Why French couple chose Hong Kong for art gallery

A French couple chose Hong Kong for their new fine arts gallery because anything is possible here

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 March, 2015, 10:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 March, 2015, 10:52pm

A dream to open a photography gallery in the heart of Hong Kong inspired French couple Marie-Florence Gros and Cyril Delettre to leave their native Paris for the city in September last year.

A few months later, they opened La Galerie, a contemporary fine arts space on Hollywood Road. They've also immersed themselves in the city's fine arts scene, proposing a strong ethos that asks the question: "What is the difference between artwork and ordinary cliché?"

This curiosity stems from the couple's lifestyle: they, too, are artists, with well-established careers in France. Gros is a writer, lyricist, singer (stage name Rochevive Mali) and artist who met filmmaker and photographer Delettre through several projects they undertook together. These include a video for the French activist movement Neither Whores Nor Submissive, aiming to eradicate violence against women, and the film Execution (2012), written by Gros and filmed by Delettre, which explores social values and issues concerning the death penalty.

Hong Kong is familiar ground for both, although this is their first time living in Asia. Growing up in the South of France, Gros' childhood was charged with the spirit of the East - aside from travelling to Asia frequently with her family, her late father, textile manufacturer Leo Gros, had a strong relationship with his Chinese consumers and with China.

So naturally, Gros chose Hong Kong as the next stop on her map. "It's the hub of Asia - a very lively and efficient city - and anything is possible," she says. The state of photography art here was also a key factor in their decision to cross the proverbial pond.

Although there is a roster of institutions and galleries dedicated to the art form - Blindspot Gallery, F11 Museum and YellowKorner being just a few - Gros is taking a long-term view. Photography in France, she says, has a history reaching back to the early 19th century, when the French government bought the patent of Louis Daguerre's daguerreotype - the earliest photographic process.

Hong Kong is still very much in the pre-discovery stage. We want to be at the crux of that culture

Today, the visual art form is firmly ensconced in France's rich art history, birthing contemporary movements and seminal artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Nadar.

Hong Kong, however, is still finding its own way, Gros says. This is both a challenge and an exciting factor in running La Galerie. "Paris is the city of photos. Hong Kong is still very much in the pre-discovery stage," she says. "We want to be at the crux of that culture - people are definitely interested in photography. If you look back at the history of photography, it started off as a response to reporting and it evolved into art. Now it is a recognised medium - there is no doubt about its identity. There is no reason why Hongkongers can't discover photography."

La Galerie officially opened in December with a solo show by Vincent Fournier, who presented prints from his "Post Natural History" series. The images feature doctored animals which look as if they have come from a curio shop: a snow-white rabbit fitted with a human eye, an owl with "predator-resistant" feathers. "When you see his pictures, you see they are very pure. He does beautiful work … and he's one of the more well-known photographers in France. We thought it would be interesting to start with him," Gros says.

"We then wanted our next big artist to represent a complete logical development of our gallery so we chose Zhang Kechun."

Zhang's show, which runs until May 1, explores China's second-longest water channel, the Yellow River. For this project, the Chengdu-based artist trundled along the river's length on a bicycle, documenting his journey and the people he met along the way.

But the gallery is not just for photography, Gros says. "We will have six to eight exhibitions a year, but we also want to do books and other mediums, such as sculpture and events. Not always prints. Photography is the main focus, but when we find something related to photography we're interested in, which could be painting or sculpture, we will present it."

La Galerie recently hosted a Picasso print and photography show, which showed portraits of the artist in his studio juxtaposed with his linocut creations from the 1950s and '60s. Among the art space's collection of photography volumes are works by local photographer Almond Chu, known for his portrait series "The Urbanites", featuring notable creatives in the city such as LED artist Teddy Lo and dancer Su Shu. La Galerie is also building on its growing archive of vintage prints, following in the footsteps of Chai Wan's Vintage Studio and Happy Valley's F11 Museum.

In a city where art can be seen more as an investment than a passion, Gros says she often encounters curiosity at the gallery - especially when it comes to buying prints, or the relevance of prints. "I'm very pleased that people are engaging. One time we had two students, girls in school uniform, [who] stayed for half an hour asking about the print process, the technique, the story behind it all. Each print is unique. And if it's a limited run, there won't be more. Long-term collectors understand this, but other people who don't know the industry so well will ask."

Aside from running La Galerie, the duo are also continuing their artistic practices. Gros is working on a novel. "We have a lot to learn and running a gallery in Hong Kong opens new intellectual landscapes. I can write from wherever I am in the world. Back when I was writing in Paris, Hong Kong was always just a dream, but we've actually done it.

"We're very excited by what we're doing here now. The gallery brings rich elements to our individual projects and vice versa. It shows that art can really nourish the world you're living in."

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For more information, visit lagalerie.hk