Revamped Asia Art Archive public library in Hong Kong goes from cramped to cosy after major year-long revamp
- The Asia Art Archive (AAA) is reopening its public library of over 120,000 art historical records after a revamp that has transformed its 15-year-old premises
- The first exhibition and public workshops to take place in the reopened space will launch on October 3 by appointment and to the public after November 23
The Asia Art Archive (AAA) is reopening its public library of over 120,000 art historical records after a year-long revamp that has transformed its 15-year-old premises in a Hong Kong commercial building into a homely and spacious salon, one with much-needed extra shelf space.
For art history researchers who used the spartan and cramped, albeit indispensable, facilities in the past, the facelift has rendered the space unrecognisable.
Hong Kong architecture firm LAAB created a full-floor, 3,000-square-foot (280-square-metre) library with a reading room and private study area that is far more welcoming and cosy than before, replacing walls with floor-to-ceiling glass and transforming the AAA’s intimidatingly discreet entrance that did not encourage visitors.
The ambience is warm and playful, thanks to the ample use of wood, the mix-and-match seats sourced from local and regional makers, and a giant book-shaped pillar that doubles as an exhibition bulletin board.
“The reading room is the library’s defining feature. It is a multifunctional event space that connects exhibitions and public programmes with materials on the shelves,” says Ho, an artist who replaced founding director Claire Hsu as executive director in 2021.
The library, which anticipates 7,500 visitors a year, has over 40,000 books and exhibition catalogues as well as over 10,000 historic objects, and thousands of CDs and DVD covering art in Asia from the 1920s to the present.
These are now placed in a hybrid of open and closed shelf systems that expand previous shelf space by 50 per cent.
In addition, the TZ Chang Lounge, the Jane DeBevoise Study and the Claire Hsu special collections room pay tribute to the individuals who laid the foundation for the institution, Ho says.
The collection is always expanding. A recent gift came from The Bookshop, which closed at the end of September after two-and-a-half years at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Ho says the AAA is grateful that it was invited to take its pick from the shop’s sizeable inventory of art books.
Despite fears that the passing of the National Security Law (NSL) in 2020 would put pressure on libraries to censor politically sensitive materials, Ho says the AAA, which has separate divisions in the US and India, remains committed to Hong Kong.
“AAA remains committed to Hong Kong as a home and home base,” Ho says.
Asked if it has screened its library content after the introduction of the NSL, the organisation said in a statement: “AAA’s priority is to continue to be the custodian of the historical materials that are put into our care. We are dedicated to making sure that our collections, programmes and resources are publicly accessible.”
The first phase of the personal archive of local artist, curator and researcher Ellen Pau will launch in December, as part of AAA’s ongoing mission to collect and preserve materials that can enrich the understanding of Asian art history.
The cost of the renovation has not been disclosed. The new library’s sponsors include property developer Chinachem, and AAA will launch its annual fundraising auction on October 19 to raise money for day-to-day operations.
The first exhibition and public workshops to take place in the reopened space will launch on October 3. Called “The Collective School”, the project explores artist-driven, self-organised and collective models of learning.
During the soft opening period, AAA’s newly renovated library and “The Collective School” exhibition are open by appointment only starting October 3. It will be fully open to the public after November 23.