Hongkong Land puts on public art show, after pulling out of rooftop statue display

Landlord unveils exhibition of sculptures by British artist Lynn Chadwick at its Central properties, having previously withdrawn support for show of ‘naked man’ statues after banker jumped to his death from roof of one of its properties

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 11:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2016, 1:14pm

Hongkong Land today makes a public art comeback, unveiling around 30 works by the late British sculptor Lynn Chadwick at its properties in Hong Kong’s Central district, months after pulling out of a display of works by another British sculptor, Antony Gormley, on Central rooftops.

The company, the biggest landlord in Central, has placed six large Chadwick sculptures in the Rotunda at Exchange Square, the Chater House lobby, the Landmark Atrium, the area outside the Forum (where sculptures by Henry Moore, Ju Ming and Elisabeth Frink sit), by the stairs outside Jardine House and in the lobby of Alexandra House. They will be on display for six months. The rest of the display comprises small sculptures that will be shown in the Rotunda and other venues for a month.

The project came about because Greg McNamara, the owner of a newly opened art consultancy in Hong Kong, is good friends with Chadwick’s grandson.

“I became close to his mother and 18 months ago, I proposed to her that we do a public exhibition of her father’s works here. Hongkong Land held a Chadwick exhibition in 1992 so I thought it was the right company to approach, and I started talking to them about this around 10 months ago,” said Hong Kong-born McNamara.

Chadwick, one of the UK’s most celebrated post-war sculptors, created a body of abstract works known for a blending of sharp, modernist lines and a humanist sensitivity. His men, women and animals often have geometric heads, looking alien yet friendly.

“Everyone can relate to Chadwick’s works. The aesthetics are very approachable. I hope that this project will help democratise art,” said McNamara.

Chadwick was ambivalent about showing his works in crowded places, according to Michael Bird, his biographer. “People should be quiet and peaceful while they’re looking at it,” Chadwick used to say. But the organisers believe the works will resonate with their surroundings in Hong Kong.

“Chadwick started out as an architectural draughtsman and so his works are often amazing, deconstructed forms. These will have an interesting dialogue with the architectural backdrop here,” said McNamara.

Hongkong Land was going to host an exhibition of Gormley’s Event Horizon – 31 life-size statues of naked men – mostly on the edges of Central rooftops. But in 2014 it changed its mind after a banker jumped to his death from the roof of Chater House, which it owns.

Gormley went on to launch the exhibition in Central a year later with the backing of other companies – the statues are in place until May 18 – but Hongkong Land’s decision prompted much debate in Hong Kong about corporate sponsorship of art projects that may be deemed insensitive by some who see them.

The Chadwick exhibition is unlikely to provoke the same level of reaction as Gormley’s Event Horizon, not just because of the approachable nature of the sculptures but also because of their placement.

The display of Gormley’s rooftop statues has been condemned by the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, which is concerned that they could trigger suicidal thoughts among the mentally vulnerable.

One of his street-level sculptures was briefly fenced off by the Highways Department following a complaint that it was an obstruction.

None of the Chadwick sculptures will be on a roof and the two outdoor sites are within the boundaries of Hongkong Land properties and unlikely to get in the way of Central commuters, according to McNamara.

The exhibition is a collaboration between McNamara Art Projects and Hongkong Land, and is supported by the artist’s estate and international art gallery Blain|Southern.