Review: Tong King-sum

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 10:05am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 8:40pm

Tong King-sum
HK Museum of Art
Until December 31


Tong King-sum was one of an influential group of post-second world war artists whose enthusiasm for art and aesthetic creativity is proof that Hong Kong's "story" is not only about a frenzied entrepreneurial spirit, sweatshop labour and property development.

Tong studied art subjects at the Chinese University's extramural department. These self-improvement, recreational art courses were some of the few available in the 1960s. It was here that artist Cheung Yee first taught him, and later took Tong under his wing to further encourage and teach him the techniques of sculpture.

Tong predominantly explored wooden sculptural forms - in contrast to Cheung Yee's use of steel and bronze.

He died in 2008, at the age of 68, and in this small retrospective exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, a range of Tong's sculpture shows his tight technical competence.

He explores the human form and particularly the lithe, nude female torso. With subtle gradations of carving, Tong builds slightly muscled forms emphasising the body's tones and curves. This is best seen from different lighted angles, and despite the museum's odd placement of some pieces on fake green grass, the set-up is effective.

This exploration of the perfect human form contrasts with Tong's own body. His wife and fellow artist Chiu Wai-yee explains that Tong was "crippled, disabled and short in stature, but he created works of sculpture much taller and heavier than himself".

Tong walked with crutches most of his life, but his own physical disabilities never impeded his determination and ability to create highly worked sculptural pieces.

Tong was an active member of Hong Kong's art community for 40 years, and he and his contemporaries were Hong Kong's first modernists and the vanguard for contemporary art expression.

This exhibition gives a good introduction to Tong's position as a sculptor, in a continuum alongside local sculptors past and present.