The opening reception of the latest exhibition at the Simon Lee Gallery was packed with familiar faces from the Hong Kong art world. Artists Chow Chun-fai, Ko Sin-tung, Nadim Abbas and David Boyce were there to support Lui Chun-kwong, Kwan Sheung-chi and other friends participating in the group show. Tobias Berger, of Tai Kwun, a diligent attendee of local exhibitions, was hobnobbing with the Para Site team. Kwok Ying, who organised this exhibition and will curate the Hong Kong pavilion at next year’s Venice Biennale, was there to show around students from her Chinese University master’s degree course. There was nothing unusual about the mix of people who congregated on the third floor of Pedder Building last week; what was odd was the where: an international gallery. Simon Lee, founded by the eponymous gallerist in London, opened in Hong Kong just four years ago, when Western art dealers became convinced of the city’s appeal as a place from which to reach and cultivate Chinese and other Asian collectors. Most Western galleries with Hong Kong outposts do not represent local artists, even if they have expanded their stables to include names from mainland China, South Korea and Japan. There are exceptions, though; Lee Kit, for instance, is represented by Massimo de Carlo. Lehmann Maupin doesn’t have a Hong Kong name at present but it exhibited artists such as Tsang Kin-wah and Pak Sheung-chuen beside works by Tracey Emin and Barbara Kruger, in a 2013 show. Scroll through the list of artists represented by the likes of the Gagosian Gallery and White Cube, however, and you won’t find a single local name. The omission has long fed the argument that Hong Kong’s rise as an international art market does not benefit local artists. But it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation; international galleries do not think there is a sufficiently wide collector base for Hong Kong art, and so there isn’t. This state of affairs has allowed local specialists, who have spent years cultivating the city’s artists, to just keep on doing what they did before the foreign giants planted their flags here. And here’s where we return to the Simon Lee exhibition. Called “Connect 4”, after the classic two-person game, it features six Hong Kong artists; Lui and Kwan have been joined by Chris Huen Sin-kan, Sarah Lai Cheuk-wah, Luke Ching Chin-wai and Kong Chun-hei. None of them is normally represented by Simon Lee. This is an example of the local art world’s flexibility, says gallery manager Li Ying-yue. “In Hong Kong, it is still quite common for artists to not have exclusive contracts with one gallery, so we have been able to work with artists directly and with help from Gallery Exit,” she says. While Simon Lee doesn’t normally sell work by Hong Kong artists, this kind of exhibition introduces something different to the gallery’s international clients, she adds. In the same collaborative spirit, Kwok explains that the artists were asked to respond to each other’s work by either making something new or selecting an old work for the exhibition. She started the process by choosing a recent work by Kwan called Correction Pen Corrected with its Own Content (2016), which is, literally, a correction pen covered in white correction liquid; an existential loop that questions what an object devoid of its social context becomes. In response, Ching offered Double Rainbow: In a Moment We Changed , a work he started in 2007. It looks like an ordinary box of coloured pencils, except the “true colour” of the pencil as shown by the sharpened tip is not the same as that of the shaft’s coating. Staying with the loop theme, Kwan’s Two Million (2013) is shown next to Lai’s Endless Rotation (2011). The former is a video loop that shows a pair of hands counting a small stack of HK$1,000 bills but never reaching the bottom, raising the question of what each note is really worth. The latter is an animation that shows a car going round a roundabout indefinitely, a completely meaningless exercise that somehow manages to be amusing. Two other works converse with each other: Ching’s Luna and Moon (2006-15), graphite illustrations of two near-identical moons that he executed with great patience over almost a decade, and Lui’s Eclipse (2016), a computer monitor with an error message twirling round a moon he painted on the glass screen. Will this creative exhibition whet the appetite of more international collectors? Maybe, though this is a very quiet time of the year for the art business. Perhaps one day an international gallery will present a local artist’s solo exhibition during Art Basel week? “Connect 4” is on show at the Simon Lee Gallery (304 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central) Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 7pm, until August 31.