The best 2017 Hong Kong contemporary art exhibitions, from the old school to the surreal
Whether it was interpretations of the 20th anniversary of China resuming sovereignty, or dissected frogs performing a morbid dance as electricity stimulated their dead muscles, there was something for everyone this year
Artists’ responses to the 20th handover anniversary; previews of future programmes of the M+ museum of visual culture; long-awaited solo exhibitions; and two quirky shows about collective dancing and beauty pageants. These were among the most memorable contemporary art happenings in Hong Kong in 2017.
The handover exhibitions
The 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule saw curators and artists take stock of the city’s metamorphosis. The resulting works were by and large subtle, personal, and open to interpretation, a welcome respite from the polarising political narrative that dominates public and private discourse.
Tsang Tak-ping’s Six Scenarios of Mindful Practice: Ego-centric Suffering, Severe Attachment (2017) at the “Talkover/Handover 2.0” exhibition in 1a Space was particularly affecting. The artist made the installation using seemingly random items to plot his own transformation into a Buddhist and a farmer since the handover to China in 1997, which in turn pulls the audience into quiet reflection. Revisit the four summer exhibitions at 1a Space, Videotage and Karin Weber Gallery here and two other exhibitions at Blindspot Gallery and Para Site in the autumn.
It was a stroke of genius by the government’s Art Promotion Office to pair four local artists with four historic houses – in Law Uk, Wong Uk, Sam Tung Uk and Kom Tong Hall. These undervisited public sites saw their dull, uniformly furnished rooms filled with delightful artworks that were the products of a year’s worth of historical research by the artists and their teams.
Click here to find out how Fiona Wong Lai-ching used ceramic art to bring back the original Hakka residents of Law Uk, Lam Tung-pang rediscovered the lost art of indigo dying in Sha Tin and Jaffa Lam Laam filled Sam Tung Uk village with the sound of nanyin.
M+ Pavilion exhibitions
The stand-out shows at the M+ museum’s temporary exhibition space this year were “Canton Express: A Profile of Early Art of the Pearl River Delta” and “The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+”.
The first, which opened in June, was the restaging of a historically important 2003 Venice Biennale exhibition of Pearl River Delta art. Apart from offering the opportunity to see the original artworks, now part of the M+ permanent collection, the exhibition was a chance to gather most of the original artists in Hong Kong, which made for a great opportunity to record anecdotes from the eventful trip to Venice. Here is a preview of Canton Express.
In the autumn, the same space hosted the first showing of the future museum’s extensive ink art collection, and the exhibition revealed just how M+ intends to make this traditional genre relevant today: by examining it from an international perspective that takes it well beyond its Chinese roots. Music and dance were incorporated for a totally immersive experience.
Observing social phenomenon
“After Party: Collective Dance and Individual Gymnastics” was an exhibition at Blindspot Gallery that took the idea of collective dancing as the departure point for exploring the tension between ideological control and the individual will. It has some unforgettable images: a row of dissected frogs performing a morbid dance as their dead muscles are stimulated by electric currents (The work is Lu Yang’s Reanimation! Underwater Zombie frog ballet!); and Flirt, a series of photos by Hu Weiyi that are close-ups of body parts penetrated and linked by lit neon lines. Read here for our preview. “In Search of Miss Ruthless” at Para Site considered the phenomenon of beauty pageants through the lens of gender, race, role playing and power structures. The result was an exuberant and imaginative collection involving 23 international artists.
This year saw three notable solo exhibitions by Hong Kong artists. Hanart TZ Gallery’s “Gaylord Chan: Painting at 90” included works from the late 1980s by the prominent artist, who is now in his 90s. He experimented with a myriad of styles and techniques, including digital designs that he made for the show. Regardless of the medium, his vitality and humour shine through.
In “The Afterlife of Rosy Leavers”, Angela Su delved deep into her mistrust of psychiatric orthodoxy. Its blend of gothic aesthetics, sci-fi horror and historic researchal make for a thoroughly disturbing and unforgettable experience at Blindspot Gallery.
“Kwan Sheung-chi: Blue is the New Black” at Edouard Malingue Gallery demands the physical participation of the audience and cajoles them out of passive acceptance of social and political frameworks with videos that effectively borrow from French New Wave films.
It wasn’t exactly an exhibition, but Chui Pui-chi’s four-panel new work stole the show at Ink Asia 2017, the art fair. My Tiresome at the Bottom of Valley XV – Ensuring the Best Influence for Her Son Mencius (2017) is an exquisite, multi-panel ink painting that challenges common forms of parental devotion in contemporary Hong Kong. Also of note this year is the conclusion of Spring Workshop and Things That Can Happen, two non-profit art spaces in Hong Kong.