kong Eye” first spread this summer, when dealer and scholar Johnson Chang, one of the key figures in promoting and developing an understanding of Chinese contemporary art, joined the curatorial team together with Saatchi Gallery and David and Serenella Ciclitira — founders of the Eye series.

The London-based Italian couple owns a mansion in the outskirts of Rome that houses an art collection of several hundred pieces, and they were in fact one of Johnson Chang’s first clients.

The project took place this past summer quietly and with incredible speed — and a 408-page finely printed book by European publisher Skira was produced last November. The book launch coincided with kickstarted the exhibition at Saatchi Gallery in December, which will travel back to Hong Kong in March and remain until May to be seen during Art Basel Hong Kong.

The book comprises the work of 76 artists selected by Chang, Serenella Ciclitira and Nigel Hurst, the CEO of Saatchi Gallery. Ten of these are departed masters from 1880-2000 — this selection was exclusively curated by Johnson Chang — while Hurst, picked most of the works to be shown at the exhibition.

Amy Cheung, “Toy Tank,” 2006.
张韵雯, “玩具坦克”, 2006.

Amy Cheung, “Toy Tank,” inside view, 2006.
张韵雯, “玩具坦克”, 2006.

Artist Amy Cheung commented in an interview that the art selection of the exhibition was eccentric — not the typical group of artists exhibiting together. Cheung is showing a full-sized 2.5-ton oak tank entitled “Toy Tank.” It functions as an artwork in which viewers can enter and, through the help of a digital monitor, bomb virtual replicas of the surrounding artworks. Perhaps due to its obvious references to Chinese politics, this is the first time the work has been shown since its debut at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in 2006. Nonetheless, this enormously huge work fills the room’s capacity and somehow acts as the main protagonist of the space.

Luckily, other works in the second room survived the digital explosion. For instance, in “China is not Ruled by Chinese Anyway,” a newly finished film-still painting by Chow Chun Fai, the artist uses his privileged status as a Hong Kong citizen to exercise his freedom of speech. Adrian Wong’s animated soft sculptures explore linguistic interpretation through his typical humorous approach. Kong Chun Hei’s meticulous ink on paper works play with the shifting properties of representation through the morphing of surface and material. And João Vasco Paiva’s minimal kinetic sculpture “Counterpoints” consists of five stainless-steel turnstiles that spin their arms according to the flow of passengers entering the Hong Kong Central Metro station, together with a set of panels that are the result of an abstraction of the station information signs, creating a neat corner of urban mechanism.

CHOW Chun Fai, “Legend of the Fist: China is not Ruled by Chinese Anyway,” 2012.
周俊辉, “反正现在中国不是由中国人做主”, 2012

João Vasco Paiva, “Palimpseptic,” 2011.

Two exhibition rooms housed 30-some works, which despite the press release claims of “emerging artists” featured several who had been in the field for decades. For instance, Chinese ink painter Leung Kui Ting, in his 50s, presented a ten-meter-long scroll painting and an installation where the literati landscape was reduced to a texture of saturated ink over fabric and wood — the arrangement and materials displayed the influences of the Italian Arte Povera movement.  In addition, the show also featured works by the respected oil painter Lui Chun Kwong, who was the mentor for many young artists, with his signature abstract paintings.

Then there were are other artists seldom seen in Hong Kong, less active in the mainstream gallery scene or more prominent within academic spheres. One might argue for a sharper curatorial direction or point out the strange omission of Lee Kit — the most active and saleable artist who has been showing intensively abroad and will represent Hong Kong at the next Venice Biennial. But the exhibition should be commended for taking a refreshing angle — with a selection of artworks that amusingly breaks down the long-existing barriers between different art groups separated due to their social positioning, gallery scenes and cultural backgrounds. Rather strangely we find these artists meeting at the Saatchi Gallery — or perhaps it’s not so strange after all. Hurst claimed that that show focused on works which had “considerably more potential for the art market.” And thus presenting this show as an objective “survey” would likely be beneficial to all three parties involved.

“Some of the artworks price went up 40 percent on the market after the Korean Eye exhibition; this was assessed by ArtTactic,” Ciclitira proudly claimed.

Perhaps due to the commercial concerns and the sponsorship of Prudential, the couple had trouble rounding up government support for their effort.* “We have gained governmental support from the Korean Eye and Indonesian Eye. Their ambassadors always come to support everywhere the exhibition tours. As for Hong Kong, we never received any replies. In this sense, Hong Kong is like an orphan. Luckily, Swire is lending us the ArtisTree space, since Hong Kong Art Center turned us down,” Ciclitira says.

Despite the buoyant market and the wide exposure brought by Art Hong Kong and shows such as this, Hong Kong can hardly be seen as a good place for artists. With high living expenses, limited space and few supportive local galleries, the number of full-time artists in the city can be counted on one or two hands. Institutions step away when commercial parties are involved, since ADC (Art Development Council) does not give grants for artists to create exhibitions in commercial venues. The works cannot be for sale.

On a similar vein, one might think of Chanel’s Zaha Hadid-designed UFO museum that toured the city in 2007, and then disappeared after a month, with almost no local participation or contribution to the local art scene.  Louis Vuitton’s “Passion of Creation” brought its massive art collection together with antique suitcases to the Hong Kong Art Museum, while the museum building was wrapped in its monogram. Philip Tinari curated an excellent seven-HK artists group show in the adjacent room, but it was only shown locally.

Though “Hong Kong Eye” presents the first major survey show of art made in Hong Kong to be seen abroad together with the Skira publication. Leung Chi Wo, one of the city’s most esteemed artists, and founder of non-profit art space Para/Site regards it as positive to have support from collectors to promote Hong Kong art: “No matter what perspective one takes to look at it, only time can tell. Say, after five years, we will see how much value the Hong Kong Eye promised to us.”

Perhaps what is most interesting is the contrast between practices that focus on global aesthetic issues and those whose approach reflects a concern with local problems. Through this show we see the diversity of cultural identities and backgrounds that emanate from such a small territory and we can begin to imagine the possibilities that will emerge from this new integrated art hub.

*The government did endorse the project, as can be seen by the foreword in the book Hong Kong Eye penned by Louis Ng, the assistant director of the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department, as well as the government’s help in delivering 100 copies of the book in libraries across Hong Kong.

(Note: we had previously said The Art Newspaper assessed a 40% increase in prices of works after the Korean Eye. This is wrong; the increase was assessed by ArtTactic. The text is now corrected. Also in the very next paragraph, we have emended the first clause from “Perhaps due to these commercial entanglements” to “Perhaps due to the commercial concerns and the sponsorship of Prudential”. Feb 6, 2013).

HO Sin Tung, “Love Hotel: Please Pretend We’ve Been to Lot of Places,” 2011.

Silas FONG, “Upon the Escalator,” 2009.

LEUNG Kui Ting, “Landscape GPS,” 2012.
梁巨廷, “GPS 山水“, 2012