When 31 life-sized "naked man" sculptures - the impressive body of work by British artist Antony Gormley called Event Horizon - were unveiled in Hong Kong in November, they were the talk of the town. Granted, not all the talk was good; some people thought the statues positioned close to the edges of the roofs of skyscrapers were suicide jumpers. Others didn't like seeing the naked bits; one shudders to think how they would react if they saw Michelangelo's David, in Florence. After all, it's just 21 years since the city's Obscene Articles Tribunal ruled indecent the publication of a photo of the Michelangelo work by a newspaper in an advert for an art gallery (the ruling was later overturned).
Earlier the same year, 1995, the tribunal was widely criticised after ruling that New Man, a 2.5-metre bronze male nude statue by British artist Elisabeth Frink, was too indecent to be displayed outside a gallery. A company that installed the sculpture in its lobby had to cover its genitals with a cardboard leaf.
Whatever you think about Gormley's art, there's no denying that the project - the largest privately funded and most extensive public art installation seen in the city - has done much to raise Hong Kong's creative profile.
The city will bid farewell to the statues on May 18, but those wanting a keepsake might like to get their hands on Antony Gormley: Event Horizon Hong Kong, published by the British Council. The book takes an in-depth look at the project, the photography of Oak Taylor-Smith managing to capture the sculptures, which are installed across Central and Western, in all their glory.
Complementing the pictures are words by Ackbar Abbas, a former chair of comparative literature at the University of Hong Kong, who states that Gormley's project has resonated with Hongkongers, changing the perception of public art in the city.
As Abbas puts it: "Gormley's work is critical and reflexive, but it is not judgmental. It does not take the form of a critique that argues that something is true or false, but the form of a demonstration that, like an experiment, shows us that the way things are is not the only way; it can be otherwise. Is that what these silent figures installed on Hong Kong's rooftops with their gaze fixed on distant horizons are demonstrating, the possibility that things can be otherwise?"
Antony Gormley: Event Horizon Hong Kong (HK$200) is available at bookshops across the city.