The long-awaited Art Central 2017 in Hong Kong finally kicks off today! This renowned five-day programme is paying its third visits to Hong Kong. Situated in the Victoria Harbourfront, Art Central took the place of AIA Great European Carnival, which takes you just about ten minutes walks from Central Station. Super convenient!

Over 100 galleries across the globe are showcasing their most representative artwork and extraordinary collections in this vibrant art fair. Even though the fair is sized 10,000 sqm (~1.4 football field), it could already be very difficult to finish all booths in a day. So, let’s be practical, and give up the idea of checking out all the booths. Plan your route strategically before you striding into the fair hall, cuz sweeping through all galleries will surely wear you out.

Big thank to our video team for the great effort in making ‘a quick look at Art Central 2017’ for us!!

I have walked around the Art Central today and found some fascinating pieces. These may be also inspiring to you and give you ideas on how to plan your route. They are Korean Art, Chinese Contemporary Art, Hong Kong Art, European Art and Performance Art.

Korean Art

Keep walking straight for about four booths after the ticket checking, you will be stunned to find three red paintings displayed in Choi & Lager Gallerie (Booth B6). The tone of crimson red just stands out from the fair. It isn’t merely a usual Shan Shui. The symbols of death and danger suffuse in the colors and elements the artist portrayed, giving it more than a landscape painting. Sea Hyun Lee is a Korean artists famous with series of political red paintings. You may see some other Lee’s works in the fair, yet these three ‘Between Red’ belong to his new series of the year 2016. Segmentation of  landmass is always an important sign in Lee’s painting, signifying the torn apart landmass of Korea. The bloodshed broke the totality of land, severing the ties between the North and the South.

Lee, Sea-Hyun | Between Red 2016

Curator Jari Lager shared with me that Lee created the Between Red series in London based on his memory in Korea. He recalled his days during the military service in which he looked beyond the border divide, drawing the inspiration of Between Red from the political situation.

You will see a gradual change between the series. Lee’s is adding up various elements into his Between Red: rivers, boats, and thunderstorm are added in between the red landmasses. You will have a clear picture of the painter’s perception of his homeland. In this new collection, Lee added enlarged skulls flowing in the blood river, moving his artwork into a dreamy surrealistic direction. Those skulls reminded everyone of the shipwreck horror in 2014.

Chinese Contemporary Art

Zhou Lian-hua | Crimson and Love (仁民而愛物) 2016

There is much mesmerising Chinese artwork that is worth taking a look at. To talk about the Chinese contemporary, you surely don’t wanna miss out those paintings in Gallery of Contemporary Arts (Booth F15). Curated by Oi Ling Chiang, she puts her effort to exhibit the works of her favorite Chinese artist – Ms. Zhou Lian Hua. I would say I stepped into a world of fantasy when I stopped by the booth. Zhou has created a dramatic world with her powerful brushes. Alert! Her paintings have nothing to do with ink although they’re about Shan Shui. Her works are mostly acrylic on canvas but with Shan Shui as the style. She expanded the potential of media, exploring the realm of Shan Shui painting with acrylic paints and techniques.

Zhou Lian-hua | The Vital Energy (浩然之氣) 2016

I really appreciate her brave attempt in making an acrylic-shan shui fusion. It is always hard to imitate the Shan Shui diffusion with acrylic, she has to pay an extra effort to deal with the white color arrangement in a bid to achieve the blank-leaving effect. But she certainly pulled it off. She also extends the landscape painting into cityscape painting, what I usually regard as City Shan Shui.

Curator Oi Ling told me, her pieces are very educational. They are very rich in values of Chinese philosophy. All paintings are named with Mencius quotes, with which the stories and meanings behind the paintings echo. Oi Ling said it is important to bring forth and promote this collection to the public as she sees the Chinese values are overlooked by younger generations.

Zhou Lian-hua | The River of Life (得志,澤加於民) 2017

Zhou painted this ‘The River of Life’ with an attribution to the severe water pollution in Shang Hai (and she said you can relate it to any of the cities). Her strong and powerful strokes in the middle are portraying the high-rise skyscrapers. Her smart choice of only black and white here reveals so many symbolisms. And I really admire her master techniques in using acrylic. The only black and white choice needs extra care and great techniques, because you can easily make a big dirty mess on canvas . But Zhou has done a perfect job with only these two colors, vitalizing the imagery and stories behind.

Hong Kong Art

It is quite disappointing to see sooo few Hong Kong artworks here. But anyway, let’s get to the Hong Kong’s artwork. Jacky Tsai made a piece ‘The Queen of Hong Kong’ in Contemporary by Angela Li (Booth A1). A silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II is collaged with signboards and attractions in Hong Kong. And those collaged elements are all in neon light, bringing out of the lively and boisterous picture of Hong Kong nightlife. This piece somehow recalls waves of nostalgia of old Hong Kong to audience.

Jacky Tsai | The Queen of Hong Kong 2016

Jacky Tsai is a talented artist with humor. He demonstrates his talent in Chinese traditional pornography with the American comics. Such a mix of the East and the West in his painting ‘Hangover’ is the best way to display Hong Kong as cultural melting pot.

His work reminds me of the situation in Hong Kong being very international and modern. Yet the indigenous cultures and values are gradually eroded away in younger generation. Cultural fusion or cultural imperialism? It is always a question for place as a cultural smelter.

In the painting , traditional elements are replaced by those from the modern world. Traditional characters are replaced by those from the modern culture. The sarcasm is juxtaposed by the contrast of modern and ancient elements. The only unchanged fact is that patriarchy perpetuates regardless of time.

Jacky Tsai | Hangover 2016

Even the painting is drawn in American comic style with bold strokes and high-saturation colors, those traditional elements are still in shape and recognizable. To take a closer look at people’s faces, you will be surprised by how differently the visages of Chinese and American characters are handled by Tsai.

European Art

Wanda Bernardino | In the Sense of Loneliness 2015

Surely you will see many European galleries in Art Centrals , but there is one that you have to visit! You will encounter those retro portraits you have seen in museum but with faces wiped out. Yes! They are paintings by Wanda Bernardino featured in Bo.Lee Gallery.

Bernardino is interested in referencing the master portrait painting in the past but covering their faces up with white paint. What people will usually do when appreciating portrait is sitter’s face. But it becomes a game of guessing when you look at Bernardino work. The identity of the sitter is taken away, all you can rely on in the portrait are their hands, gesture, clothing and accessories. It’s a very good lesson to learn about portrait through observing the small details you might missed out in the past. It will fun to guess the sitter’s identity base on subtleties!

Jemma Hickman, Director of Bo.Lee Gallery, says you will look twice at her painting. People usually look at the sitter’s face straight away. But without the facial reference, it draws audience’s attention into other details like gesture and hands. You may also question about why Bernardino will wipe out their faces.

Bo.Lee gallery is presenting a theme called ‘An Echo from Another Time’, you will see four artists’ creations with a reference to the past but in a contemporary language.

Performance Art

Besides the charming blooms of fine arts, performance art is also introduced into Art Central, presented in partnership with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney. Five artists will be performing strategically around different spots in the fair. That one caught my eyes is located near the centre of fair hall, proudly presented by Anida Yoeu Ali. The name of the performance is self-explanatory, The Red Chandor: Ban Me! Her performance is explicitly centred on politics and equality. 99 protested signs written with global political messages in English are placed on the site, and everyone is welcome to take a pic with the red chandor. Those messages are printed with the well-known global political events and also the Hong Kong Chief Executive Election and Umbrella movement, making this performance very inclusive and also down-to-earth in this international art fair.

Anida Yoeu Ali | Red Chandor: Ban Me! 2017

Ali is an American artist born in Cambodia. Being a Muslim, her identity as an ethnic minority in the States drove her to make this political performance. It is performed in a way to reflect how the public is making use of the freedom of speech, voicing out their opinion, and challenging the norm.

Art Central 2017
Date: 21 – 25 March
Venue: Central Harbourfront
Art Central 2017 Ticketing