Hong Kong Street Art Series: No Borders not boxed in by graffiti art label

HONG KONG STREET ART SERIES

In this third feature of our Hong Kong street art series, Art Radarwill take you to No Borders Art Gallery, established in the city in September 2009. Founder of No Borders Alina Dickey and gallery manager Zoe Dulay discuss the gallery’s unique concept, its established international reputation and how they plan to attract a more local audience.

Inside of No Borders Art Gallery at 39 Aberdeen Street in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of No Borders Art Gallery.

An inside view of No Borders Art Gallery at 39 Aberdeen Street in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of No Borders Art Gallery.

No Borders fills gap in Hong Kong art scene

Situated in the commercialised art district in Central (also: Central District), No Borders Art Gallery naturally stands out from other galleries as one of the few showing street art in Hong Kong. When the founder of the gallery Alina Dickey travelled to Hong Kong with her husband a few years ago, she noticed a distinct lack of graffiti art in Hong Kong.

Previously a lawyer, she had little connection with the arts, but the potential of “the missing gap” in the Hong Kong art scene persuaded her to move into the art market. She says,

“It’s pretty interesting right now that, you know, graffiti is supposed to be outside, and when you look at the definition of this word it’s the art that is out on the wall outside the buildings. Right now we can see that graffiti and street art is coming to the galleries, and more and more interesting artists appear in new galleries with this kind of art. I think that is what Hong Kong needs, because in my opinion Hong Kong is kind of, how to say it, not old fashioned but kind of close to something [like that].”

“If we believe in this art, we [show] this art.”

Making street art commercial is a tricky business. No Borders has never set any restrictions on the kind of urban art that hangs in their space. A small team, including Dickey and Dulay, decide which works to buy or show based on a common “concept” or “philosophy” which basically consists of choosing what they like according to their own taste, and what they believe would sell. Dickey elaborates,

“We believe [in] our own taste, first of all. Sometimes I don’t need any help with a decision. For example, sometimes I just look myself and I know that the gallery wouldn’t work with this kind of art. And when I see something really amazing … then the whole team, Zoe and one other person that works with us, we decide all together. If we all agree that we have to get this artist then we get [them].”

No Borders' summer 2010 show "Mining For Splinters and Diamonds" featured the paintings and drawings of acclaimed New Tork artist Michael De Feo. This was one of the works in the exhibition. Image courtesy of No Borders.

No Borders' summer 2010 show "Mining For Splinters and Diamonds" featured the paintings and drawings of acclaimed New York artist Michael De Feo. This was one of the works in the exhibition. Image courtesy of No Borders.

But Dickey seems to suggest that past experience also plays an important part in forming their concept.

“From our previous experiences [of] how people react to this and that [style of] art … we know, for example, which show was more interesting. We [have also had shows] that for some reason didn’t work how we expected them to work. So basically, we analyse our previous experiences and we analyse people’s taste as well. [By] putting together all these [things], we can make our choices and maybe sometimes [it is] not the right choice but… we all learn from it.” Zoe Dulay

Dickey adds that No Borders also takes advice given by international gallery partners (from Paris, London and New York) into consideration when buying art pieces.

Word of mouth builds reputation for No Borders

Previous shows, particularly those held in 2009, have yielded future artists and other industry contacts. No Borders has found that many of the artists whose work they have exhibited like their curatorial approach and have recommended their gallery to other artists. One year ago, friends helped organise a group exhibition for the space’s opening, explains Dickey by way of example. “Once we started working with these artists … they liked how we worked, that we were responsible for everything, and they recommended us to [other] artists.”

Due to No Borders’ rapidly increasing international profile, the gallery is becoming more demanding when choosing artists to represent and works to be shown. In particular, they look for up-and-coming artists with the potential to produce something absolutely new, extraordinary and interesting. Dickey says, “Almost every day we [receive] several letters or some people [make] an appointment [to meet with us] and we have some choices.”

For the October show, No Borders presented Alaskan artist Gretchen Sagan's solo exhibition First Contact. "Force" was one of his exhibited works. Image courtesy to No Borders.

For its October show this year, No Borders presented Alaskan artist Gretchen Sagan's solo exhibition "First Contact". 'Force' was one of his exhibited works. Image courtesy of No Borders.

No Borders set to promote itself locally

While No Borders is well-known internationally, it struggles to find an audience in Hong Kong. Says gallery manager Dulay,

“France probably knows us more than Hong Kong, or New York, because we [show] big artists from those countries. I think what would be the best direction … find extraordinary street art and get more in touch with local street art.”

“We do have local people that buy art but the majority of people are foreigners. It’s also our goal to get more local people … interested in art. It’s just good to be more relevant to local street art because right now [the art market is] saturated with fine art, Chinese contemporary fine art. But local people [are] kind of conservative.”

“Slowly we’re trying to touch base with Hong Kong street art. [At the] last opening we met Narse and there are two local street artists that we’re going to meet with in the next couple of weeks. They’re locals, so that’s good for the gallery because we like to showcase good local street art as well. You know, with No Borders being in Hong Kong it has to be relevant to where it is rather than relevant abroad.”

Until now, No Borders have worked with few local artists. Names they have worked with include artists Jonathan Tang and Dorothy Tang. Dulay elaborates,

“We exhibited a couple of [Jonathan’s] pieces for our very first show. During the year we became friends and we decided to do his solo shows. I think we met Dorothy through Jonathan – her big piece was also in the first show.”

“Jonathan is a pretty open person, [so] it was pretty easy to find him. [We] just made an appointment, [had] a meeting with him and visited his studio and he agreed to give us a couple of his artworks for our first show. And the same for Dorothy, we visited her studio.”

Dickey has her own ideas about how to get local artists into their gallery:

“It’s more about meeting people and having access to the street art here. Basically it’s [about doing] more research on what’s happening in Hong Kong…. I mean not just street art, just the art scene in general. [For example,] Jonathan is not really a street artist, he’s more illustrative. I think the best way to put it would be [that we] find good local art rather than being put into a box of just street art [or] graffiti art.”

CBKM/KN/HH

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