Portrait of success

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 May, 2011, 12:00am


As director of one of Hong Kong's foremost galleries, Nicole Schoeni is a key player in the city's bustling art scene.

But finding her ground and applying her own vision to the business has been no easy task.

Following the death of her father in 2004, Schoeni - 23 at the time - skipped her final examinations at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies to go home and take over the family business.

'My dad passed away on a Sunday. But since my mom was in the Philippines at the time, I decided to stay in England till she was back in Hong Kong,' Schoeni recalls. 'That was until I found out we had an exhibition scheduled for the following Thursday.'

'I really don't know what came over me, but I packed my stuff, got on a flight to Hong Kong and showed up at the gallery on Thursday to pick up where my father left off. Since then it's been non-stop.'

And when it comes to Schoeni Gallery, 'non-stop' is by no means an overstatement. The main branch on Old Bailey Street boasts a new exhibition every five weeks, together with several smaller shows in the summer.

While Schoeni has a team of eight to assist her, the now-seasoned dealer confesses to being 'very hands on' with her productions, in addition to which, she also travels overseas to meet with artists and source new talent.

'On an average trip to Beijing I could see as many as six to 10 artists per day,' she says. 'It's quite gruelling but can also be very inspiring. Going to the studios to see the environment in which the work is created is my favourite part of the job.'

This wasn't always the case, however. After first taking control of the business, Schoeni faced the daunting challenge of proving her worth to China's leading artistic talents.

'The beginning was difficult, particularly with the older artists who were used to dealing with my father,' she says. 'At the end, I really had to show them I was worthy of their respect.'

Since then, Schoeni has gone on to feature her own breed of artists at the gallery - a small group of up-and-coming talents she affectionately refers to as 'the newbies'.

As an avid collector of street art, she also hosts the occasional urban exhibition, an idea she developed after attending similar shows in Britain.

'Those exhibitions really inspired me,' she says. 'You'd have punks and grandmas and bankers all in the same space enjoying an art show.'

With so much on her plate, it's hard to imagine that the gallery owner has time for anything aside from work.

But much like her father once did, she somehow manages to make it work.

'The gallery is always my priority but I'm quite a control freak so I'm very organised with my time,' she says. 'The morning is normally spent with my boyfriend and my dog, and the evening is for going out with friends or clients.'

In terms of her work philosophy, Schoeni says it's all about following your passion.

'Everything I do, I do it because I really enjoy it, whether it's working with artists, or creating exhibitions,' she says.

Looking forward, Schoeni hopes to someday open a charitable foundation and continue to introduce 'edgier' multimedia works to the market.