While Art Basel and Art Central bring an international spotlight to the biggest players in the art scene, Hong Kong’s emerging design titans take their creative grit and imaginative works to the city streets. Shop the story.
Art In The Narrows
photos and words by felicia williams // hong kong, china // shop the story
“Dear Felicia, On behalf of the Ovolo Southside team, I’d like to extend you a very warm welcome to Hong Kong and our hotel! Throughout your stay with us, there is a great event happening in town and it is called Art Central."
"Knowing that you are a great designer as well as photographer, we believe you would be interested and would like to invite you to the fair. Do enjoy and bring a friend over to the event with you, too. Best Regards, Jacqueline.”
I scan the words of the lovely, handwritten card that I found waiting for me in my room. Someone has googled me, I think, scanning the “design” and “photography” call outs. I look down towards the table and see two, crisp tickets for Art Central, one for each day of the event, ready for the taking.
I look back towards the card again and marvel at it’s existence. I recall almost immediately that I had received a handwritten greeting while staying at another Design Hotels property and that this must be part of their brand values to go to such intimate lengths for guests. It’s this kind of hospitality and attention to detail that I, a hostess in my own life, can deeply appreciate.
Art Central was not on my list of artsy “go-dos” while in Hong Kong, but now that I had two free tickets in my possession, I figured, why the hell not? I place the first ticket carefully in my satchel and head out.
I take the hotel shuttle from Aberdeen to central Hong Kong, getting out at Admiralty Station and walk my way to Causeway Bay.
The sun, stoutly hiding behind a thick layer of grayish clouds ever since I arrived in Hong Kong, peeks through at random intervals, warming the concrete landscape from blue to hazy gold. Elvis’ “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” was playing during the ride, so my steps onto the city streets are decidedly, uh huh, uh huh, rock’n’roll.
I first take in lunch at Mira Moon before making my way onto the Hong Kong street tram, which quickly returns me to the waterfront.
The sea doesn’t give off a fresh breeze, so I’m soaked half to the bone in sweat and praying for air conditioning, when I finally start to see the distant peaks of Art Central’s tents, rising up from the boardwalk.
Mercifully, the line to the venue is short and after ducking inside, blotting my brow and handing in my complimentary pass, I take my first real look around.
What is this atmosphere? This atmosphere feels like, Barney’s of New York?
Cleanly architected ash wood floors; white gossamer draped across the roof; light DJ beats wafting in the air; standard good looking women and chiseled jaw male greeters; smartly dressed and possibly wealthy patrons. Maybe not Barney’s. Maybe Gucci?
The venue is packed but not uncomfortably so. There are three wings to the space, each displaying hundreds of items for the looker on. The pieces are definitely interesting, with a mixture of mostly modern and contemporary art. Photography, painting, sculpture, film and mixed materials all make a grand appearance.
Art is grouped by individually represented galleries, and each gallery space is complete with a desk for monetary exchange and even glasses set out for wine. I assume this is for the guests who actually drop the four to five G’s to buy a piece. Some are worth it too: I’m stunned by a crowd pleasing 3D painting, whose canvas juts forward and away from the viewer’s gaze. As the viewer walks to the left or right of the painting, the perspective hidden or revealed by the 3D surface creates the illusion of moving, chasmic space.
I’m a sucker for photography so I linger by my favorite pieces. I’m also a lover of ink or line drawn works, so some of the more figurative illustrations catch my attention.
After spending an hour rubbing shoulders with the bourgeoisie, I head outside to a closed off pavillion for some air and possibly some grub. Art Central has set up an awesome food truck style atmosphere of burgers, beer and beats to get their patrons refueled. I decide not to partake in the burger or beer, but do take in the beats and some fun people watching.
After my mini-break, I decide that I’ve had my fill of Art Central and walk back out into the punishing humidity of the harbour. Looking left, I see masses of my fellow art enthusiasts making their short way to the convention center, to the pièce de résistance of Hong Kong’s art week, Art Basel.
Art Basel is what originally drew me to the city in the first place.
For the uninitiated, Art Basel stages one the world's most recognized modern and contemporary art shows, held annually in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong. Founded by gallerists in 1970, Art Basel has been a driving force in supporting the role that galleries play in the nurturing of artists, and the development and promotion of visual arts. It is a massive event, bringing in thousands of people from all over the globe to each location.
I had wanted to go to Art Basel Miami earlier this year, but there wasn’t room for me to take the time away. Art Basel Hong Kong, presented me with three opportunities at once: the chance to attend Art Basel, the chance to travel to China for the first time and the opportunity to hunt for Black Hound goods.
I hesitate at the edge of the exit.
I was feeling satisfied but a little “event saturated” and hungry for a change of scene. It doesn’t take me long to decide against a visit to the convention center that day, in favor of more city exploring, and possibly a cocktail plus down time in a hip cafe.
I start walking towards Hong Kong’s central district, my defacto neighborhood after falling in love with it my first day in the city. I take a leisurely route up, following the curve of Queen’s Road, walking past the familiar shops and sounds.
After jogging up two to three of Hong Kong’s signature outdoor staircases, I turn a familiar corner onto Hollywood Road and am hit full on by a wholly different, contemporary art experience.
Without knowing it, without planning it, I had arrived at the rebel show, the unsanctioned salon.
Every narrow block, as far as my eyes can see, are packed with numerous street artists, creating large and dazzlingly edgy murals.
Here, paint brushes are replaced by paint cans, leather wingtips traded in for fly sneakers and flat-brimmed hats. The narrow passages and tiny street corners provide a gallery-style structure and each artist holds court in their concrete domain.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this an art scene in it’s own right.
A myriad of onlookers, all watching with rapt expressions, nod their approval as art is created before their very eyes. Some pause to take a picture. Others stop for conversation and look closely at these on-the-spot works of art. People spill out on to the street from side cafes and pack the tiny narrow stairways, soaking in the atmosphere silently or asking one of the artist’s about their inspiration.
For some onlookers, it’s a game. Fresh, new murals start out with large, single or double colored bases and patrons try to guess what the end result will be. What starts out as a blue cloud becomes the gripping hands of navy skinned alien; a fragmented mass of neon colors becomes the face for an adorable corgi.
Having just come from a far more formal gallery setting, I start to playfully imagine what these artists info cards would say. Hard Gazing Woman in Fuchsia, Spray Paint on Granite, Hong Kong 2015.
Shops all along the streets have their doors thrown open and their windows display additional collections of art, ranging from photography to sculpture, from painting to mixed media.
Other designers and makers throw up makeshift pop-up shops on rickety tables, showing off their goods, hoping to catch a discerning eye.
This is not the scene of garage sale where one might expect to have to wade through endless amounts of odd knobs and dusty wares to get to the gold.
I instantly find some amazing gems, including a beautifully crafted set of modern, origami inspired clutches from Jason Cheng, founder and designer of Toyish Design.
I love them so much that I take in four pieces, two large and two small, and count them as definite scores for my growing Black Hound collection.
I take my time, weaving my way through each block, poking my head into the occasional shop, taking in both fashion and design.
I swoon over and purchase a bespoke, jade and onyx cape by shop owner and talented designer, Joe Ange Mas.
I’m tipsy on the energy of the crowd, even being swept up into buying a dawning a flower crown, which puts me into the 85th percentile of ladies in the vicinity (no, I will not show you a picture). I then get legitimately tipsy on a fantastic cocktail from the PQM and continue taking in the sights in sounds.
After another hour or so, I check my phone and see that time has flown by. I’ve missed the closing hours of Art Basel by at least half an hour and I’d have to go another day if I want to experience it.
I’m not bothered in the least. I shrug my shoulders, snap a few more outdoor pictures and decide to retire to a bar to write and relax.
In the end, I never did go to Art Basel while I was in Hong Kong.
I guess I had found my art fix in these narrow streets, surrounded by the pulsating and exciting vibe of Hong Kong’s underground and unsung artists and designers.
I don’t regret my decision in the least, though I still would love to go to another Art Basel in the future. Perhaps, I’ll make it to Miami next year. Who am I kidding, though? I’ll be too busy having a margarita on catamaran for that. Maybe another year...