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Claire Hsu: Artistic visionary preserving Asia's art history

Director is dedicated to reinterpreting Asian art history for future generations worldwide, writes Janice Leung

 

Set up as a public entity, the Asia Art Archive actually began as "a personal project to solve a personal problem", says Claire Hsu, the archive's co-founder and executive director. The idea was born out of her frustration at locating reference material for her dissertation on contemporary Chinese art at the University of London.

"Despite the fact that so many developments were happening in the field, no one really documented them," says Hsu, who developed an urge to "fill a gap" in the contemporary art world by launching the archive - an independent, non-profit organisation that collects, preserves and makes available to the public material about recent art history in Asia.

Of Chinese and Austrian parentage, Hsu grew up shuttling between Hong Kong and London. This cross-cultural environment enables her to see how necessary it is to document art from multiple perspectives.

"Every time you learn about art history, it is through a Western lens. Art history has been written very much through a European and American-centric point of view."

When Hsu started the archive in 2000, she was 24. She had just completed her master's, but she had hardly any management experience.

At the same time, Hsu was often talked about in relation to her stepfather, Ronald Arculli, the former chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, and the Jockey Club, and former Executive Council convenor.

Looking back, Hsu is thankful to have been able to get connections through her family. "But I don't think after 12 years people would still be supporting the archive if we hadn't built up something meaningful in the field."

For three successive years, Hsu has been named among the art world's 100 most powerful people by ArtReview magazine.

The archive's reputation, meanwhile, continues to grow: it has collaborated with the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and it has always been the official educational partner of the annual Hong Kong International Art Fair.

Beyond the library in Sheung Wan, which houses more than 34,000 books, exhibition catalogues, rare periodicals and audiovisual materials, the archive also plays an active role in its virtual space.

In June this year, its new website was launched along with Collection Online, an initiative that has spent four years digitising 300,000 items of primary source material from across Asia. Eventually, all will be put online and made public for the first time, meaning new research can be done, and by any internet user worldwide.

Now a mother of two, Hsu attributes the archive's achievements to the devoted 35 staff and researchers, who make her beam with pride, and a board of directors who deeply care about the organisation.

Indeed, she's been using "we" to refer to the archive. "It's not 'my organisation' as such," Hsu says with a smile. "This is something that I hope will live far beyond me."

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