Selling Exhibitions

Henry Tang on Hsiao Chin and the Humanistic, Spiritual Appeal of His Art

By Sotheby's
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Hsiao Chin (Left) and Henry Tang Ying-yen, Hong Kong’s former Chief Secretary (Right).
Henry Tang is an avid admirer of the works of Hsiao Chin and has spent several years studying the artist’s oeuvre. He shares his views on the artist's spiritual insights and idiosyncratic style, and offers advice on how to start a collection.

H ong Kong’s former Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen is well known for his exquisite taste in fine art. A notable public figure, a lover of art, Tang collects art because visual beauty and artistic spirit can be transformative and can create a unique dimension within a space. Drawn to beautiful objects from a young age, he frequently visited art galleries as a teenager and naturally progressed from admiring artworks to beginning what he calls a “small, modest collection.”

Tang is best known for his work in public office and as a long-time supporter of cultural and educational institutions. He currently serves as the chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, making it the second time that he has taken on that responsibility since he was chief secretary from 2007 to 2011. In his current role at the authority, he envisions Hong Kong fast becoming Asia’s foremost cultural hub for the arts.

The former chief secretary is an avid admirer of the works of Hsiao Chin and has spent several years studying the artist’s oeuvre. Profoundly moved by the spiritual insights expressed by this master of postwar Asian abstract art, Tang discusses the aesthetic and philosophic aspects of Hsiao’s art.

When was the first time you saw Hsiao Chin’s works?
I have been following Hsiao Chin’s works for some time, mostly through auctions. Since 2016, 3812 Gallery has brought Hsiao Chin to Hong Kong and the international markets. In the past few years, Sotheby’s Hong Kong has spent a great deal in promoting Hsiao Chin. Therefore we can find abundant resources of the artist’s works and stories in both the primary and secondary markets which enable us to gain a better understanding of Hsiao Chin, a pivotal master of postwar Asian abstract art.

Hsiao’s works evoke the Taoist and Buddhist notion of the ever-circulating energy in the infinite universe, which profoundly moves me. Looking at his work immerses you in a self-introspective and meditative space that echoes with ancient wisdom. On the other hand, the minimalist composition and sensible use of rigorous and contrasting colours imbue the canvases with enlightening atmosphere and contemporaneity, elucidating both the artist’s deep spiritual insight and his idiosyncratic, timeless style.

When did you first acquire the artist’s work?
My first acquisition of Hsiao Chin’s work was through his represented Gallery 3812 in Hong Kong, and thanks to the aspiring guide by Calvin Hui of 3812, a reputable gallerist who has given me his professional advice on building a systemic collection of Hsiao Chin’s work. I have been drawn by Hsiao Chin’s unique way of using vibrant colours through his understanding of chakras, the energy centres that are associated with different parts of the body auras. His semiotic pictorial language and colour system not only are the manifestation of the profundity of Eastern philosophy, but most importantly the embodiment of the ascendance of his spirituality; they are the colours of purity, transformation, and rebirth.

In the past three years, I attended some important exhibitions of Hsiao Chin. In January 2018, Tsz Shan Monastery curated a thought-provoking exhibition “Zen and Art” for Hsiao Chin; then in March 2018, China Art Museum in Shanghai held a large scale retrospective exhibition for him titled “Coming Home” which remarked the artist’s return to his hometown after more than six decades. In March this year, Musée Guimet in Paris held a major exhibition “Les Couleurs de Zen” for the artist, highlighting his distinctive role in the Western art scene. It was the first time in fifteen years the museum featured another Chinese artist after Sanyu in 2004. Held on two opposite sides of the world, these exhibitions are a testament to Hsiao Chin’s eminence in both Eastern and Western abstract art history. I also keep track of how major auction houses, like Sotheby’s, promote Hsiao Chin in the market. As an avid collector of Hsiao’s work, I am so thrilled that these exhibitions held by the museum, auction houses and the gallery have been a nod to his outstanding achievement and his contribution to the development of Chinese abstract art.

Which period of Hsiao Chin’s oeuvre most appeals to you?
I am fascinated by a wide variety of Hsiao Chin’s works, in particular, those iconic ones created during the period of the Punto International Art Movement (1961-1966). Characterised by its humanistic and philosophical approach, and the cross-cultural exchange between East and West, the Punto Movement founded by Hsiao Chin in Milan in 1961 swept through Europe in the 1960s with what seemed like Hsiao’s expressive yet decisive and controlled brushstroke. A total of thirteen seminal exhibitions of the Punto Movement were held across Europe within these five years, bringing together artists from both East and West in the discourse of spiritual and contemplative art, opening up a new dimension in the history of abstract art.

Hsiao Chin’s Universal Energy series, which was first created during the Punto period, should not be missed. After the year 2000, he revisited and reinterpreted this theme, which has shown the artist’s maturity and the journey of his spiritual ascendance. My family also adores his Eternal Garden series of the 1990s.

If someone wanted to start collecting Hsiao Chin, what would you suggest?
Hsiao Chin is the bridge that connects Eastern and Western art history, and his contribution to the Punto Movement is unquestionable. So the limited number of works created between 1961 and 1966 would be highly collectible in all aspects. However, I would advise to start with an overview of the artist’s career development to learn about various themes and series of his works.

Hsiao Chin is an energetic and creative artist. He does not confine himself to one singular art form or theme, therefore we will see his works on canvas, on paper, mosaic glass and even objects. In his works, Hsiao Chin uses the chakra-inspired colour system, circular forms and arrow-shaped symmetric composition against the background of the infinite universe to convey his understanding of Buddhist theories. Most importantly, his art is essentially the manifestation of his meditation process, his search for transcendence with the paintbrush.

Aside from the aesthetic pleasure, there is a lot more to absorb when appreciating Hsiao Chin’s art. I would also be very cautious to check the provenance and condition of the works, especially those created in the 1960s. It is advisable to attend Sotheby’s auction to learn more about Hsiao Chin’s market, and visit 3812 gallery to find out more about the artist and his work. Talk to the gallerist and specialist to acquire professional knowledge and to make a wise decision on collecting Hsiao’s work, which I would highly recommend.

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