Hong Kong seems to be growing out of its love affair with big brand artists, some of which have had about as much appeal as a vagazzler—overexposed, brash, bling. Gone are the dot paintings and Swarovski skulls, and Maos, as the city transitions to a deeper engagement with more challenging and engaging art.
The autumn art season kicked off last week with a diversity of shows in terms of geography and practice. White Cube opened the week with a solo exhibition by American veteran, Larry Bell, with a series of collage works on red paper reminiscent of lai see packets and appropriately festive for the mid autumn festival. His series of beautiful sculptures is typical Bell—light and movement captured in static sculptures that resemble silver vapours. Edouard Malingue Gallery’s Anatomy of Anxieties, curated by Rowing Projects, brings together works by leading artists, focusing on representations of the body by leading artists including Hans Belmer (possibly a first for Hong Kong), Tetsumi Kudo, Cindy Sherman, and Cui Xinming.
Pearl Lam Galleries sparkles like a magpie’s nest with beautifully crafted works of assorted sequins, buttons, stickers, Hello Kitty figures and other pop culture found objects, by Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso. Hong Kong’s mainstay, 10 Chancery Lane will exhibit works from local conceptual and performance artist Frog King, while further afield in Hong Kong’s industrial art outpost of Wong Chuk Hang, galleries are preparing for the South Island Cultural District's open day on Saturday 27th September, which will include the opening of Spring Workshop's much anticipated collaboration with Para Site, Islands Off the Shores of Asia. In Aberdeen, Gallery Exit is showing works by Hong Kong conceptual artist Luke Ching and Platform China is showing bold and colourful paintings by Chinese artist Lou Shenyi in Chai Wan.
For Pedder-Philes out there, and in addition to the Gonkar Gyatso exhibition, this season’s selection of must see exhibitions are all under the one roof with stellar shows by Sterling Ruby, Robin Rhode, Paulina Olowska and Shen Aiqi.
Paulina Olowska, Ceramics, at Simon Lee Gallery
September 18 - October 9, 2014
Simon Lee Gallery has a history of strong shows from female artists: Josephine Pryde, Angela Bullock, Sherrie Levine. In fact, it is one of the few, certainly in Hong Kong, to consistently do so in an industry that still underrepresents women. It's a relief and a joy to see the works of Polish artist Paulina Olowska, one of a few shows by a female artist this art week, and not just because the sisterhood needs a shout out; Olowska creates quiet, intelligent and at times seductive works.
Rather than show paintings, for which Olowska has enjoyed commercial success, for her Hong Kong debut the gallery presents six ceramic pieces juxtaposed against a series of drawings and collages. Using ceramics—which she reclaims and redefines, taking a gendered material, associated with the decorative, craft, and the feminine, and incorporating it into a modern vocabulary—Olowska appropriates religious iconography to explore female archetypes within the cultural and historical vernacular traditions of her native Poland. Some of the ceramics are based on sculptures from an old wooden church in her hometown of Rabka, where she and Bartek her husband were married.
History, religion, mythology and the personal are woven into the exhibition’s narrative to reflect on the way women are represented historically and culturally: a sculpture based on Max Klinger’s Salome, woman as temptress; a reinterpretation of a 16th century German religious icon, 'Maria with Protective Cloak from Ravensberg', woman as nurturer and protector; and the Holy Mother, woman as mother.
There is a heavy and folkish quality to Olowska’s ceramic pieces, roughly hewn, textured and so heavily glazed and tactile that it’s hard not to want to touch them. Her drawings, delicate inchoate sketches, have all the elegance of an Old Master; one study, three sets of saintly hands, fingers gracefully entwined in quiet repose, is utterly enchanting.
With a string of big institutional shows to her name—the Kunsthalle Basel last year; MoMa in 2012; and a project slated for next June at the Tate’s Turbine Hall—Olowska has already proven herself an art world darling. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see her work in Hong Kong.
Shen AiQi, Painting with Qi at Hanart TZ
September 5- September 27, 2014
Hong Kong Chinese art pioneer Johnson Chang rarely disappoints with his shows. Recently he has been utilising his new-ish Pedder Building space to maximum effect filling it with beautifully curated and elegant exhibitions. The exhibition of Chinese ink painter Shen Aiqi, curated by one of China’s leading art theoreticians, Pi Daojian, is no exception.
Although highly respected in art circles in China, the Wuhan- based artist is not a household name in his country, due to his own reluctance to show his work. In fact, this show is the 74 year old artist’s second exhibition after a 2012 solo show in his hometown, despite having worked for over six decades.
It’s easy for this exhibition to get lost amongst the noise and brouhaha of all the other younger contemporary art shows around town, but really this is not to be missed. Save it for last. The gallery is an oasis of zen, much needed after an afternoon of schlepping up and down Pedder building in the heat.
A large white cloth draped across one of the gallery's central structural pillars creates a curtain of black calligraphy that captures the movement of cascading water as you step into the space. The first room is filled with six large works on paper, calligraphic black ink swirls, occasionally revealing a bruise of colour, give way to violent moody landscapes. While Aiqi is clearly a master of traditional Chinese ink brush painting, these works are also remarkably contemporary and abstract.
Consumed with the idea of unity of man and nature, Aiqi produces his works in situ in nature so that they may radiate the life force and capture the spirit of that which they depict. His energetic expressive brushstrokes, wild gestures and freestyle calligraphy capture the lines of structures of craggy rocky mountains, twisting ravaged vines, tangled webs of trees, and flowing fluid movements of rivers.
A film showing the artist at work demonstrates the physically demanding nature of his paintings. In a process suggestive of action painting, Aiqi uses his whole body to express the energy of the nature around him and capture that in his works.
Robin Rhode, having been there, at Lehmann Maupin
September 17-November 8, 2014
South African-born Berlin-based multi-disciplinary artist Robin Rhode is used to thinking on his feet, creating in challenging situations in Johannesburg. That certainly helped him with his Hong Kong solo show, where technical issues in the gallery resulted in the creation of last minute live performance for his opening. Rhode drew a white chalk outline of a car on the gallery’s grey painted wall, that with the help of audience participation, he proceeded to wash and polish. It was a tongue in cheek poke at the city’s fetishisation and conspicuous consumption of status affirming luxury cars.
The performance injected an element of play, humour and interaction into the usually sterile white cube space, crossing street theatre and street art over into a realm reserved for high culture and commerce. Breaking down social barriers and encouraging a sense of community and sharing is what Rhode does best with his art.
One of the first of the post-apartheid generation artists, Rhode’s work derives inspiration from the urban landscape and politics of his hometown Johannesburg, drawing on high and low influences—pop culture, art history, architecture, design, advertising, and graffiti—to achieve his unique style and process. He directly engages with the urban environment using it as his canvas, drawing on pavements and walls and interacting with the drawings in choreographed performances to bring them alive.
But the performance and drawing is only part of the process; the ephemeral works become permanent and whole via photographs and film documenting them. The exhibition includes a new animation made especially for Hong Kong, and a series of four new photographic works, the action unfolding across the gallery walls with each shot like a flicker book or stop animation.
Sterling Ruby, VIVIDS at Gagosian Gallery
September 13 – October 25, 2014
It seems to be LA based Sterling Ruby's year in Asia. This year has seen his work included in the Gwangju Biennale, the Taipei Biennale, and a group show of Los Angeles based artists’ works at Ullens Centre of Contemporary Art in Beijing. Add to that Ruby’s collaboration with Dior creative director and designer Raf Simons, available in Hong Kong now, and his solo exhibition at Taka Ishii Gallery in Japan, the timing of his current solo exhibition, VIVIDS, at Gagosian Hong Kong, seems very well timed.
Although Ruby is by no means underexposed, his paintings haven’t received as much critical attention compared to his sculptures and installation. The paintings in Vivid are no less powerful and impressive, and the gallery did well to exhibit them on their own so we could focus on Ruby’s skill on canvas all the more closely. These works are beautiful, and that can’t be said for a lot of Ruby’s works—aggressive installations, and sculptures with a punk sensibility that engages with themes of violence, urban subculture, gangs, and penitentiaries.
VIVIDS is Ruby’s homage to his city of Los Angeles, inspired by the “vivid and colourful sunrises and sunsets, yielding horizon lines that transform the urban sprawl into a meditative celestial plane” that the artist witnesses daily on his drive from his home to his studio in downtown LA. Nine bright, overpowering, and monumental canvases, all uniform in size, pulse and buzz with acid neon pink and green, contrasting against the gallery’s minimal sleek white environment. The spirit of Rothko shouts out from a couple of colour field pieces. The colours are sprayed and layered impulsively across the canvas, floating atop one another like a multihued haze of smog across a sunset, creating colour drenched horizons. From spray painting, a gesture borne out of vandalism and rebellion, Ruby creates some achingly cool and beautiful paintings.—[O]