As a city undeniably obsessed with making money move, art naturally takes a for-profit position in Hong Kong. Here, art is appreciated as a creative investment rather than as a creative expression. The SAR is host to world renown Art Basel as well as other major art fairs including the Affordable Art Fair, Art Central and Asian Contemporary Art Show. It also boasts world records set at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses. There are even branches of Gagosian, Lehmann Maupin and White Cube. With such an array of commercial art venues, it is safe to assume that millions, if not billions of dollars are spent on fine art in Hong Kong annually.
Despite the inevitable sales pitch usually associated with art in Hong Kong, much of what is on offer is simply for the enjoyment of the people. Hidden behind the flashy skyline lights, somewhere in between the Michelin-star rated restaurants, is a surprising art scene. Listed below are some of the artworks that can be found in some of the least expected places.
Hidden art in Central
Central District is home to all the major galleries and art fairs held in Hong Kong. There is also the recently opened centre for heritage and arts, Tai Kwun. All year round both regional and international masterpieces can be viewed as they rotate through the city’s galleries.
However, some pieces have far more permanent, albeit well-hidden, homes in Hong Kong. If you know where to look, there are a number of startling finds amongst the skyscrapers of glittering steel and glass that tower above the streets of Hong Kong.
Salvatore Dali at Landmark Atrium
Tucked into an inconspicuous corner of the luxury mall Landmark in Central, you may come across a chance encounter with one of the most prolific and recognisable artists of the 20th Century: Salvatore Dali. Standing 3.6 metres tall, Dali’s Woman Aflame (1980) is an intriguing bronze statue. It depicts a woman surreally studded with drawers down her front and supported by a prop attached to her back. The sculpture is a testament to his distinctive style, taking elements of his dreamscape and Freudian influences to explore the mysteries of women and their bodies.
Ju Ming at The Forum
Ju Ming’s Single Whip Dip (1986) and Right Heel Kick (1991), part of his iconic Taichi series, rise out of the white-collar hustle and bustle to turn the nondescript cityscape into a worthy art destination. Standing opposite each other, the powerful sculptures perform their dynamic, balanced moves. The big, bulky blocks take on a certain elegance and inspire a sense of calm. These two surprising figures are on permanent display as they practice meditation through movement right below the IFC towers in The Forum.
Hidden art in Kowloon
Heading over to “the Darkside” aka Kowloon, there is yet more intentionally acclaimed art to discover. On this side of Hong Kong, things are a little more spread out and a little better hidden. Although this should all change with the much-anticipated opening of M+, the new museum for visual culture, in 2020.
Takashi Murakami at Elements
Perhaps the number one luxury retail destination in Hong Kong is the mall Elements in Kowloon. Here you can find all the major global luxury brands from Chanel to Balenciaga to Gucci to Dior. You can also find two examples of Takashi Murakami’s signature super flat flower design: Flowerball Goldfish Colors 3D (2010) and Even The Digital Realm Has Flowers To Offer (2010). His incredibly colourful cartoon flowers can be found in a rather unusual spot – the entrance to a restroom. Here, the beaming flowers bring a sense of joy to all who take note as they wander by.
Various artists at PRÉCÉDÉE
PRÉCÉDÉE may just be the most surprising art encounter in Hong Kong. It is a unique 24-hour art space that hosts highly engaging work by Hong Kong creatives. Nestled among kitchen outfitters and noodle shops, it’s a simple viewing space that takes up only a small section of a wall of an unassuming street in Yau Ma Tei. Exhibits rotate every one to two weeks and have so far included video and light installations, paintings, sculptures and photography. It is truly an enchanting find.
Various artists around Sham Shui Po
Not all of the noteworthy art around Hong Kong is highbrow. In fact, some of the best-hidden art is decidedly lowbrow and yet just as culturally valuable. Scattered throughout the alleyways of the wholesale fabric and electronics district Sham Shui Po is a collection of street art by world famous artists, including Vhils, Okuda, Invader and Dilk, not to mention many talented local artists as well. These precariously displayed works of art are temporary by nature. Without frames, glass or an astute security guard to protect them, these public pieces are at the mercy of the elements and the whims of property owners. Their fleeting and out-of-the-way nature sets them apart and adds to the excitement of accidentally stumbling across one of these masterpieces.
Unexpected Art in Hong Kong
This is just the tip of the paintbrush, so to speak, of hidden art in Hong Kong. In addition to the public art on display and that available in private galleries, art-infused restaurants and bars rotate an eclectic collection and theatre performances and art film screenings occur regularly throughout the year. Some still carry a price tag so you need to pay some form of entrance fee to see, others you can just drop by to experience. Either way, Hong Kong can still surprise even the most seasoned aesthete as an art destination worth exploring.
Locations of the free artwork on display mentioned in this article:
Woman Aflame, Landmark Atrium, next to Gucci at the Queen’s Road Central entrance.
Single Whip Dip and Right Heel Kick, The Forum at Exchange Square, just outside the exit on L1 of IFC Mall next to Tea WG.
Flowerball Goldfish Colors 3D (2010) and Even The Digital Realm Has Flowers To Offer, the public bathroom entrance on L1 of Elements Mall next to Origins.
PRÉCÉDÉE, 304 Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tai, Kowloon.
For a comprehensive map of most of the notable street art in Sham Shui Po, check out the HK Walls website.
Photos to be added shortly.