Art Basel Hong Kong 2015

Art Basel TicketThe magnus opus of art fairs returned to Hong Kong this year of our Lord 2015 in its usual resplendent style bringing with it a swathe of copycats tussling to syphon off money from the now all-important Asia collector. However just how did it pull off a calendar change, a 10 week old Asian director and an event of gargantuan proportions that includes multiple satellite offerings throughout our “Asia’s world city”?

Andy Warhol - Double HamburgerSplendid is truly my response. It’s difficult not to be jealous of this leviathan of art. The corridors are spacious with no sense of cramming, the ticketing seemless and the events educational. It was interesting to see Art Central, organisers of the previous incarnation of Art Basel, “ART HK”, pop on the scene at the waterfront – their impressive inaugural offering with and SCAD scooping up sloppy seconds leaving little for other wannabes Asia Contemporary and the like.

Xu Longsen - Beholding the Mountain with Awe No.1Now in its third year, Art Basel gave their recently promoted SE Asia VIP relations manager, Adeline Ooi, just ten weeks to fill the shoes of ex-Asia Fair Director Magnus Renfrew. Welcoming 233 galleries from 37 countries, an elite 94% of galleries were re-invited to exhibit their wares in the most sought after real estate offering for art evangelists. As capitalism continues to be questioned on a global basis, no more so than Hong Kong, “parallel trading” and “occupy central” are mostly ignored in the halls of the HKCEC where the rich and powerful strut their purchasing power with little aforethought to the heightened tension on the street.

Neo Rauch - MarinaFeedback from galleries has increasingly turned positive over the last two years and it would seem many have settled into the Hong Kong editions skin comfortably. Despite the strong USD causing some angst prior to the start, Artnet reported an “avalanche” of sales on the opening night and this was confirmed at David Zwirner, while Hauser & Wirth, De Sarthe et al. all benefited from the frenzy.

Gianni Piacentino - Propeller Wing and Record Vehicle Here are just some of the highlights from our own meanderings down the aisles, and I can assure you, there was an infinite amount more for all walks of collectors, so enjoy!  The Art Amateur

Robert Morris - The Watchers

Aaron Curry

Yifei Chen - Garden Courtyard

Marc Chagall - Deux ânes verts

Keith Haring - Untitled

 Jean-Michel Basquiat - Television and Cruelty to Animals

Fernando Botero - Man with Dog

Eko Nugroho - Lot Lost

\Mr. - Goin To A Go-go!! Ronald Ventura - Invitation to the Feast Indieguerillas - Big Leap (Lompat Besar) Carsten Höller - Snake Damien Hirst - Singapore Jenny Saville - Study for Shadow Head Mark Rothko - Untitled Alexander Calder - Untitled David Hockney - The Group VII Andy Warhol - Mao Neo Rauch - Am Brunnen Adel Abdessemed - Queen Mary II Teresita Fernandez - Golden (Constellation I) Amano Yoshitaka - Four Horses Zhou Jie - Wonderful Plan

Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

ImageBack for the 2nd year in its current guise, Art Basel Hong Kong is a more polished and honed machine than ever with Magnus Renfrew still at the helm and learning from last year’s iffy reception. While some have avoided the fair this year, from a personal standpoint I can say it was the most enjoyable I have encountered and while classification remains somewhat of a mystery, the standard of the galleries appears higher with the exhibitors themselves more conscious and attuned to the Asian and local expat collector base.

ImagePromulgated on staging the world’s premier Modern and Contemporary art show, Art Basel has firmly planted Hong Kong on the global map of art. There are countless offshoot events that attempt to net the elite during the newly branded “Hong Kong art week” – Asia Contemporary Art Show, Hong Kong Contemporary Art Fair, Hong Kong Walls, Chai Wan Mei to name but a few.. Many are declaring that Hong Kong has come of age and while that’s still up for debate, there can be no doubt that the recent opening of Pace Gallery to our humid, dare I say it sweaty climes, is yet another stamp of authenticity to our bubbly city.

ImageThe art world remains opaque as ever and while the March Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong cheered record visitors, exhibitors, myself included, queried Camilla Hewitson’s “best ever” claims as sales seemed significantly more muted this year at the lower end of the wealth spectrum with sales over HK$ 15,000 negotiated to the nth degree. Thomas Piketty’s recent dismal science publication of “Capital in the Twenty-first century” has clearly hit a chord on society’s “haves and have-nots” and judging from our own interviews and fellow reports we can confirm his thesis that the haves are still very much buying; if not more so.

Image Numerous galleries sat pretty by the end of the fair with either partial or total sell-out. Ultra-realist David Haines at Amsterdam’s Upstream Gallery was sold out before the general public sluice gates were even opened on Thursday, while Alan Lau from Para/Site and Tate Asia Pacific’s acquisition committee helped the likes of Edouard Malingue to pop champagne corks as early as Thursday morning with both galleries choosing rather boldly solo presentations, the latter concentrating on Yuan Yuan and his riddled with rubble depictions of buildings – cue HK property local estate agents anybody? – but on a more serious level, light and colour use by the up and coming Chinese artist were nothing short of show stopping.

ImageAll of high society seemed present with collectors Adrian Cheng, Marcel Crespo, Rudy Tseng, Qiao Zhibing, Budi Tek and Thomas Shao mixing with artists such as Hernan Bas, Mariko Mori, Takashi Murakami, Oscar Murillo, Wim Delvoye, Zhang Enli, Zheng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang, and Liu Kuo Sung. Museums were similarly represented in significant fashion with Hong Kong’s very own M+ as well as the Smithsonian, the Guggenheim, the Tate Modern, the Louvre and even the Royal Academy stalking the aisles.

ImageNaim June Paik – TV Bed installation

Art Basel has definitely worked hard to push film with a three day program curated by Li Zhenhua at the Arts Centre, making use of the Agnès B cinema. While Li contends it’s still very difficult to change attitudes in China from solid objects to motion, and Simon Lee gallery similarly stated that the number of real collectors could be counted on two hands, it seems M+ and Leo Xu Projects from Beijing are betting the house on black – the latter seems to be having some success, selling 4 out of their 6 works by Cheng Ran during the VIP session to mainland and Hong Kong based collectors.

ImageDavid Hockney – The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011

Over at Annely Juda gallery of London, another interesting advent to art was selling surprisingly well – iPad drawings by the famed British artist David Hockney. Printed in editions of 25 and sold for a substantial £ 28,000 a piece, there were red dots popping up everywhere. Originally exhibited last October in San Francisco under the name “A Bigger Exhibition”, Hockney first sent the drawings to friends before deciding to focus in more detail on the work and print for his swelling fan base. Bright, fun and quintessentially English, I must admit I was strangely drawn to the visible finger prints which I often search for in sculpture. I was also surprised at how well they were selling – with Chinese famously anti-print it’d be interesting to see the Western-Eastern divide on the buyers.


And now without further ado, my own personal selection of what stood out at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014:


Roy Lichtenstein – #03 BMW 320i


 Keiichi Tanaami – The Uncrossable Unswept Bridge


 Tomás Saraceno – Adamas


Thomas Ruff – ch.phg.01 (photgram)


Wilhelm Sasnal – Gwalt (from Picasso)


Mariana Palma – Untitled


Luis Lorenzana – Marvelous Brothers 1, 2 and 3


Jean-Michel Basquiat – Reok


Yun Gee – Princess Achille Murat


Giorgio de Chiroco – Piazza d’Italia con Arianna


Matthias Weischer – Artist


Yuan Yuan – Welfare Hotel


Izumi Kato – Untitled


Wang Luyan – W Birdcage Onoff D12-01


Natalie Frank – Figure with Headdress / Portrait (with figure behind)


Derrick Adams – Walkthrough


Hai Shih-Pin – Symbolic Steed of Memory


Jonathan Meese – Various


Untitled at Galerie Perrotin

IMG_2263Damien Hirst – Beijing

IMG_2234Commissioned by Laurent Grasso – Studies into the Past

… and my personal favourite

IMG_2261Neo Rauch – Brandung

And that’s about all we have time for..  Next year will remain as interesting as ever after Renfrew announced Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 is shifting dates forward from 13th to 17th March after feedback from wealthy collectors qualified it was uncomfortably close to the namesake exhibition in June. It remains to be seen what will happen to the art calendar of Hong Kong, which previously began in March leading up to the Art HK/Basel crescendo in May. Time will tell.


We hope you enjoyed our post as ever. Creatively,

The Art Amateur


Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

The Exhibition and Convention Centre,

Wan Chai,



VIP/Vernissage on 14th, General Public 15th – 18th May 2014

The Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan

ImageHave you ever felt you’ve stumbled across a perfect combination of nature and art – a juxtaposition that is wo/man’s contribution to their surroundings – this for me is what art truly represents.  About the only negative thing about this fantastic collection was the frigid weather that we at The Art Amateur braved to relish exposure to such gargantuan specimens of the human condition.

ImageThe open-air museum, the first of its kind in Japan, carries over 300 works by Picasso and 26 pieces by Henry Moore, the former housed in a specially purpose-built pavilion.  As it proudly quotes Henry Moore in their brochure, “sculpture is an art of the open air”, and indeed there can be no doubt that the stunning mountainside retreat is an honour to these goliaths of contemporary and modern art.

ImageWith so much to choose from, I really would advise you leave several hours to wander your way amongst the 100 or more free-standing pieces as well as 45 minutes each for the pavilion and the separate building that housed the museum shop, which had substantial trinkets that hit the mark without seeming too tacky – including and not limited to high quality prints that all could afford (a personal crusade of my own) as well as another unexpected treasure trove upstairs which isn’t to be missed.

ImageForemost in my mind was the quality of the curation throughout.  For those of you attuned to Japanese culture, you will no doubt know that their pursuit of perfection in everything, from flower arranging to zen gardens, arms them with an acute eye for an artistic exhibition of this nature (pardon the pun) and it comes through in spades.  This collection has not just gravitas with names such as Picasso (thanks to the Japanese asset bubble of the 80’s and the subsequent ability for their organisations to acquire treasures of this magnitude) but each sculpture, large or small, feels like it has a place here – not just placed in a hodgepodge way with no order.  There are odes to many of the artists and explanations on the works themselves, even in English (not so common in Japan even in many museums), which always in my opinion helps the viewer connect more with the piece in front of them.  Excellent job.

ImageThe Picasso collection came as a surprise to me.  While a lot of it revolved around a significant amount of pottery bought from Picasso’s eldest daughter, Maya Picasso, there were a multitude of other objects including and not limited to paintings, prints, sculptures et al.  Again the curation was of the kind of quality you’d expect from an internationally recognised Biennial, with much thought given to spacing of each work, ample descriptions and lighting.  I was blown away by the beauty of the back-lit glass and non-precious stone works, which opened up an entirely new way of enjoying this form of artwork, while the tapestries had just the correct amount of natural and artificial light to open every corner to the hard-working spectator.  I do have the same old grip though that no photos were allowed inside – I don’t understand this if it’s digital and non-flash, not only is the artwork protected most of the time under glass, it’s an unnecessary precaution.. a niggle that I seem to constantly face and one that I’m sure will remain in such a rule based society as Japan.

So without further ado, here are just some of my favourite pieces, and while in no particular order, the first one, really did speak to me – perhaps a darker side to the Art Amateur’s nature:



The Art Amateur

The Hakone Open-Air Museum

Ninotaira, Hakone-Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, 250-0493


+81 (0)460-82-1161

Open all year-round 09:00-17:00

Hong Kong Museum of Art – Andy Warhol “15 Minutes Eternal”

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom 1985 by Andy Warhol

Everyone has a favourite Warhol.  You can’t deny it.  It’s advertising in its purest form, there’s always one piece of his cleverly mass produced art that draws us in.  From a psychological standpoint I’m sure many would point to my mother-son relationship and love of a strong woman but for me my choice is always “Queenie”.  I dare describe HRH Queen Elizabeth II in this way because she has been reduced to such an exceedingly plebeian fashion as to bring her to the masses, namely me, on my own terms (Blackadder-esque)… but let’s rewind for a second and take a closer look at just how this happened, who Andy Warhol was, how he achieved my audience and what this exhibition is all about?

Warhol infront of WarholA native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his father of Slovakian descent and Catholic faith emigrated to the U.S.A in the first decade of the 1900’s.  Sensitive, artistic and a victim of chorea, an involuntary muscular disease at the tender age of 8, Warhol was an outcast at school.  Commonly bed-ridden, his mother gave him his first drawing lessons, which he quickly took to while building a collection of movie stars – a now recognised influential period to the development of his skill-set.  In 1949 he moved to NYC and rapidly became one of the most commercially sought after illustrators on the advertising circuit.  By 1952 he held his first show in Hugo Gallery and emerged as a key component in the developing pop art movement.  In 1964 he started the silver painted and foil draped studio known as The Factory.  His shooting in 1968 by feminist writer Valerie Solanas forced reclusion on this otherwise centre of the party figure, regularly surrounded by the rich and famous.  The 70’s saw a much quieter decade where Warhol cemented his commercial success with multiple commissions while partaking in celebrity saturation at Studio 54.  It was in his final decade the 1980s where his affiliation with a number of younger artists including Basquiat gave his work new credence to the general public despite a number of critical reviews describing him as facile and “with no depth or indication of the significance of their subjects”.  Perhaps these critics just didn’t get it at the time, but to me it seems that’s exactly what he was aiming for…

Warhol Exhibit EntranceThe Hong Kong Museum of Art, in existence since 1962, is the fundamental art museum of the territory.  Originally housed at City Hall in Central it now sits next to The Space Museum on Salisbury Road, TST.  Now I recognise that HK doesn’t have the longest of histories, but my word is it interesting; full of intrigue, adventure and dare I say it shame.  Malevolence and pure commercial trade with no aforethought for the consequences of action?  That sounds like a great film that Warhol would be proud of, and yet the permanent exhibitions here ex-Xubaizhai are nothing short of a snooze-fest.  My feeling has always been “wake up curators and let’s whip up excitement about some of the talented art that has been and continues to be produced in this phenomenally frenetic place that remains the doorway to China”; so was this the start of something at last?  And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, it was for the first time with glee and a swing in my step I headed to this musty outpost of culture, which regularly stands in the shadow of the Cultural Centre right next door.

Lichtenstein - PopPop art actually began in Britain, not America, believe it or not, but their academic analysis from afar vs America’s innate understanding saw the latter really nurture the movement.  With great emphasis that I am not patronising my readers, pop is obviously short for popular and was no doubt a shot across the bow of “fine” art, which even to this day is viewed externally by some as a closed society of navel-gazing academics, high flying curators, forcibly trend-setting gallerists, cartelizing auction houses to name but a few.  Drawing its source material from advertising, comics and everyday mundane items, Pop art was considered a reaction to abstract expressionism, made famous in Warhol’s NYC by the likes of Jackson Pollock amongst others.  I can think of no better way of describing the movement itself than in Warhol’s own words:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

Warhol Time Capsule 23Just as Michael Jackson earned the nomenclature The King of Pop, Andy Warhol equally deserves “The Prince of Pop Art”; and if you didn’t already recognise it, it is here at The Art Amateur we hope to demonstrate why.  This exhibition based on a 1968 quotation from Andy Warhol “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” marks the 25th anniversary of his death and I would like to thank The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh in particular for allowing the loan of a majority of their collection to such a far flung region in Asia!  I know I am extremely grateful to see over 450 pieces of photographs, films and paintings and especially Time Capsule 23, which contained a number of personal items that Warhol collected during his visit to HK and Beijing in 1982!  One large criticism, though I do want to air, so let’s get it over with now.  Why oh why the anal retentiveness towards photos HKMoA?  No flash photography for delicate items fine, but concerns over copyright are just laughable when it comes to the most widely distributed artist of the 20th century.

Mad MenThe first room in the museum was a great introduction to the maestro’s works and laid the foundation clearly and succinctly on how this young talent quickly rose through the ranks of New York’s advertising society.   Now I can only comment for myself, but we’re talking the world of Mad Men, Lionsgate’s excellent take on 50’s era advertising and while I thought it most likely not an easy industry for a gay eccentric man of Warhol’s tendencies to be part of – think Salvatore Romano – it was fascinating to read David Leddick’s take in the Huffpost ( who said in actual fact only few agencies were this stuffy and many allowed gays to thrive.  It was at I. Miller where his detailed designs of shoes earned him respect as one of the best inventors in his product and saw him earn as much as $50,000 a year by the mid-1950s, equivalent to over $400,000 today.  Students and designers alike would have been fascinated by and no doubt interested in, as was I, a fuller picture of the world-renowned artist’s early creative side of his career.

Warhol American SupermarketThe collection of art itself was nothing short of excellent and the layout was chronological.  In the first room we entered, we were greeted by an apparent re-enactment of The American Supermarket, the famed show held in Paul Bianchini’s Upper East Side Gallery in 1964.  Items were laid out as you’d expect in an everyday manner and consisted of a number of boxes including Brillo and of course Campbell’s soup, but I was fairly underwhelmed by the curation.  The chief curator should have made this a little bit more like the original location and with a bit of extra effort it could have been really fun rather than a simple shelf with items on it..  The American Supermarket was an important pre-cursor to the inevitable question that surrounded his work, “what is art?”, so here’s a small admonishment for not giving it a little more thought.

Warhol The FactoryA much better thought out room to which I do have to give the curators credit was an attempt at the famed silver warehouse where Warhol pioneered the use of film in art.  Covered in foil and painted in silver, there were several looped videos including Eat but the one that caught my attention was the 1964 silent slow motion film Empire.  Originally planned to be an eight hour movie, it actually became eight hours and five minutes due to a mistake made by Rob Trains the projectionist.  Warhol for whatever reason was happy with the result however and with favourable reviews from the New York Times, decided to keep the final product.  Never meant to be abridged in any way, it was the unwatchability of the film that Warhol emphasised.  Several photos adorned the walls of the Warhol superstars, which included Baby Jane Holzer, Edie Sedgwick and others.Warhol Silver CloudsI was more than a little disappointed though by Silver Clouds.  A collection of helium-filled mylar balloons, a recreation of the 1966 version at the Leo Castelli Gallery was effectively used as a children’s playpen.  Now I am all for getting kids involved in art, but several of the balloons were basically deflated if not stamped on and I saw no-one actively educating the young in what this exhibit was about.  Perhaps I’m wrong here but isn’t that the entire purpose of making an interactive exhibit?  I was told from a friend on a quieter day that the balloons floated in a rather whimsical and playful manner.  The paradox of a metal like object actually being light and easily moveable is no doubt what Warhol was going for here and it’s great that the kids were encouraged to get involved; but given the militant attitude of the guards towards photography I would have thought a little more focus on guiding the children would have allowed adults to also enjoy this exhibit, which I avoided altogether.

Kids Pictures 1As we progressed into the other side of the exhibit we entered the 1970s and 1980s where Warhol started experimenting with other materials including acetate collages of Mohammed Ali, the same year self-portraits in arylic and silkscreen ink on linen and indeed even a canvas primed with copper-based paint that he had assistants urinate on known as Oxidation Painting!  Despite some groans at the balloon room though, every cloud does have its silver lining and I really enjoyed the children’s section that showcased works for the young’uns.  Hung purposefully at a more appropriate height, Warhol created these smaller editions originally for a 1983 exhibition at Zurich’s Galerie Bruno Bischofberger and it was recreated well here.
Warhol PistolSo what was my favourite picture of the exhibition?  The one above hands down.  The gravitas of the picture without doubt comes from the knowledge of Warhol’s shooting by Solanas, the fact that this was the exact gun which shot him and the deep affect it had on him and his work.  Close friend and collaborator Billy Name after the attack called him “the Cardboard Andy” and Warhol said it confirmed later that his life was indeed like watching television – you don’t feel anything.  All in I have to say I was on the whole very impressed with this exhibition.  While I’m sure it’s experience in Singapore previously and its tour of the United States has already created a honed and polished machine, I did think there was a healthy amount of local relevance and I gather in Singapore they even had three artists showcase their works to highlight the global reach Warhol has had even in Southeast Asian art.  I thought a nice final touch was a photo booth for visitors to take instant Warholian polaroids – what better way of having your eternal 15 minutes of fame?

I couldn’t possibly end it without a few extra photos of the truly visual Warhol, so here are some special selections by the Royal I:

Male Fashion Figure Black N White Hamburger MaoCreatively,

The Art Amateur

16th December – 31st March 2013

The Hong Kong Museum of Art
15 Minutes Eternal – Andy Warhol
10 Salisbury Road,
Tsim Sha Tsui,
+852 2721 0116

Asia Hotel Art Fair Hong Kong – 2013

Cartman BeefcakeFirst of all, I’d like to apologize to my readers for the delay since my last post.  I have been between a number of duties and assure you the next review will be considerably closer!  I promise to beef it up, and we all know as Cartman says “Follow your dreams. You can meet your goals. I am living proof. Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!!!”. Now on with the show…

AHAF TransparentBG

The Hotel Art Fair has entered its fourth year for Hong Kongers and its ninth reincarnation for the organisers, and yet it is still with a certain reservation and perhaps a hint of pomposity that I venture to this “exceedingly difficult to curate” exhibition.  For those not in the know, the aim of the AHAF is to remove artwork from the white cube space and place them in a warmer context for the collector – in this case hotel rooms at the Mandarin Oriental.  I applaud this philosophy and for those who know me they are well aware of my contempt for the “white cube” however I am in all intents and purposes a curator by heart and there are a number of challenges for the exhibitors that I continue to wonder if indeed this is a successful platform or rather a bit of a gimmick.  For the greater good though I will add that the more art that penetrates our shores the better, so despite the challenges I still believe the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, for the voyeur(se)s amongst us of art at least!


Now I don’t know about you, but I LOVE HOTELS, and the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong is no exception.  She proudly sits in my top 3 worldwide, and while you may call me sexist for referring to her as a lady, for me she’s grand, elegant and I can think of no other way of labelling her.  I’m a sucker for the shiny marble, the waft of subtle perfume that permeates the hallways, it’s like the perfect parfait all finished off with a delicate shaving of class.  They’ve got it all here – opened in 1963, Fortune Magazine placed the hotel alongside The Ritz in Paris and others as one of the eleven great hotels in the world within just four years of operation!  Everyone has a favourite bar or spot at The Mandarin, for me it’s the Chinnery.  Intimate and soaking in the colonial charm that is George Chinnery’s paintings, it celebrates one of the foremost painters of early Hong Kong; for a fun side note read James Clavell’s Tai Pan – Aristotle Quance is a figure loosely based on Chinnery and shares his hopeless levels of debt that likewise kept him from returning home to the shores of Blighty.


This year saw 65 galleries enter the AHAF, with the vast majority, some 90%, from Asia.  Local galleries from Hong Kong lead the charge as expected with 22 galleries present, while Korea not far behind at 15 – not surprising given the organisers are based in Seoul.  All in I’d say the fair is well organised and supports the local community to an extent by offering work to university students and art aficionados alike.  One grumble which did surprise me, and this is purely personal – I actually bought a piece of work from the fair last year, and upon purchase needed to fill in a lot of information.  Did I receive details about the fair this year?  Did I even receive a ticket or a discount to get in?  Now this isn’t the best use of resources and I’m surprised that after all this effort to track buyers and maintain databases they didn’t even add me to their lists.  I’m going to go ahead and say this is an accident on their part but nevertheless it seems like a bit of an administrative error that they’re not inviting previous collectors back to the fair – once a buyer always a buyer.  Tut tut!


Seven special exhibitions graced the AHAF this year and while a sign of the origin of the fair, I was disappointed to see that 19 of the 20 were Korean.  Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers and Singaporeans were in strong supply at the fair, so I’d urge the committee to work harder next year to not be so internal in their choice.  With that said, I’d like to talk about one my favourite works of the entire event sitting in the “Existing in Costume” section.  Chosen to grace the large majority of advertising, and for good reason, this work by Chan-Hyo Bae was provocative, mildly troubling and yet incredibly captivating to the eye.  I mean who doesn’t like a man in drag, and Tudor drag for that matter?  Executed with photography, the crux of the work is self-portraiture in female historical English garb.  Now seeing an Asian man dressed in Elizabethan costume definitely jogs you out of your comfort zone, and is symbolic of the segregation that Bae felt living in London.  Questions of old ideologies, and lingering prejudices this new Punishment series follows his Fairy Tales project.  Clearly a question of identity, this theme is very apt to be shown in a city that struggles daily with its place in the world.

watanabe - in rousseaus forest

My undoubtedly favourite artist of the show, Mitsuru Watanabe, was found in “a gallery”.  Hailing from Noho, Hong Kong, this contemporary space has been open five years, specialising in Asian works.  Watanabe, a native of Aomori, Japan, definitely panders to my love of pop surrealism, and his self-taught figurative work is fabulous.  Instantly recognisable backgrounds from Rousseau, Bosch et al. leaves an immediate impression, but then a shy cute Japanese school girl glares up at you from the centre of each canvas.  What’s this you wonder?  Watanabe craftily embeds his two daughters with full Japanese school uniform and insignias, sporting a Hello Kitty bag here, holding the odd Pocky biscuit there into the classic painting as he skilfully weaves contemporary with modern.  I love the work, I really do.  The juxtapositions are very clever, as an innocent Naoko stands out amongst the demons of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly delights” while Yukiko’s Rousseau doll and Karaoke microphone plays on the theatre and performance of the master’s “forest”.  The oil colours are vivid and the capture of light excellent, fantastic work Watanabe san.

numata - giraffe

If you’re a lover of wildlife, then you might want to take a peek at Gekko Numata.  Hailing from gallery UG, a Chiyoda based Tokyo location, the artist works with acrylic on panel.  The work themselves have a notably textured and subsequent 3D effect to them as the animals peer out of the board at you.  An entire spectrum of playful and loveable creatures draws your attention and it seemed quite evident in the hotel room how everyone had their own personal favourite.  My family knows me as a lover of giraffes, my first big cuddly toy version being given on my 7th birthday, I couldn’t resist the fella as he tottered forward towards me from above The Mandarin hotel bed.  Awwww…



If pure colour and abstraction are your thing, one couldn’t help but enjoy Boun represented by the gallery bearing his own name.  Full of colour and expression, the artist was similarly full of life and vitality.  It was a real pleasure to meet this Sino-Vietnamese painter, living in Paris since 1973.  Passion is a wonderful thing, and you cannot help but feel it simmering underneath the surface as the craftsman described to me his use of semi-precious stones to create pigments for his canvases; some, he added, were hung in hotels with one reaching as high as 50 stories.  Popular in China and reaching global acclaim, his paintings were selling for a not-insignificant sum of US$20,000 and up.  Clearly already a brand, the man himself is a force to already be reckoned with and while everyone here knows abstraction is not my thing, the colours alone held me – vivid and rich, I was grabbed on a more archaic level than I’m used to when viewing art and for this I very much enjoyed viewing these works.

Hye-ran Choi

My final review is of one of the young artists of the show, a certain Hye-ran Choi.  Exhibited in the special section, I really felt this emerging painter has a significant future ahead of her.  With an MFA from Suwon University, she has chosen to depict with her Relocation series, reflections of people in shop windows, images of people “mid-purchase” so to speak.  With quotes from Baudelaire on the human condition for material things to references of Monet painting “nothingness” through the use of light, Hye-ran discusses consumption, the play by advertising on our vanity and its subsequent effect on society.  This artist has really thought about the content of their work, and the thesis that accompanies it has real depth.

Cartman respect


With a multitude of other works for you to choose from, I’d say the fair is not short on selection and has some reachable work even for the starting collector.  However, a final word to the wise – seeing white sheets of A4 paper over hotel artwork demonstrated to me that the exhibitor is not really getting the logistical support from the fair operator that he should, and this is not the first time I’ve seen this.  I also did hear grumblings that outside of the VIP evening the turnout was not what it could have been – an advertising issue perhaps?  There has been a bevy of new fairs open up to the Hong Kong market since the auction market exploded and the West Kowloon cultural district shifted up a gear, I just hope that the managers of said events don’t overcharge and under-deliver to the galleries who badly need the support to spread the culture thick and wide. Here’s to keeping on giving!


The Art Amateur

AHAF, This year ran from 22nd February – 24th February 2013

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel

5 Connaught Road, Central, HONG KONG +852 2522 0111

The Cat Street Gallery – Informal Relations

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm No 30

Abstract art, suffice it to say, is not my favourite branch of my beloved passion.  I’m going to go out on a limb here but I’d say it really is the Marmite of art – love it or hate it; you find vehement naysayers or religious zealots of the movement.   While all art generally shares some element of abstraction and we should really refer to it as Abstract Expressionism, it really is just splitting hairs.  A movement that began with the Impressionists when they separated representational art for the first time in the pursuit of capturing light, it reached its height with Jackson Pollock et al. in New York in the 50’s.  The truth is we are all entitled to an opinion and in some ways artists and galleries should embrace provocation and in-depth discussion of the legitimacy of their work, because discussion alone becomes, for me at least,  automatic validation.

Marmite - love is hate is

It is with this in mind that I ventured down to Cat Street Gallery to see their latest exhibition Informal Relations by Australian Anthony White.  Mandy d’Abo has really made Cat Street a brand name on the Hong Kong gallery scene.  Originally a South African native, she actively promotes Australian art with her catalogue encompassing more than 70% of our, let’s face it, friendly Oceania mates from down under.  Set up in 2006, Cat Street has championed and supported many local projects, and with almost clairvoyant timing, moved from Lascar Row in 2007 to its present site on Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan.  The opening of The Space, a previous 4000ft2 meatpacking warehouse, towards the end of 2010 for private exhibition usage only cemented Mandy’s reputation further as a shrewd business lady in touch with the pace and beat of Hong Kong’s streets – it may not be sexy renting out art space at a huge premium but let’s face it we all have to eat and hat’s off to the polished result.


Anthony White, a resident of Sydney, NSW we are told is clearly influenced by the New York Abstract Expressionism School we previously mentioned above as well as the Merzbau project of Kurt Schwitters, Mondrian’s “De Stijl” and the “Combines” of Robert Rauchenberg.  This incorporates quite a wide range of modern art, with particular focus on Dadaism, Neo-Platicism / De Stijl and collage.  Working and living in Paris since 2009, White completed his visual art studies at the National Art School in Sydney and with the help of Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship furthered his education by participation in the Drawing Marathon Programme at The New York Studio School.

Merzbau Project

robertrauschenberg_estate1963To quote from The Cat Street’s leaflet “Informal Relations is one man’s study and fascination with painting – and more specifically form, texture, and the process of abstraction – for it is the process and application of paint to canvas that bewitches White.”  The exhibit itself is well curated with good separation between the pieces and I believe we have Zelie Walker, Gallery Director and Tanya Bennett, Gallery Manager to thank for this.  The works themselves mainly consist of new 2012 oil on linens, a collection of 2011 pieces with much heavier application of paint and 2 collages on paper of which I believe only one was present.

Anthony White Cropped

As I said before, I struggle with this most psychologically penetrating of art forms – essentially it takes quite a lot for the artist to reach out and tap me on the shoulder or punch me in the face, and perhaps it’s less about the artist than my ability to be able to open up to the pieces themselves.  So it was with a proportion of Anthony’s work, and that’s not to criticize in any way, it’s just I personally failed to connect with some of the work presented, but surprisingly some did hit home and a significantly higher percentage than I had anticipated.  I state this honestly though, because truth be told, isn’t this the case with most things in life, from fashion collections to my second love, food – rare indeed it is to love everything and criticize nothing, especially being a Brit!

Pala Cropped

Pala and Transient were my favourite pieces within the show and spoke to me privately.. although interestingly for totally different reasons; probably related to the the different timeframe and method of production for each work.  For Pala it was difficult to put my finger on, was it the colour palette that most appealed to me, or the fleecy feeling that inspired me to feel warm, dare I say it loved – difficult to say.  Transient from 2011 is an oil and collage on paper – constructed with a lot of the unused materials from his 2011 collection.  I understood and respected the scraps, the concept of where they came from and the story behind them of the significant energy exhausted, represented through them in making a collection.  It’s ironic I suppose to a degree that I loved this piece more for it epitomized than what it looked like – why ironic?  Well, isn’t that what abstract art is supposed to do, create a psychological deep inner emotion to stir the viewer in some way and didn’t I say at the beginning I didn’t quite get it.. hmm perhaps this exhibit has helped me learn a little more about what abstract art is and how to enjoy it.  I’m a firm believer that you should always try to understand what you don’t comprehend, and hopefully I’ve taken myself on another step today to getting even 20% of the way with such a pure form of expressionism.

Transient Cropped

Before I finish, I would like to thank the Gallery Manager Tanya Bennett.  Not only was she extremely informative about the show, the history and the background to Cat Street and it’s artists, she was a most gracious host and took me through her own favourites and what had spoken personally to her and to the clients at Cat Street.  I’ll leave you with this final picture of Incendiary, a piece that she pointed out almost immediately.  Also from an earlier show in 2011, the title is apt – there is always a certain violence to the colour red and I’m sure everyone can see their own personal hell or paradise in this piece, for me the former.. perhaps I can be converted yet.

Incendiary Cropped


The Art Amateur

Informal Relations,  17th January – 17th February 2013

The Cat Street Gallery

222 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, HONG KONG  +852 2291 0006

Hours : Monday to Friday :  11 am to 7 pm / Weekends :  11 am to 5 pm

Above Second Gallery – LAX/HKG

Starting a blog is a daunting task; choice of vernacular or simple subject matter could easily become an exercise in banging your head up against the wall.  So when I heard about LAX/HKG at Sai Ying Pun’s Above Second Gallery the news wafted over me and bewitched me like the scent of freshly baked bread and allowed me to get stuck in before I could really doubt myself like the famed Hank Moody.  To quote: “People… they don’t write anymore, they blog. Instead of talking, they text, no punctuation, no grammar: LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems to me it’s just a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people at a proto-language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King’s English” – here’s to proving Hank wrong!

hank moody1

So what is LAX/HKG?  Well as far as I can tell, it’s Hong Kong’s first foray into Pop Surrealism aka Low Brow art that the curators have romantically portrayed as “New Contemporary”.  I am at home here.  I do my best to spread the word and it is good.  Los Angeles is most definitely the birth place of this most contemporary of forms that traces its history back to comics and illustrations, artists such as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Robert Williams, Mark Ryden, Shag et al.  This is already a movement that has penetrated the East Coast, Europe – in particular London and Rome but really is in its infancy in Asia. It amazes me that even in the big galleries few curators or directors have taken the plunge so it is with respect I ventured to Second Street… or Above, I should say.


Above Second Gallery is a small but respectable space run by May Wong and was originally co-owned with Jasper Wong who has now moved on to greener pastures.  Welcoming and more importantly informative, I was impressed not just by May but also by their COO Heather Clarke who really shared a passion for art that only other lovers can really appreciate.  Thank you for showing me that galleries in Hong Kong are not just about the almighty pegged red back – refreshing it was.


For the curation, we have Andrew Hosner of Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City, L.A to thank.  He has taken eight very different artists from their field and created a show of significant spectrum.  My concern is that it is difficult to really connect with a movement with such, dare we say jumping around, but in all I feel it was a show meant to excite and caress the senses for more, and from the good sales I would hope it has done so and done so to a high degree.

It is difficult to discuss every Artist and every work of course, but I shall touch on a few whom I am already familiar with and who speak to me personally.  I would love of course for anyone and everyone to chime in on the blog and give me their opinion, so please feel free.

Bold and vivacious strides in Brian M. Viveros with his quintessential “smoking” (in more ways than just the literal) Asian ladies.  Brian is renowned for fetish, eroticism and often seen painting ladies of Western or Latino descent so his latest incursion into the Asian field is powerful.  Sultry, voluptuous and more importantly tattooed women burst off the panel and come to life.  These are women you want to meet in a bar, but may regret it later.. perhaps a voyeuristic peek from the other side is the safe place to remain.


Probably one of the biggest hitters at the show was Audrey Kawasaki, a graduate of NY’s Pratt Institute.  Away and Mononoke were both original oil, acrylic and graphite on her usual wood panel.  Drawing from her Japanese heritage there is a definitive manga style to her work but with a similar erotic but much more subtle edge than Viveros.  There was a slight confusion for me with Mononoke, because anyone who has lived in Japan is aware of the film Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫 )and yet some of the symbols reminded me more of Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), both by the famed Director Hayao Miyazaki.  Be that as it may there is certain haunting beauty to her work, and the solid blacks with the more rushed and swift brush strokes of the whites and pinks have a contrasting and mesmerizing pull.


Yosuke Ueno, another Japanese national, is a man of many realities and it was fantastic for me to see his work for the first time in person.  Colour seeps from every small drop of acrylic on the canvas and Tornado and Leda immediately conjured up something within me that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.  The paintings are made up of blocks and when I queried them, Heather was kind enough to explain the meaning: DNA, but of course.  The building blocks of life are within us and define us, and for Yosuke his colour paints the characters.  Lots of symbols here, as is usual with his work and the swan remains but it’s the deeper significance of colour that seems to be the message.


Amy Sol, dare I say it, I’m in love.  Really, I find her paintings just beautiful and I couldn’t stop looking at Quiescent Light.  Amy, originally a native of Korea and now living in LV, has an unbelievable ability to use a wide range of colour but in such a subtle pastel hue that it probably only hits you at first on a subliminal level.  Her paintings are warm, kind-hearted and make you feel like a hot cup of cocoa – or at least they do to me!  Nature is prevalent in her work and the connection between man/womankind with animals is strong.  Whimsical they say on her website and indeed she is.


Finally but by no means least Esao Andrews, a slightly dark and mysterious graduate of The School of Visual Arts.  Esao I want to open your brain and pick at the insides to discover what is going on in there.  There was much discussion about Violent Waves because the painting is so very complex.  Everyone had their own opinion and for this and this alone I admire this painting for its ability to ensnare its audience in discussion. Was the spectre of the girl above the same girl at the base of the stairs?  Was the wave really a wave or an animal from the apparent scales, and was it water at all considering it was so blue and not reflective of the surface around it?  Symbols of dragons, skulls, ship wrecks – really this was an orgy of imagery coming at you with so much to say.  Perhaps this is simply a flicker of a nightmare that we all find ourselves remembering the next day, a snapshot of everything we remember at once and it is so very deliciously dark..


Other artists in the show were of course Linnea Strid, who’s eyelashes and eyebrows left me standing at the canvas for at least 10 minutes in admiration.  Dabs Myla, a wonderful partnership and reminiscent of dare I say it Toon-town.  Joao Ruas aka Feral Kid brings up the rear with some very deep and melancholoy portraiture of twisted and tortured souls – the negative side to Pop Surrealism that keeps the positive in check, where is Ying without Yang after all?




To end the review, I’d just like to make one additional comment.  The day I visited the show in its last hours so to speak, they were holding a workshop for very young children.  May, the Director herself, was down on her haunches for most of the afternoon encouraging our young in Hong Kong to enjoy the passions of painting and creativity and with this I bow my head and say you deserve a pat on the back.  Without the future, where on earth would we be?



Above Second Gallery –

31 Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pung +852 3483 7950

Hours : Tues – Sat 1pm – 7pm

Curated by THINKSPACE LA –