GALLERY CLOSURE ART MANAGEMENT ALTERNATIVE ART
As we wrote in a December 2010 article called ‘Gallery shake-out expected in Hong Kong in 2011’, a number of galleries in Hong Kong have been forced into closure due, in part, to the city’s rising rents as well as other underlying problems in the art scene. We investigate the phenomenon in a frank interview with ufo Gallery, which announced its closure in late November last year.
The announcement of closure made on ufo Gallery’s website, as updated on 25 November, 2010:
“As winter draws closer and the temperature drops, we are going to pack up our bags and hibernate for a little while. After 20 months of hard work and a lot of great art shows, we will close ufo Gallery in Graham Street in its current form on the 15th of December, 2010. This will not be the end of ufo Gallery for good, but will give us some time to think about some future projects and how to continue running the gallery in an even better way. We will also be looking into possible new locations in 2011, which will hopefully provide more space for what we want to do.”
ufo Gallery was the first in Hong Kong to bring street art to an art space. As outstanding as it was conceptually among the sea of traditional Asian art galleries in the city, it proved unable to secure a stable profit. After struggling for more than a year, the directors finally made the decision to shut shop and consider new presentation models. They now focus their attention on their main business, uforepublic, a creative design agency set up in 2001 and head-quartered in their home-country of Germany. It was due to the support of this agency that the art space remained open for as long as it did.
Art Radar Asia spoke with Holger Bartel and Jane Zimmerman, directors of ufo Gallery, and Maice Chiu, their public relations officer, to discuss the Hong Kong art scene and their ideas for ufo’s future.
Hong Kong is not ready for street art
We were the first gallery here in Hong Kong to have that kind of concept [showing street art in a gallery setting], which was quite cool but also hard, because when you are the first one to try something new, people don’t accept it that much, they are not used to that kind of art…. Most of the people in Hong Kong just buy art because of investment – to put it on shelves and to resell it ten years later at a higher price. We sell art for art lovers. The main problem, I think, is that Hong Kong is not ready for [street art] now. In Europe and America, street art is common … and popular…. Most of the people here in Hong Kong don’t even buy art for entertainment. They don’t buy [art] because they love it or they want to have it. The question they are asking [is] “Can I sell it for more?”
– ufo Gallery
Tough to support young artists, Hong Kong art scene
What we tried to do was to promote different styles of art and, secondly, we wanted to give a platform for younger and emerging artists…. In Hong Kong, we just have modern stuff, but it is up-scale and crazily high-priced, so we wanted to be … a platform that gave chances to young people and supported the art scene in Hong Kong, which in the end didn’t quite work out.
– ufo Gallery
Disappointment with government’s creative policy
[The government] were talking about making Hong Kong more creative…. They gave the [Central Police Station] to The [Hong Kong] Jockey Club, and The Jockey Club put down three billion [dollars], and what are they going to do? A restaurant, another gallery, a theater. That’s not going to make Hong Kong more creative. If you want to make it more creative, you need to bring in artists; if you need to bring in artists, you have to provide cheap space; it’s not working out.
– ufo Gallery
I mean, the Police Station would have been a perfect place to give to 100 artists, each getting a little booth, and to hold events, and that would draw people there. But putting a gallery there is not going to make Hollywood Road more creative because of the crazy rent it is going to have, and [has].
– ufo Gallery
Hope for Hong Kong creativity?
Bartel wanted to make it clear that he isn’t completely disillusioned with the Hong Kong creative art scene and pointed out a number of its important features, such as the annual Hong Kong Art Fair (ARTHK). He also felt grateful for the opportunity to rent a booth at the Asia Top Gallery Hotel Art Fair, held in Hong Kong last year. However, he recalled that the hotel fair was under-visited by locals, with much of the audience coming from Korea and Japan, and that the gallery didn’t make many sales.
Street art in Hong Kong is growing
The decision to open the gallery was “a jump into cold water.” The directors had never considered the possibility that locals would not be interested in something that sells like hotcakes in Europe. They simply loved the idea of bringing something new to Hong Kong, made the brave move and were encouraged by followers such as No Borders and Above Second who also sell contemporary and street art. While disappointed with their closure, they applaud the efforts of Above Second, which has just moved its space to a new location in Central.
While the ufo team brought the medium into the gallery, they still believe street art is best viewed in the streets. Hong Kong’s tough local graffiti laws, however, make it difficult to create art in public spaces and often gallery shows are the only alternative.
High Hong Kong rents force new business models
The directors would love to reopen the gallery, but only if rent prices in Hong Kong decrease substantially. But, as they said, since Hong Kong property developers prefer leaving spaces empty to renting them out at a cheap price, the chance of being able to reopen is slim. They are currently considering alternatives such as opening pop-up galleries or going online.
This is the fourth article we have published in our ongoing Hong Kong Street Art Series, which we began in October 2010. Click here to view and read all the articles in the Hong Kong Street Art Series.
- Contemporary galleries face intense competition, must re-think game plan – January 2011 – big-name galleries are burgeoning in size and number over the world, including moving into Hong Kong
- Is Hong Kong’s current art climate failing local artists? Wall Street Journal discusses – January 2011 – reports on some of the challenges the Hong Kong art scene is facing
- Gallery shake-out expected in Hong Kong in 2011 – December 2010 – discusses the closure of a number of Hong Kong galleries
- Hong Kong Street Art Series: No Borders not boxed in by graffiti art label – December 2010 – a pre-2011 interview with similar gallery No Borders
- Hong Kong Street Art Series: Above Second imports new energies and aesthetics to local art scene – October 2010 – more on the successful Above Second