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 be very difficult to finish all booths in a day. So, let’s be practical. Plan your route strategically before 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’!!

I have walked around fair hall and discovered some fascinating pieces, which may be inspiring and perhaps could throw you some ideas on your route planning. I have categorised them into 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, rendering it more than a landscape painting. Sea Hyun Lee is a Korean artists famous with series of political red paintings. You may find 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 this series in London based on his memory of Korea. He recalled his days during the military service in which he had looked beyond the border divide, thus coming up with the inspiration of ‘Between Red’ from the political situation.

Comparing his past works, you will notice a gradual change between the series. Lee’s is adding up various elements into his ‘Between Red’: rivers, boats, and thunderstorm are painted in between the red landmasses. Delving into his imaginary series of Korea, you would gradually grasp a the picture of how Lee perceives his homeland. In this new collection, Lee threw some colossal skulls into his 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 in Art Central. Talking 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 makes effort to exhibit the works of her favourite Chinese artist – Ms. Zhou Lian Hua. I would say I stepped into a world of fantasy when stopping by the booth. Zhou has delineated a dramatic world with her powerful brushes. Alert! Her paintings have nothing to do with ink although they are constructed under the theme of Shan Shui. Her works are mostly acrylic on canvas but picking Shan Shui as the style. In this series, she breakthroughs the boundary 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 indeed appreciate her brave attempt in blending an acrylic-shan-shui fusion. It is always hard to imitate the effect Shan Shui diffusion with acrylic, she has to deal with the white colour arrangement meticulously 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 is usually recognised as City Shan Shui.

Curator Oi Ling told me, her pieces are very pedagogical. They are 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 learns that the Chinese values are overlooked by younger generations.

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

Zhou created this ‘The River of Life’ with an attribution to the severe water pollution in Shang Hai (you can relate it to any of the cities). Her strong and powerful strokes in the middle of the canvas are portraying the high-rise skyscrapers. Her smart choice of only black and white reveals a wealth of symbolisms. And I really admire her mastery of acrylic. The only black and white combination demands an extra care and provicient techniques, as you could easily mess up with a sticky grey tone out of the black and white duo. But Zhou has stroke a perfect balance with the colours, 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 check out a booth with Hong Kong-themed works. Jacky Tsai made a piece of ‘The Queen of Hong Kong’ in Contemporary by Angela Li (Booth A1). A silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II is collaged with colour papered in shape of Hong Kong signboards and attractions. Those collaged elements are all in colours of neon light – the night light of Hong Kong, bringing out of the lively and boisterous picture of Hong Kong nightlife. And the patterns and configuration of this piece somehow recalls waves of nostalgia of old Hong Kong or so-called colonial fantasy to local audiences.

Jacky Tsai | The Queen of Hong Kong 2016

Jacky Tsai is a talented artist with humor. Beside ‘The Queen of Hong Kong’ He also 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.

This work reminds me of the spectacle in Hong Kong being very international and modern. Yet the indigenous cultures and values are gradually eroded away in modernised and westernised lifestyle, nearly expunged from the  younger minds. Cultural fusion or cultural imperialism? It is always a question for cultural smelters.

In the painting, traditional elements are replaced by modernity. Traditional characters are displaced by characters from popular culture. The sarcasm is juxtaposed by the contrast of modern and ancient elements. The only immortal fact is the perpetual patriarchy.

Jacky Tsai | Hangover 2016

Even it is drawn in American comic style with bold strokes and high-saturation colours, those traditional elements are still kept in shape and recognisable. To take a closer look at people’s visages, you will be surprised by how differently the features 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 this is one you have to visit! You will encounter those classical portraits you may 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 paintings  but covering their faces up with white paint. What, in a portrait, people will usually appreciate is the sitter’s face. But after the mischief of Bernardino, it becomes a game of guessing. Guessing who that sitter was, guess how their features are and their ages, background so and so. With the face wiped out, the identity of the sitter is taken away, all you can rely on in the portrait are their hands, gesture, clothing and accessories. Actually it’s a very good practices to learn about portrait through observing the subtleties you might missed out. It will be aslo fun to guess the sitter’s identity base on nuances!

Jemma Hickman, Director of Bo.Lee Gallery, says you will look twice at her painting. For portrait, 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.

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

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 in preview is located near the centre of the 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. The Hong Kong Chief Executive Election and Umbrella movement… This performance shows a very inclusive and also down-to-earth side of 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 create this political performance. It is staged in a way to reflect on how the public make use of the freedom of speech, voicing out their opinion, and challenging the norms.

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