WHEN HENDERSON ArtReach's roadshow of Lui Shou-kwan ink paintings ends today, it will have travelled a distance even seasoned curators would find daunting. Shunning malls and halls, the exhibition has ventured to some of Hong Kong's most far-flung public housing estates, in what the property developer claims is an attempt to give the public 'a broader range of opportunities to marvel at great works of art'. Not that many have risen to the occasion, however: the exhibition has hardly been a well-attended event, what with venues that even those living nearby would hardly consider accessible. The exposition, housed in three 20-foot containers that the organisers have christened a 'Mobile Art and Culture Exhibition Unit', has set up in some of the more deserted backyards of the housing complexes. If not for the glaring logos on the outside of the containers, passers-by could have been forgiven for thinking of them as makeshift construction-site offices. For nine-year-old Law Ka-chun, the containers were attractive because 'there are computers to play with' - a reference to the interactive games in a makeshift education centre in one of them. Law is one of the few who visited the exhibition during its week in Yau Oi Estate, a 15-minute walk from Tuen Mun town centre. He's been to the exhibition twice and, after completing a highly satisfying session with his classmates trying his hand at ink painting, he was promising to go back. But he was at a loss when asked what the exhibition was about. 'I don't know what it is,' the primary student said. The exhibition mostly counts curious schoolchildren among its visitors, usually passing by on their way home. Most converge on the educational centre, where experienced artists wait every day in the hope of engaging them in an art form as foreign to the children as surrealism. 'We had a much busier time when the exhibition was at Oi Man Estate, with all the schools nearby,' says veteran artist Leung Kui-ting. As one of Lui's disciples and a main mover in the local scene - he is director of the Hong Kong Chingying Institute of Visual Arts and also an active member of the Hong Kong Ink Society - he was among a handful of ink painters Henderson invited to give a human presence to the exhibition. 'We're here to explain what the paintings mean and how people can relate to them - for example, to tell people what the swaths of black and blotches of red mean in this painting,' Leung says, referring to Lui's Zen Painting, one of the key works in the exhibition. 'The biggest reward we could have is to lead people in acknowledging Hong Kong's own artistic heritage. We don't have da Vinci [paintings], and we don't have a collection like The Palace Museum's [in Beijing] - but we have our own ink painters.' Given Lui's legacy as one of Hong Kong's first 'homegrown' artists - the painter's career took off only after the then 28-year-old moved to Hong Kong in 1948 - general indifference to his work must have pained Leung. 'We shouldn't be looking at concrete results in doing these community-driven cultural events - the most important thing is that we put our words about arts education into action and go to the masses,' he says. 'Never underestimate the consequences of the 10 minutes these children spent here - it might affect them for the next 30 years.' Whether ink painting will remain in the lives of Tuen Mun schoolchildren is questionable, but one thing might: Henderson Land's name, which was emblazoned across the containers and the handouts given to visitors. It might be churlish to dismiss the developer's enthusiasm in art as merely cynical, but the sudden interest in launching such exhibitions coincided perfectly with the corporation's bid for the land rights to the West Kowloon Cultural District, the wide strip west of Tsim Sha Tsui that promises to be as much an arts hub as prime land for lavish apartment blocks. With a view to capturing what is easily the most profitable development project in Hong Kong in recent years, the three bidders - World City Culture Park (Henderson's venture), Dynamic Star (a joint collaboration between Cheung Kong and Sun Hung Kai), and Sunny Development (engineered by Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estates) - are in top gear, serenading all parties about their own proposals - and their aim to be cultured, caring and socially conscious entrepreneurs. On one side, bidders strove to recruit sympathisers among local artists, social commentators and journalists whose voices add to the credibility of their own projects. Theatre companies, dance troupes and visual art collectives - all vying for a foothold in the vast cultural complexes the project promises to deliver - are all signed up as what they call 'strategic partners'. The distance the developers have gone to pursue approval from the community is telling. Bearing in mind the consequences of a public backlash - as evident in New World Development's decision not to pull down Hunghom Peninsula after widespread public disapproval - developers now know of the importance for a mandate among the electorate. The focus for this jockeying for public acceptance is on display at the Special Exhibition Hall at the Hong Kong Science Museum where, since December 16, the details of the three bids have been laid out. Visitors move among teams of slick-talking guides, employed by corporations to talk about the individual projects. Videos of celebrity endorsements compete with three-dimensional computer simulation programmes about grand cultural complexes. The public are invited to vote for the presentation they like best - and in the process join a draw from which 100 winners will be given a year's worth of visits to government-run museums. Away from the media-savvy frenzy at the Science Museum, the ArtReach roadshow represents another aspect of Henderson's campaign for mass approval. The company has spent much in refurnishing the cargo containers into a short-term art gallery but somehow the exhibition pales into insignificance compared with the Science Museum show. At Tuen Mun, for example, the containers are dumped on a remote plot on the edge of Yau Oi Estate. Leung says he's knows why art suddenly found favour among property developers. 'I know [Henderson] is pursuing something on the back of this and if not for that, this exhibition wouldn't have happened. I don't care what other people are running after - I'm just glad that ink painting can get its rightful place in Hong Kong,' he says, pointing to Henderson's promise of establishing a museum for the art form - the first of its kind in the world. Leung and fellow artist Cheng Ming, who also works as a guide at the Lui exhibition, see no problem in getting patronage from property tycoons. Leung points to the way companies such as Hong Kong Land and Swire attributed a certain amount of their budget in acquiring and promoting art. Traditional property developers have woken up to this way of generating good publicity among an increasingly sophisticated population. Henderson ArtReach has three other mobile exhibitions that are set to follow the Lui Shou-kwan show, bringing ink paintings by other renowned local artists to places as far as Tin Yiu Estate in Yuen Long and Tsz Lok Estate in Tsz Wan Shan. Dynamic Star, meanwhile, continues its seminars featuring its international partners; and Sunny Development wants to sponsor Hong Kong Arts Festival events to earmark its contribution to local cultural events. While Leung expects a blossom of patronage and sponsorship in the light of West Kowloon, other artists and curators express grave doubts about this onslaught of interest from property developers. Oscar Ho Hing-kay, former exhibition director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre and chairman of the Hong Kong chapter of the International Art Critics Association, describes the publicity campaigns which arose from the West Kowloon bids as 'merely the making of noises'. 'At one time they'll be talking about doing something about Cantonese opera, the next it will be ink paintings, and then an art auction - it's just schizophrenic talk,' he says. 'How will all these activities reflect Hong Kong culture? How do they, as operators of this cultural district, assess our cultural needs? That's not much rationale and vision. At the end of the day, art lost out - it became a big load of public relations activities.' Ho is among a sizeable contingent of cultural commentators who are dismayed by the showcase at the Science Museum as well as programmes such as Henderson's ArtReach. 'It's all purely done for the sensation,' he says of the exhibition of layouts in Tsim Sha Tsui. 'Developers are devoted to build the best building that can make them the most money for stockholders - asking them to sincerely promote art is a mismatch.' Lo King-man, artistic consultant to Henderson and former head of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, says the ArtReach project is not set up to 'facilitate the West Kowloon project', but is related to what the company wants to achieve in West Kowloon. 'Physically, there's no relation to the bid - it's just that, conceptually, we want the public to know that Henderson regards highly the needs of the people of Hong Kong and also of local artists,' he says. 'It is about letting them know what our attitude towards art is if we are successful in the bid.'