Expectations have been high among Hong Kong art lovers ever since Ysabelle Cheung and Willem Molesworth announced in 2021 that they were starting their own gallery together. The couple, barely in their thirties, have shone brightly since moving to Hong Kong from New York in 2016. Cheung, who grew up in the UK but had lived in Hong Kong before, was managing editor of ArtAsiaPacific magazine until she quit full-time work in 2019 to focus on her own writing. Her impassioned and experimental prose and poetry about the Chinese diaspora experience and life in a city going through major upheaval have been published by well-regarded literary platforms. Meanwhile, her husband was director of de Sarthe Gallery for five years and instrumental in setting up the gallery’s open-studio residency programme in Wong Chuk Hang on Hong Kong Island’s South Side. Knowledgeable and a good communicator, he has worked with some of the most exciting artists based in Hong Kong today, such as Mak Ying Tung 2, So Wing-po, Andrew Luk and Christopher K. Ho (the new executive director of Asia Art Archive). We feel it is important to engage with and reflect on what’s going to happen in Hong Kong Willem Molesworth The couple’s gallery, Property Holdings Development Group (which shortens to PHD Group, in a nod to the intellectual curiosity that drives the venture), is not the product of long-held ambition. “It was prompted by how life has completely changed in the last few years,” Molesworth says from its discreet 3,000 sq ft (280 square metre) premises hidden away in a Causeway Bay commercial building. The political changes in Hong Kong that began with the anti-extradition protests of 2019 , and the coronavirus pandemic , which has made international travel extremely difficult , have forced the two to reconsider what they wanted to do with their lives. “We were fed up with the status quo. We also don’t think recent developments have changed what already existed here – the history of this place, the culture . We feel it is important to engage with and reflect on what’s going to happen in Hong Kong, and opening a gallery is the best way for us to support the local art scene.” The gallery’s name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the tyranny of landlords in Hong Kong. It is also a personal tribute to one property developer in particular – Cheung’s late grandfather, who co-founded a secret private members’ club in the very same space in the 1970s with two other developers. “The family connection is how we have access to the space, and we have kept some of the things that he and his friends left behind here. We want to retain his presence,” Molesworth says. Turning 90, abstract artist in Hong Kong distils a lifetime in Asia The gallery channels another departed influence: Bleak House Books, the English-language independent bookshop that closed in October 2021 after the city introduced the National Security Law and new forms of censorship. Cheung used to work there and the owners, Albert Wan and Jenny Smith, donated bookshelves loaded with interesting titles to the gallery. Being married to each other is not a deterrent to working together at all, Moleswortrh says. “Ysabelle and I met when we were both working at the Eli Klein Gallery in New York and we have really enjoyed working together. “In fact, that’s why I fell for her. I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else.” (Sadly, when the Post spoke to Molesworth the couple had just heard about the killing of former colleague Christina Yuna Lee in New York.) Granddad’s eccentric collection (which includes antique Chinese erotica) and the cosy “study” filled with books such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction (which the couple cite as a major influence) provide a quirky and capricious contrast in the stripped back, raw concrete space adapted by Beau Architects, which fits in with the gallery’s leaning towards conceptual art. The debut exhibition sets the tone for the pair’s plan to focus on the work of Asian women and queer artists. Wong Kit-yi, Zheng Mahler and Ho, with whom Molesworth worked at de Sarthe, are showing alongside gay Hong Kong artist duo Virtual Village, whose giant heart locket challenges hetero-normative Chinese culture, and Xin Liu, an artist and engineer who has worked with a Peruvian artist, Lucia Monge, to make a series based on potatoes and the idea of growing for the future. Visits are by appointment only, partly because of Covid-19 restrictions and also because the gallery is run by the two on their own. The gallery has asked that its address be withheld for that reason. “We have no staff. We have a vision for the space grounded in a slow and intentional growth resting on our own labour,” Molesworth says. Visit http://www.phdgroup.art/about to register for a visit. Two more galleries open in Wong Chuk Hang Cheung and Molesworth are not the only people opening a new commercial art space in Hong Kong. Fabio Rossi , who moved his gallery, Rossi & Rossi, out of Wong Chuk Hang in 2021, is now back in the neighbourhood. “It was always my intention to reopen a space in Wong Chuk Hang after closing the one in Yally Industrial Building. I firmly believe this is one of, if not the, most pre-eminent art districts in Hong Kong,” he says. “Our new space will allows us to stage comprehensive solo exhibitions of the artists that we represent. Though there is no denying that we still live in challenging times, Hong Kong is and will remain the foremost art centre in Asia; the recent opening of M+ , the magnificent museum of visual culture, is further proof of that.” Rossi & Rossi has a new neighbour in the Denny Dimin Gallery. The New York gallery’s co-founder Katie Alice Fitz Gerald has been living in Hong Kong since 2017 and had run an offshoot of the gallery in an apartment since 2019. The time has come for a more permanent presence, she says. “Through the pandemic Hong Kong has found a new way to nurture the local and international art scene which connects with what we’re about as a gallery, particularly the area of Wong Chuk Hang which has a strong community and reputation as a destination for art and culture,” Fitz Gerald says. Rossi & Rossi, 11/F, M Place, 54 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang (by appointment only). Denny Dimin Gallery, Unit 612, Remex Center, 42 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang, 12-6pm, Wed-Sat.