Artworks being auctioned to raise funds for Hong Kong's Asia Art Archive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 November, 2013, 4:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 11:47am

Years before the government began its Herculean task of developing the West Kowloon Cultural District more than a decade ago, a group of private enthusiasts had the foresight to exploit Hong Kong's mercantile role in art and set up a local research platform for the region's burgeoning contemporary art scene.

Now celebrating its 13th anniversary, the Asia Art Archive remains nimble and independent. It also wants to use its now-substantial clout to go global.

The focus of the non-profit organisation will firmly remain Asian, co-founder Claire Hsu explains, but the archive wants to expand its influence and help shape the way worldwide audiences look at contemporary art in the region.

The AAA has compiled a collection of more than 45,000 books, periodicals, catalogues and audiovisual material and a lot of them are now available free of charge from its website as well as its library in Sheung Wan's Hollywood Centre. But the organisation also wants to become a major portal that connects other "nodes" of knowledge locally, and around the world. "More than a static repository waiting to be discovered, the AAA is a proactive platform instigating critical thinking and dialogue," Hsu says.

A new project focusing on Hong Kong's woefully under-represented art history sees the Archive playing just such a role. The AAA and the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMA) have just launched a pilot scheme with the sweeping title "Hong Kong Art History Research" which aims to put together a body of publicly available resources on the evolution of local contemporary art.

It is a massive undertaking which involves academics, artists and critics pitching in with research and audio-visual records of personal memories, starting with a focus on what went on during the 1960s and the 1970s.

There is plenty of raw material out there about Hong Kong's art history but the material doesn't "circulate", says Hammad Nasar, the Archive's head of research and programmes. "They do not generate counter narratives and as a result, the history does not thicken," he says, a situation the recently revamped website can help address.

Next year will also see the continuation of its artists-in-resident programme with Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen, who will begin a project called "Critical Dictionary for Southeast Asia". The organisation will also launch two major digital archives: one on the works of Hans van Dijk, the influential critic and curator of contemporary art in China, and the other on four influential art writers associated with the MS University of Baroda in India - Jyoti Bhatt, Ratan Parimoo, Gulammohammed Sheikh and K.G. Subramanyan.

All this takes money, of course. The AAA has had significant support from private donors since its inception - Hsu, who is executive councillor Ronald Arculli's stepdaughter, has managed to recruit corporate heavyweights and private equity veterans to join the board. But the group relies on an annual charity sale for most of its day-to-day funding needs, Hsu says.

This year's fundraiser features 75 works of art donated by galleries and artists. The preview started on Thursday and will culminate with a live auction on Saturday at the China Club.

Held alongside Christie's own autumn sales, the AAA works are an edgier, more affordable collection of Asian contemporary art.

Local star Tsang Kin-wah has offered his 2005 work I Love U with an estimate of HK$40,000-HK$55,000. Lee Kit, Hong Kong's representative at this year's Venice Biennale, is selling his A Perfect Day for a Quiet Friend - a tablecloth with coffee stains - for HK$45,000-HK$60,000.

Those with deeper pockets can aim for Ai Weiwei's Hanging Man in Porcelain, a nod to Marcel Duchamp that is fast becoming iconic itself, or a new work by Taiwan-based master Liu Kuo-sung called Bluish Moon Rising from Five Flower Pond.

The biggest name included in the otherwise Asia-focused sale is Cy Twombly. His 1986 Tree (I) (Capri) is a photograph reprinted in 1994 courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery. The estimate starts at HK$140,000.

Online bidding is accepted until Friday; the AAA hopes to raise at least HK$10 million this year.