Art failure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am


The opening night of Art HK 12 witnessed an incredible turnout. It was hard to tell whether people came to appreciate or to acquire, but it's perhaps telling that an official T-shirt bore the statement 'Money creates taste'.

China is the world's largest art market, but here in Hong Kong it too often feels like it's all about the dollars. The Heritage Museum's current Picasso exhibition makes a strong case for the other side, but while it'd be a standard offering in London or New York, it's a rare spectacle in our city.

So where is the art that's meant to educate, inspire and motivate? We have a massive annual art fair, dozens of famous galleries, art schools, billions changing hands every year - but no decent art museum. Sure, there are venues being built at the West Kowloon Cultural District and the Central Police Station, but some fear the government's money-minded approach will turn them into places of wealth worship instead of art appreciation.

Something's wrong here - and it could get worse. After years of extreme growth, some pundits are expressing concern that our art market is slowing down. This might turn out to be a positive development, though, if it's handled right.

Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has been pushing for a new culture bureau and the government has billions of dollars lying around, so why not kill two birds with one stone? Invest some public money in a number of classical and contemporary pieces and open a museum to at least rival Taiwan and its two major art institutions; a place in which students can learn, tourists can admire and Hongkongers can feel proud.

A slowdown may allow us to show we understand art is not just about its value in monetary terms, but its worth to us as people - and that we can look at art and see not just dollar signs, but a reflection of who we are and what we feel.