Tai Kwun opened, outdoor events sprouted, more galleries opened: Hong Kong art in 2018

  • Awareness of the gender imbalance in art, the popularity of outdoor art festivals, and more international galleries were talking points this year
  • Famed art dealers continue to set up shop in Hong Kong despite the high rent
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2018, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2018, 12:32pm

A number of trends jump out in a review of the 2018 Hong Kong art scene: new awareness of the gender imbalance in art, the popularity of outdoor art festivals, and the arrival of more international galleries.

We saw a flurry of activity around International Women’s Day that set the tone for a year that raised the profile of women in the arts. The Guerrilla Girls came to Hong Kong and highlighted the dismal representation of women in local galleries and collections, which was backed by the Post’s own findings.

Exhibition shows 40 years of Chinese artist Pan Yulin’s works

The New Hall art collection in Cambridge loaned works by Hong Kong female artists for a special exhibition at Sotheby’s gallery.

Three months later, it was announced that Hong Kong-born artist Shirley Tse and curator Christina Li will represent the city at the 2019 Venice Biennale, the first time a female artist will have a solo exhibition at the Hong Kong pavilion.

Some of this year’s best shows in what was otherwise a lean year for quality exhibitions happened to be retrospectives that gave fresh insights into the careers of well-established female artists: The Asia Society’s Hong Kong centre’s ongoing “Song of Spring: Pan Yu-Lin in Paris” exhibition that runs until January 6, 2019; and Ellen Pau’s “What about Home Affairs?” – a collection of 18 works by the groundbreaking Hong Kong video artist at Para Site (until February 17).

As prices of artworks by female artists creep up in auctions around the world (for example, Jenny Saville’s Propped (1992) sold for HK$12.4 million to set a new auction record for a work by a living female artist), major commercial galleries have also been seen to host more solo shows for women in Hong Kong after a decade of noticeable bias. (Out of every 10 solo shows at international galleries from 2008-2017, more than eight were for male artists).

Some, such as Hauser & Wirth’s Roni Horn exhibition, are in-depth surveys that also rank among the best exhibitions we’ve seen this year.

Is this the moment in the sun for female artists or part of a systemic redress? We are already hearing about new projects to keep the conversation going in 2019, so watch this space.

Political correctness doth not a good exhibition make.

Two major exhibitions this year were off target. Para Site’s ambitious “A Beast, A God, And A Line”, a travelling exhibition that takes a stab at the legacy of western imperialism, wasn’t helped by a lack of space to display it, nor by its unrelenting finger-wagging.

There were high hopes for the Cao Fei exhibition at Tai Kwun – a major solo show for a female artist and an experimental site-specific art commission at the former colonial prison.

Pan-Asian art exhibition tries to weave together too many strands

But the result felt like a corporate marketing video in parts. Still, Tai Kwun has shown itself to be a welcome addition to Hong Kong’s space-starved art scene.

Its management has not shown itself to be always in sync with public expectations, however.

Besides the furore over a talk by dissident Chinese writer Ma Jian, it raised eyebrows with a closed-door “test exhibition” called Rehearsals that limited attendance to a small circle of art world regulars. Ironically, it was one of the best exhibitions we’ve seen this year.

In 2018 there was also an explosion of new public art festivals. The Harbour Arts Sculpture Park festival opened in February with works by local artists such as Kacey Wong and international big-names like Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Yayoi Kusama dotted along the Central and Wan Chai harbourfront.

And then there are the two new art festivals set in New Territories villages, both inspired by the Echigo Tsumari triennial in Japan (the world’s biggest outdoor art festival) and how it turns a rural area into a lively stage for art and new dialogues about creativity and quality of life: “Hi! Hill” in Chuen Long, best-known for its dimsums and hiking trails, and “Flight”, held in the surreal setting of Sha Lo Wan, a traditional Hakka farming village right next to the airport’s runways.

The Asian auction market may be showing signs of jitters recently, but international dealers continue to set up shop in Hong Kong despite the high rent.

David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth and other international galleries opened in H Queen’s this year and Lévy Gorvy announced recently that it will also open a branch in Hong Kong next spring.

Asian collectors buying more Western art – and setting sights higher

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is eagerly awaiting the reopening of the Museum of Art next year. There were fears that the building of M+ was delayed once more when it sacked its main contractor in August, but it said it was still on track to open in 2020.