When Hong Kong emerged as Asia’s art capital a few years ago few could think of a more suitable candidate for the job. This striking and lively Chinese metropolis had already been branded Asia’s World City, known for its unique culture of vibrant Cantonese traditions, its prolific film industry, and its ancient Feng Shui practices. Home to breath-taking skyscrapers and the now demolished historic Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong’s “dark” and seductive side has captured the imagination of artists around the world.
However, its rise to the art elite meant that it had to overcome the pessimism that had haunted it in the last few decades. Hong Kong has been seen by many not as a destination, but a point of transit, an “East meets West” stopover where culture is something imported or copied from elsewhere. Others have dismissed it as merely a money making machine whose hyper capitalism was counterproductive to the arts. But despite the voices of doubt, Hong Kong in the recent years has showed the world that it has the confidence and sophistication to become an exciting art hub and the place to be for creative spirits.
Being a vibrant entrepôt for trade between China and the world, a former colony with long-standing relationships with the West, and one of the most iconic vertical cities in the world all served as the foundation upon which Asia’s cultural capital was built. In the years that followed since the Sino-British Joint Declaration there has been an ongoing discourse about Hong Kong Culture and Identity that inevitably derived from the unique political and social status that was established with de-colonization.
In a climate of awakening and self-reflection, the interest in self expression increased, and a creative vibe took over the city. But perhaps the major driving force behind the art boom has been China’s own growing appetite for art that has lead to important investments by new and already established art collectors. As a result the funding for arts in Hong Kong has nearly doubled since 2008, making Hong Kong the most important arts capital after London and New York.
Events, Galleries and Institutions: In the recent years, Art Basel Hong Kong and its edgier peer, Art Central placed the city in the centre of the international arts scene. With annual shows running yearly and featuring more than 3000 artists, they showcase art from the most established art galleries in Asia and the globe. The upcoming M+, Hong Kong’s new museum for visual culture that is destined to open in 2019, already presents diverse programmes and “nomadic” exhibitions such as the M Plus Rover, a travelling creative studio that tours at secondary schools and community places.
In addition to these major events, a plethora of local galleries enrich the city’s diverse art scene such as the experimental contemporary art space Para Site, and the gallery 10 Chancery Lane, which showcases work from South East Asia’s emerging artists including Cambodia and Vietnam. Furthermore, it became a hotspot for important foreign galleries that wish to expand globally, such as the White Cube, which since 2012 founded its first non UK gallery in Hong Kong Central and has hosted major exhibitions including Damien Hirst and Gilbert&George.
The cultural institution Tai Kwun which is housed in the former Central Police Station, one of Hong Kong’s most iconic colonial buildings, aims to serve as “a cultural brand for Hong Kong”, and is planning to host contemporary art exhibitions, heritage and leisure programmes.
Street Art and Public Art: In a climate of unprecedented proliferation of creative ideas, local and international street artists all want to leave their mark on Hong Kong. Recent projects include transforming a worn-down dirty building in Sham Shui Po into a rainbow-coloured three dimensional work of art by Madrid based Spanish artist Okuda, as well as eye-catching graffiti brightening up the streets at the annual graffiti festival Hong Kong Walls. Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto recently presented his major Hong Kong art exhibition Debris , launched by the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation (HOCA),where he displayed his works and installations in sites around the city, including a moving tram.
Public Art Hong Kong (PAHK) is a leading public art promoting organisation which strives to make public art accessible to all, while its vision is “to enhance the quality of life of the people in Hong Kong by bringing excellent contemporary art that offers impactful experiences to the people and the cityscape.” It promotes several temporary and ongoing projects in collaboration with the Hong Kong Arts Centre.
Being such an important part of the city life, the Hong Kong public art scene has proved that it has the maturity and confidence to embrace big projects. From a giant inflatable rubber duck floating in the Harbour by Dutch artist Florentijin Hofman, to Anthony Gormley’s rooftop sculptures, Hong Kong has welcomed bold projects. In the recent 2016 Event Horizon, Gromley installed 31 “naked” men sculptures on rooftops in Central, often letting passerby people to think that they were humans attempting suicide. Even though it was considered a sensitive topic, it was the most extensive public art installation ever seen in the city.
Hong Kong has proved that it is not only a famous tourist destination and a dynamic architectural hotspot, but a culturally extremely rich and diverse Asian city that is not afraid to take risks. The city itself is in a way a large museum full of history that is transforming into a large contemporary piece of art. All eyes are on Hong Kong hoping to see more exciting cutting edge art originating from this unique Chinese city.