Hong Kong’s recent art history is being made accessible through collaboration.
In March of 2013, the Asia Art Archive (AAA) and the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMA) launched the “Hong Kong Art History Research – Pilot Project.” Aiming to construct a publically available art historical research platform, the project will reflect the developing, diverse landscape of Hong Kong art in the 1960s and 1970s.
Art History research in Hong Kong
Up until the launch of AAA‘s pilot project, many individuals and institutions across Hong Kong have tried to create public research resources, says the project’s chief researcher, Michelle Wong of AAA. Resource centres such as the HKMA, Hong Kong University’s Art Archive and the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Chien Mu Library Local Art Archive all focus on local art, its growth and trajectory, Wong points out.
However, such resources are often difficult to access. As noted by Wong, “[p]erhaps what we can all benefit from is higher circulation and visibility so that users and researchers enter into a positive feedback loop of using each other’s materials, and build on these together.” The breadth of resources might be impressive, yet it is currently sealed from public view.
The Hong Kong Art History Research – Pilot Project
In an effort to increase the accessibility of centres, AAA and HKMA will build on existing research and resources in order to make art historical documents – be they books, catalogues, periodicals, or images – readily available online for students, scholars and the public at large. Drawing on the aforementioned public collections and many privately held collections in Hong Kong, the platform will provide a comprehensive stage for online research.
In addition, the project will generate new material through collaborations with individuals who have influenced the Hong Kong art scene either directly or indirectly. The Pilot Project commenced with an in depth examination of the realities of studying, creating and conducting art business in the 1960s and 1970s, interviewing five prominent figures of the Hong Kong art sphere during this era.
Drawing upon the video interviews and material documentation, the primary phase of the Pilot Project highlights the endeavours of artists, critics and other art professionals, revealing the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to art historical research.
The personal experiences of these individuals stand at the heart of the project, giving a unique insight into the ways in which art has developed and changed since the 1960s and 1970s. The interviewees include:
- Hon Chi-fun: an artist and a member of Modern Literature and Art Association and later Circle Art Group,
- Liu Kuo-sung: an artist, a founding member of the Taiwanese Fifth Moon Group, and the Chair of the Department of Fine Arts, New Asia College, Chinese University of Hong Kong (1972-6),
- Mui Chong Kee: an artist and a Chinese art writer,
- Sandra Walters: the founder of the gallery Arts Promotion
- Wucius Wong: an artist, a founding member of Modern Literature and Art Association, 1958-64, and the Assistant Curator at the City Hall Museum and Art Gallery (1967-74)
The personal anecdotes and interviews highlight the ways in which these five individuals contributed to and forged their way in the Hong Kong art market, and the ways in which they permanently changed the art landscape. As noted by Sandra Walters, “the art market was very limited” and, as a result, she was “forced to think of different ideas to stimulate the market and introduce a number of new artists.”
In addition to these tactics, Walters also stressed the importance of building interest in art throughout the city.
We had to be much more open to ideas, to see what would be attractive to different audiences. So we were often thinking in that way, which theme might be good, what price range would be suitable, or ‘let’s do a blockbuster’ (…) We did not necessarily sell a lot of the work, but they were very well received. We attracted more people who started to ask more questions about what we were doing.
By digitising, translating and archiving these experiences, AAA and HKMA endeavour to contextualise this period of Hong Kong’s art history.
The Pilot Project Discussion Panel
On 9 November 2013, AAA and HKMA marked the launch of the Pilot Project with a day of panels featuring many of the participating researchers and art history professionals. Divided into two sections, the panels invited speakers from myriad disciplines to the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
The first panel, titled “Approaches to Researching Art in Hong Kong,” featured three researchers who have completed extensive research on local art. The second panel focused on the Periodisation of Art in Hong Kong and brought speakers from a variety of academic disciplines, “from cinema to sociology, literature, and exhibition making – to explore how art history in Hong Kong can be informed by the efforts of other disciplines.”
The future of art history in Hong Kong
In order to continue to develop a research platform with such a multifaceted aim, “the collaboration with practitioners from different disciplines will continue to be a very important part of the project,” says Wong. Over the coming months, the Pilot Project will not only put the five newly conducted interviews online but will also make an assortment of archival materials from AAA and HKMA, as well as private collections, online in a searchable database.
The day of panels jumpstarted an important dialogue that Wong hopes to continue throughout this long-term project:
In this sense we are making research a collaborative effort and a process that not only produces knowledge, but also accumulates research materials that are open in nature, that contains more areas to be developed and enriched and complicated.
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