January Exhibition Review

Art Review Group – 1st Meeting  

1 Celebrating 30 Years of Hanart (16 Jan – 15 Feb 2014)

Overall, the exhibition moves people emotionally and sensationally – with some kind of lament and stirred feelings.

Saying that the exhibition impressed us because we can tell the efforts done by the curators, where the exhibits and the venue are well contextualized. The narrative and discourse of the exhibition are very unique, a firm standpoint in telling a story that focused on the nation, to display the artworks with rich national identity and not to adopt the usual way in local exhibitions where narratives are highly westernized.  Among all the works, those played around with texts that done by Qiu Zhijie and Xu Bing are specially arranged to induce feedback and dialogues. Surely everyone would think it is obvious that the exhibition, with such vast amount of great artworks included, could never gone too bad. However, exactly because the exhibition has so much great works to show, it is a very difficult task to curate. Having that said, the exhibition won its recognition and status for it has a clear and direct curatorial concept, good use of space, well-organized team of twenty people in delivering the narrative (using a timeline as backbone of the exhibition) and that the texts in the exhibition respect well about the artist statement  — these are all highlights of the exhibition that make it distinct from all other shows. If comparison has to be made among exhibitions venues, such as museums, this exhibition succeed for it did not make assumptions on spectators’ interpretation capability nor on their preferences in appreciating artworks, as many of the venues in art tend to do so while lowered the requirements on curating visual arts exhibitions.

What makes the exhibition quite unsettling to us is its content – for it entails the 100 years of the Island’s history, however the information displayed on the timeline were obviously wrong (with the artist’s name written wrong too). While we, as spectators, expect to read more of how the curator interpreted the exhibition. For what it seems, the exhibition being curated by a group of scholars has technical issues, as practical as the ways of how the exhibits were being displayed (i.e. how paintings should be hang) are quite problematic, while the positioning, the focus and the comprehensiveness of the exhibition are all quite paradoxical. The decision of using political events to drive the timeline as to narrate the exhibition is the core of the show, yet we are curious on how this relates to the exhibits being displayed, while we would also like to learn if it is a curatorial concern or a personal decision?

Long Time no see, Victoria (10 Jan – 31 Mar 2014)

This exhibition revealed a strange phenomenon of the Hong Kong art scene, of which design elements of a show far ‘exceeded’ the nature of an art exhibition – by exceed, we refer to the vibes and content being presented. Although by nature the illustrations are very sophisticated to comprehend, the texts and designs used hardly have any relevance being drawn making the visual and textual elements not pleasing, and that the artworks are being made ‘secondary’ to the ways of them being displayed – have these said, the exhibition, all in all, succeed to touch people as it rightfully demonstrated Hong Kong history and local identity crisis and issues. The dialogues and scenes of classic Canton films recall a lot memories from the masses, which led spectators to visit their own reminiscences during colonial era. If we are to criticize, we would say the later section of the exhibition having a too exaggerated written text, exposing too much messages to the audiences – in fact the artwork itself could stir much interests, competent in expressing what have to be conveyed. Sometimes a more indirect and even ambiguous approach to do the statements for an exhibition would serve better.

This exhibition concerned about its spectators for the methodology adopted have taken the vision and ambition to educate all visitors – in the tasting and understanding of visual art, inclined to have a more academic approach in framing its content. People with a background to understand well about curating would know that the institution have taken up the responsibility to do proper exhibiting in favour of art works – art works as the nature, the centre of an exhibition, and not to have a wrong focus on making an exhibition to ‘fit’ the theme of a show. The vision and courage of having such decision made and to take these seriously in the implementation made a significant remark in art/curating history in and for Hong Kong, for this is a breakthrough of the common practice of how an exhibition is being carried out by most museums (at least locally), which innovatively re-created the structure of feelings for Hong Kong. The local media narrow-mindedly or being too sensitive politically to interpret the exhibition as ‘yearning for the colonial era’ – can this exhibition be read in such a simple way? Or being over-interpreted? The exhibition basically contributed to be a good show as it confronted the stresses in face of institutional constraints and the judgments made by all external parties –simply and unconventionally, because it has taken clearly a direction on curating, making good use of all the exhibition space and to deal with all the administrative burden practically. Being in the exhibition, you can feel the thoughtfully arranged presentation of all the exhibits that are very logical, fulfilling every senses of cultural traces relating to Hong Kong. It is a sensible and nicely done nostalgic journey for all locals – those being forgotten, remembered, yours, mine, ours – being recalled by the key exhibits, or by all exhibits which equally worked out the empowerment for each and every spectator, no matter they look familiar or alien.

“Leung Ping Kwan (1949-2013), A Retrospective” (11 – 30 Jan 2014)

Regarding Leung Ping Kwan’s deep influences on a vast spectrum of cultural and artistic fields, and to consider the exhibition being a retrospection that much being displayed are of various genres – there was no focus at all, not about visual arts nor Hong Kong literature at all. With a good textual illustration on the timeline showing Leung’s biography, the arrangements of the exhibition are not having a strategic selection on works to display, hence limiting the show, resulting a very superficial, self-containing and boring, exhibition.

A case in point would be the presentation of the poems written by Leung, and us being the audiences, we can tell the poems are not being respected. All the texts could be compiled as a book to be presented align with the exhibition, it was a bad idea to present them as fragments stick on the walls. Texts serve an important part of an exhibition, the handling of texts is crucial to the success of an exhibition – even the development of an organisation, like a museum. There is always a fine thin line on drawing whether an exhibition has properly managed literature relating to an art exhibition, the how and the why are significant questions to be answered at the very beginning of preparing a show. In particular, mixed media and cross disciplinary subjects are very tricky, and exactly because of this feature that distinct Leung’s creative works in the telling of the complexity of colonial identification, which stirred a lot of discussions worth bringing forth, one has to be determined in demonstrating (or re-presenting) such feature for this very exhibition.

The use of space and the decision made on the curatorial direction are of high relevance to each other, the selection of exhibits as well as the presentation arrangements are very difficult tasks. Exhibition is actually a discourse, even a language – having the exhibition hall in the Central Library as the venue for such exhibition, linear narrative and comprehension seemed to be the only option for both the curator and the audience, while most of the time, venues are by nature be regarded as simply a platform or a tool for display (i.e. not as a tactical feature in telling a story for and of an exhibition).

When talking about the expectations for an exhibition venue, the positioning, the size of the space and the surrounding cultural vibes are the keys. Most of the time, people made extreme judgments that shows – there is only good or bad – yet, it is fair enough to say that shortcomings of an exhibition venue could turned into its strength: only if there are good strategies being adopted. When proper priorities are being made with a balanced administration, even small exhibition sites could work out the magic to launch highly experimental or theoretical exhibitions. The positioning, division of labour, marketing, cultural conservation and social responsibilities should also be taken into account – this is how a good narrative and positioning should be made for an exhibition. The exhibition paying tributes to Dr. Leung has its own distinct discourse in the presentation of both textual and visual elements, and the most challenging part is to get a focus for the show, while there are tensions between the curator and also the designer…… After all, art exhibition cannot be interpreted in a very superficial way like the consumption we do everyday, one has to learn savouring the exhibition’s aesthetics values, and to gain insights from observing the competitions among various professionals who made the exhibition happened.

4 Fotanian 2014

Young artists who engaged in Fotanian do not know how to introduce audiences about their works and the exhibitions. Having such said, for sure expectations are involved. Attending or participating Fotan Open Studio could make a big difference, and obviously, local art critics and art administrators like us all have different views about this occasion. We wonder how participating artists actually do self-reflexive studies (or not) of their works and about themselves, of which directly affects the image and development of the local art scene – of course one could comment that the scene has not yet even formed…? One would expect artists who are being presented would think critically on how they should develop, or simply to impress spectators and make visitors understand the embodiments in their art. Chow Chun-fai ceased the chance and made a good retrospective – hence we believe such artist would grow and glow. If Fotanian is not an event working against (or competing directly with) the art fair, at least it is a cultural event – as an option or an alternative being offered to make people learn about contemporary Hong Kong art, as to stir more discussions on the subject. (Remarks: we also think it is worthwhile to study about those artists who wish to be ‘promoted’ to auctions through presenting themselves in Fotanian).

The above are tricky questions to raise, just like the thinking of whether the visual art museum going to be launched in the near future would be regarded as a success or failure in the cultural circle.

Further to the discussion, it is also important to talk on the quality control of the exhibitions in Fotanian – is it a social event that run all because it is ‘supposed’ or ‘expected’ to be there? Or, it is simply a self-fulfilling event to be hosted by the organiser? There are in fact three questions that worth in-depth investigation: how to track artists’ developments, of whom participated in Fotanian? Why people in general in the art circle regarded this occasion as not maturely developed? And, how artists view and confront their own art works, their current being and about their confrontation of the self upon facing the public in Fotanian?