Beyond Art Basel, Must-See Exhibitions Reveal Hong Kong's Most Compelling Artists

By Vivienne Chow

Seven years on since Art Basel landed in Hong Kong, this Special Administration Region of China has sealed its status as one of the world’s most important art markets, with a thriving commercial gallery scene in addition to the well-established international auctions. But the Hong Kong art scene is much wider and richer than the commercial realm represented at the Convention Center. As international collectors descend on the city, they would do well to explore museums and other spaces where Hong Kong's artists are sharing their distinctive voices and stories. Here are a few highlights of the season:

A Story of Light: Hon Chi-fun
Asia Society Hong Kong Centre
March 12 to June 9, 2019

For those who are new to Hong Kong’s art scene, a visit to Asia Society’s presentation of Hon Chi-fun is a must. Hon, who passed away just before the exhibition opened to the public on March 12, was one of the most visionary visual artists in the city. Born in 1922, Hon was a self-taught artist and pioneer of Hong Kong’s art scene, experimenting his artistic language and motif of the circle through abstract paintings and silkscreen prints since the 1950s when the then British colony was still troubled by poverty and political turmoils. Hon co-founded the Circle Art Group in 1963 and was the first from Hong Kong to receive a fellowship from the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Foundation in 1970. A trip to the in-depth exhibition housed at the refurbished former explosive magazine in Admiralty promises a pleasant discovery of an artist who was very much ahead of his time.

Saan Dung Gei by Lam Tung Pang
Blindspot Gallery
March 26 to May 11, 2019

Hongkongers are often asked how they feel about the city’s changes since the 1997 handover and Lam Tung-pang’s latest solo exhibition could shed light on this complicated question. Inspired by the 20-minute through the dark tunnel in Hong Kong while journeying on the new high-speed railway from the city to Beijing, Sang Dung Gei, which literally means “the record of a mountain cave”, is an emotional reflection of the internal struggle and anxiety facing Hong Kong, particularly over the recent five years. The conflicting emotions, experienced from upon choosing either of the dual entrances of the gallery space to the unsettling image of the city’s landscape on a surgical table, have been running in the neverending loop just like the model toy trains circulating around a wall in one of the installations. Born in 1978, Lam is one of the most distinguished artists of his generation. His exhibition speaks not only for himself but for a lot of people in Hong Kong who need an outlet to express their indescribable feelings.

Instrumentation: Samson Young / Emergency Kit & Wishing Pool: Gaybird
Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
March 23 to April 14, 2019

Multidisciplinary artist Samson Young is one of the rising stars of Hong Kong’s art scene. Trained as a composer, Young skillfully blends sound and images, creating a rich body of works that comments and challenges people’s understanding of their identity and the world they are living in. The 1979-born Young was selected to represent Hong Kong at the 2017 Venice Biennale. This time he has created two mixed-media installations, including the newly installed Possible Music #1.5, for the government-run Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre, which has transformed itself into an edgy art space in recent years. In addition to Young’s exhibition, The centre brings musician Gaybird for another performance during the art week following the acclaimed showcase last year. The short-lived performance by the pool finishes on March 28 but a recorded live is available on the centre’s Facebook page.

Exit Strategies
H Queens
March 1 to April 2019

Investopedia says exit strategy is a term in the finance world that describes a contingency plan to get out of a business by liquidating an asset. But the term has been more widely used in Hong Kong in recent years as cases of emigration have been on the rise. Now it has become the title of a group exhibition. Curated by David Chan, the show installed at the staircase of the building that is now a cluster of big-name galleries features works by a range of Hong Kong artists. Linda Lai and the Floating Projects Collective look back at the history of Queen’s Road Central through mixed media installation Lost Textures; Lee Kit projects the feeling of melanchonly in his new commission Hope Less; rising star Chloe Cheuk explains why the act of ghosting has become an exit strategy of 21st century dating with her poetic installation Long Gone, which contains a translucent telephone with a misplaced receiver trapped in a box. The show becomes a tool to better understand Hong Kong.

Once Lost But Now Found
March 22 to July 28, 2019

This group show conceived by the Hong Kong-based artists Leung Chi-wo, Zheng Bo and MAP Office tells the story of the former clubhouse of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, which is now home to Oi!, another government-run art space. The site-specific works installed at this historic building constructed in 1908 take the audience a trip down the memory lane, charting the ever-changing coastline of North Point of Hong Kong Island, where the building is located and it is the only original building left standing in the area. The exhibition is yet another example to demonstrate artists’ greater awareness of the unique Hong Kong cultural identity and the urgency to rediscover and share the untold stories of the city.

Vivienne Chow is a journalist and cultural critic based in Hong Kong. She is the founder of the non-profit Cultural Journalism Campus and a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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