The big arts stories from Asia in 2018: a burst of Thai shows, new Hong Kong complex, galleries’ gender bias

  • Four contemporary art exhibitions were launched in Thailand, where previously there were none, while Tai Kwun’s opening added art spaces in Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong Ballet staged an outstanding Giselle, Xu Bing had a major China retrospective, and Hong Kong Sinfonietta seeks a new music director
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 5:06pm

A colonial police station and prison compound is transformed into a new heritage and arts centre in Hong Kong; fairs, biennials and the hope for more artistic freedom in southeast Asia increase; the gender debate starts heating up in the Asian arts scene; and great shows in art galleries and on stage are just some of the highlights of 2018.

Here’s a look back at some of our top stories from the Hong Kong and Asian arts scene over the past year.

1. Tai Kwun complex

The new Tai Kwun complex is the culmination of Hong Kong’s most ambitious heritage restoration project and adds much-needed arts venues to the space-starved city. It cleverly merges new buildings with a former police headquarters and prison, and local restorers learned valuable techniques for similar projects in the future. You can read about its restoration here.

However, not long after its opening its management was accused of self-censorship when it dithered over whether to allow a talk by dissident Chinese novelist Ma Jian. There was a mixed response to some of its exhibitions, such as the secretive “Rehearsal” and its first major contemporary art commission.

There were eye-catching openings in the commercial world, too, with a number of international art galleries moving into the new H Queens building in Central this year.

2. Gender bias in focus

In 2018, the issue of gender bias in the visual arts became a talking point in Hong Kong because several surveys independently found that women artists have a lot less visibility than their male counterparts.

Read the SCMP’s own study here that found eight out of 10 solo exhibitions at local galleries were for male artists.

3. Southeast Asian artists

It has been an eventful year for southeast Asian artists. In Singapore, Art Basel’s parent company first announced it was investing in a new art fair there, and then it pulled out. Thailand saw the launch of four major contemporary art exhibitions when it had none before. And artists in Malaysia reacted to the change in government with cautious optimism.

4. Dance fans’ delight

In Hong Kong, our reviewer was impressed by a strong season from local dance companies, such as the Hong Kong Ballet’s outstanding performance of Giselle. We also reported on Yip Wing-sie’s decision to step down as the long-serving principal conductor and music director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta.

5.   Jarring notes

Among the positives for the arts were some negatives. The City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong and choral group Tallis Vocalis were among the music groups and musicians who accused a Hong Kong impresario of being a serial defaulter. And a Hong Kong art dealer was caught up in a lawsuit regarding a missing US$1.4 million Yayoi Kusama sculpture.

6. Viewing China’s best

We continue to bring you the best of China’s art scene, including Xu Bing’s major retrospective in Beijing and the edgy Lianzhou International Photography Festival, which is battling increasingly active and arbitrary censors.

Look out for our arts coverage in 2019, including reports from Art Basel Hong Kong and the Venice Biennale.