Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits book: Must-read for newcomers to Hong Kong art scene

In 2007, a young art-passionate German couple based in Beijing, China came across a set of images in a Chinese art magazine that left them with vivid memories and opened up a life-changing path.

The work, which comprised three coin-operated police bumper cars, was made by Hong Kong artist Amy Cheung Wan-Man and was shown at the 2007 exhibition “Reversing Horizons: Artists reflections of the Hong Kong Handover 10th Anniversary” at MOCA Shanghai.

Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits, 2012, Christoph and Cordelai Noe, Verlag Fur Moderne Kunst

Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits, 2012, Christoph and Cordelia Noe, Verlag Fur Moderne Kunst.

Although the couple knew nothing about the Hong Kong art scene, something about the work by this Venice Biennale-exhibited artist gripped them and “set a fire” that led them on an irresistible journey, explains publisher Christoph Noe. Since 2007, the couple have carried out extensive investigations into Hong Kong artists and discovered a rich art scene frothing with energy.

We will be giving away two copies of this beautiful book to mark the run up to the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong. Subscribe to Art Radar for details.

The culmination of their interviews and research is the magnificent book Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits by Christoph and Cordelia Noe, published by Verlag fur Moderne Kunst, which is the first international publication profiling the current generation of Hong Kong artists.

The Noes are clear that they do not intend this book to be a list of selected artists: this is not a top twenty kind of book. Instead they aim to give the reader an idea of the variety as well as common features of works produced by Hong Kong artists and to explain a little about the background and influences shaping the Hong Kong art scene today. Above all, though, they created the book “to share [their] excitement” with readers.

Topics covered in accompanying essays and artworks include

    • the impact of Hong Kong’s colonial heritage. Owned and run by the British between 1847 and 1997, Hong Kong has now been returned to China. However, until 2047 it will remain a special administrative region of China with laws and rights based on its colonial heritage. Identity, impermanence and history are preoccupations of some Hong Kong artists.
    • the city’s urban density. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than New York, a feature that has had a profound effect on the vision and production of Hong Kong artists, ranging from the small scale of works to themes such as doors, windows and locks.
    • the intriguing ways contemporary Hong Kong artists are using traditional materials such as ink and ceramics.
    • the influence of other Asian countries, such as the culture of Japan, manga and comics.
    • Hong Kong’s preoccupation with words and language. On the mainland, Chinese writing was simplified, but Hong Kong retains the original script.
    • the development of Hong Kong into a materialistic, brand-dominated shopping hub.

The strength of this book lies in the careful selection of material for each artist profile. Instead of detailed biographies, concise, evergreen, salient life and career data is provided in a sidebar: birth details, schooling and selected solo shows, for example.

The bulk of the information comprises five to ten images, including some glorious double-page spreads, and a single, engaging essay by an expert.

Frank Vigneron from the Chinese University of Hong Kong has produced an interesting study weighing the relative influences of Chinese traditional ink, calligraphy, Japanese graphic novels and the culture of Hong Kong on the artwork of Joey Ka-yin Leung.

Leung’s works are usually presented on scrolls and, like comics, progress along a narrative arc. The stories she tells are strange and sometimes uncomfortable, says Vigneron: “For instance, a young girl worrying about the black heads on her skin, the black heads being quite literally represented as small heads with lustrous black hair sprouting on her face.”

Worried Tiger and Deaf Mouse, Drawing Pen, color pencil and Chinese pigment on paper, 31x 273 cms, 2010

Joey Ka-yin Leung, 'Worried Tiger and Deaf Mouse', 2010, drawing pen, colour pencil and Chinese pigment on paper, 31 x 273 cm.

Detail of Worried Tiger, Deaf Mouse, Joey Leung

Detail of 'Worried Tiger, Deaf Mouse' by Joey Ka-yin Leung.

While it is all too easy to classify Leung’s works into several, perhaps too many, art boxes (graphic art, ink art, calligraphy art, comic art, fantasy art…), a different problem arises when writing about the work of prolific artist Samson Young. Yeung Yang, another teacher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, notes that work by the young artist is unclassifiable.

Samson Young produces compositions, installations, multi-media performances, games and more. Up until 2007, Young confined his works to concert halls, but now he shows them in contemporary art spaces, too. He allows works to evolve into new incarnations by giving them fresh titles as he takes them on the road to different venues. “Samson Young is everywhere,” a Hong Kong composer once confided in perplexity to the essayist Yeung. And it is not just Samson Young himself who gets around; his works creep into crannies where most artists don’t venture.

Samson Young, The Signal Path, (Homage to Alvin Lucier) 2011

Samson Young, 'The Signal Path (Homage to Alvin Lucier)', 2011.

His work Signal Path (Homage to Alvin Lucier), shown at the Land Festival of Green Art in Australia in 2011, is an example. Interested in the interface between the brain and technology, Young created a work in which the brainwaves of an audience member were measured and converted into wave forms and then into sounds. With effort, the participant was able to control the sounds by focusing her thoughts. At a certain point of concentration, a pre-set harmonic series was triggered which, however, was so distracting that the participant lost focus. The artwork renders the participant in continual alternating mind patterns, shifting between order and chaos.

Signal Path (2011) from Samson Young on Vimeo.

 

The timing of the publication of Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits was perfect. Since publication of the book in spring 2012, initial whispers of interest in Hong Kong by international art players now threaten to become a full-throated roar.

While a slew of international art galleries have opened in Hong Kong since 2010, bringing Western artists east, Hong Kong artists are getting out into the world, too. It began in 2010 when, as part of its tenth anniversary celebrations, the Tate Modern hosted No Soul for Sale, a festival of seventy independent art spaces from around the world at which Hong Kong artists Lam Tung-Pang and Chow Chun-Fai presented works.

In 2012, the Hong Kong artists Leung Mee-Ping, Chow Chun-Fai and co LAB x SLOW featured in the Liverpool Biennial 2012, the official biennial for the United Kingdom and the largest art show in the country. From December 2012 to January 2013, eighteen Hong Kong artists appeared in “Hong Kong Eye” at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

We will be giving away two copies of this beautiful book to mark the run up to the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong. Subscribe to Art Radar for details.

Significant international collectors of contemporary art are now building their Hong Kong collections. Deutsche Bank, for example, as part of its Urban Utopia collection, has collected Anothermountainman, Jackie Leung, Chow Chun-Fai, Kum Chi-Keung and Tsang Kin-Wah.

Tsang is known for his word art. From a distance, his art swirls like Sanderson wallpaper, but on closer examination, phrases in Cantonese and English rail against commercialism and the instant gratification of a shopping money-oriented society.

Tsang Kin-Wah, Let us Build and Launch a Rocket to His Heaven, 2009

Tsang Kin-Wah, 'Let us Build and Launch a Rocket to His Heaven', 2009.

So, if we have got you fired up to start exploring the Hong Kong art scene for yourself, we suggest Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits as a great place to start.

Oh, and why was the path the Noes took so life-changing? Not only have they produced a book which will remain an important reference for generations to come, the couple has made Hong Kong their new home, too.

See below for a list of essays and artists contained in the book. Further below find links to related articles on Art Radar.

Magdalen Wong, Chains, 2010, Safety door chain lock and old necklaces

Magdalen Wong, 'Chains', 2010, safety door chain lock and old necklaces.

Essays

    • “The Ever-Changing Hybridity Between Global Art Practices: Colonial Past and Glocal Culture” | Frank Vigneron
    • “Characterising Excellence: The Evolution of the Hong Kong Economy” | Kui-Wai Li
    • “Art and Artists in the Urban Context” | William Lim
    • “Tradition on Edge: Ink Heritage and the Way Forward” | Catherine Maudsley
Phoebe Hui, Drop, 2005, Mixed Media

Phoebe Hui, 'Drop', 2005, mixed media.

Artists featured in Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits in alphabetical order

    • Nadim Abbas
    • Eastman Cheng
    • Chihoi
    • Chow Chun-Fai
    • Ho Sin-Tung
    • Phoebe Hui
    • Kwan Sheung-Chi
    • Lam Tung-pang
    • Lee Kit
    • Leung Ka-Yin Joey
    • Florian Ma Ho-Yin
    • Pak Sheung Chuen
    • Eric Siu
    • Tang Kwok-hin
    • Tsang Kin-Wah
    • Adrian Wong
    • Magdalen Wong
    • Morgan Wong
    • Wong Wai Yin
    • Samson Young

Disclosure: Art Radar received a free copy of this book for review purposes.

KCE/KN/HH

Related Topics: art book reviews, Hong Kong artists, Asian art resources

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