Art and Place

Art and Place: Essays on Art From a Hong Kong Perspective

David Clarke
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 308
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  • Book Info
    Art and Place
    Book Description:

    The book brings together a series of essays about art in Hong Kong written over the last ten years, with the intention of offering a personal chronicle of the Hong Kong art world during a time of great change. Many of the essays concern themselves with the work of local artists, but Western and Chinese artists whose works have been exhibited in Hong Kong during this period are also discussed. In addition to a consideration of particular artists and works of art, there are also essays which engage with debates that have been taking place in Hong Kong concerning curatorship and various arts policy issues. Fully illustrated and written in a straightforward style, Art and Place is one of the first serious attempts to evaluate the art of Hong Kong. It should be of use to anyone interested in the cultural life of one of Asia's leading cities.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-008-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xii)

    The essays in this collection were almost all written in Hong Kong, with a Hong Kong audience in mind. A great many are also about Hong Kong art, and even those which concern themselves with Western or Chinese art were written as responses to particular exhibitions which took place in the territory or as contributions to Hong Kong debates. By putting together texts produced over the period since my arrival in Hong Kong in 1986, I hope not only to make available to a larger audience writing which first appeared in a diverse range of often ephemeral forms, but also...

  5. Section I. Art and Its Contexts
    • 1 Site-Specificity in Recent Art
      (pp. 3-11)

      There are many ways in which a work of art can be said to have a special relationship to a particular place. Most obviously, a work of art can represent or otherwise comment upon a place, as John Constable’s landscapes do in the case of Suffolk. The images he created evoke such a vivid sense of place that it takes quite an effort of will to begin questioning (as art historian John Barrell does¹) the narrowly ideological account of the rural scene which they give. His ‘Suffolk’ may be fictional, but the power of the fiction is such that over...

    • 2 Monologues Without Words: Museum Displays as Art Historical Narratives
      (pp. 12-18)

      Museums tend to present themselves as neutral containers for art. Paintings, particularly modern ones, are characteristically displayed against bare white walls. An even, regular spacing prevails, an isolation of objects from one another. In fact, however, the neutrality of the museum is always fictional. A gallery exhibit or display is always more than the sum of its parts — it is an argument about the works present (and absent). And it is an argument all the more powerful for being presented obliquely, disguised as an array of objects rather than revealed as a series of propositions.

      The museum so often...

    • 3 Museums, Artists, Audiences
      (pp. 19-23)

      Despite the interest I felt in many of the artworks on display in the Hong Kong Museum of Art’s City Vibrance show (fig. 3.1; fig. 3.2; fig. 12.5), this particular spectator was nevertheless left feeling that the exhibition as a whole lacked unity, that it was no more than the sum of its parts. There was no theme or argument being put forward by the exhibition, no real sense that it was trying to say anything about the very disparate works it brought together. At the curatorial level it seemed lacking in a rationale, to be unwilling to engage intellectually...

    • 4 Private Art in a Public Place
      (pp. 24-27)

      In Search of Art came into being as a way to test out a variety of different assumptions about art, to answer certain questions. One important assumption, for example, was that even people who do not often go to art galleries or think of themselves as art collectors usually have images or objects of some kind displayed at home. Although those things may be very important to their owners they may not think of them as ‘art’ at all, perhaps regarding them as souvenirs, heirlooms, decorative items, family snapshots, etc. If such an assumption can be shown to be correct,...

    • 5 ‘In Search of Art’: Looking Back With the Future in Mind
      (pp. 28-32)

      An exhibition is always more than a collection of objects, it is also a claim about those objects. It has something to say about the works it shows (and excludes) and indeed about art in general. It has an argument, that is to say, albeit that the common practice of hanging artworks against bare white walls tends to make it difficult for us to discern what the argument is, or even to be conscious of its existence. The right to construct such arguments is generally only possessed by a handful of curators, and so most people can only enter gallery...

    • 6 Engaging Tradition
      (pp. 33-36)

      Engaging Tradition arose from a number of different questions and observations. One such question concerns the relation of artists nowadays to their artistic heritage. Many modernist artists consciously rejected a concern with the art of the past, sought to create a break with it in their own work. For such artists tradition was perceived as a burden. Vlaminck, for instance, wrote: ‘I never go to museums. I avoid their odour, their monotony and severity.’

      More recently, however, ‘post-modern’ artists have been more interested in turning to past styles as a source for their art, and through strategies of parody —...

    • 7 Photography, Art, Life
      (pp. 37-44)

      In the early days of photography there was much debate as to whether it could be considered an art form. Just as early cinema drew many of its conventions from drama so early photography often attempted to mimic the characteristics of painting. Whether in the choice of pose in a portrait, the selection of objects in a still-life, or the framing of a view in a landscape, echoes of that considerably older art form could be found in images produced by the camera.

      Although people do still ponder today whether photography is art, the question has a somewhat dated sound...

  6. Section II. Arts Policy Issues
    • 8 The Culture of Democracy: Looking at Art in Hong Kong
      (pp. 47-51)

      The opening of the new Hong Kong Museum of Art at the Cultural Centre has provoked much discussion in the Hong Kong art world, with many artists expressing dissatisfaction over what they feel to be the museum’s attitude towards local art. While I have a lot of sympathy with many of the remarks that artists have made to me concerning the museum, I feel that there are broader problems concerning support for the visual arts in Hong Kong which can hardly be laid at its door.

      A most obvious problem is that there is a Council for the Performing Arts,...

    • 9 The Arts Policy Review Report: Some Responses
      (pp. 52-54)

      The Arts Policy Review Report, a long-awaited consultation paper issued by the Hong Kong Government’s Recreation and Culture Branch, is in many respects a disappointing document, without an overall vision of the value of the arts to society. It contains certain recommendations for change which I consider positive, but even in these areas detail is often missing. A fundamental problem is that it lacks a truly critical analysis of the effects of previous government policy for the arts, and so is unable to identify tasks which remain to be undertaken.

      A key area which future policy should address is the...

    • 10 Submission to the Legislative Council’s Panel on Recreation and Culture Concerning the Proposed Arts Development Council — 29 September 1993
      (pp. 55-57)

      In broad terms the proposals contained in the Recreation and Culture Branch’s Information Paper on the establishment of an Arts Development Council are positive. The model of the council proposed in the Arts Policy Review Report has been altered, so that it is conceived of now as a statutory, executive body. A provisional phase is also suggested. These changes are all ones that the arts community has argued for, and it is pleasing to see that they have been adopted.

      In the Arts Policy Review Report the idea of establishing a council was only one among a series of recommendations...

    • 11 Research and the Nurturing of Public Understanding of Art
      (pp. 58-62)

      It is difficult to offer clear-cut suggestions as to the steps which need to be taken in the development of Hong Kong visual arts. A major reason for this is that the information on which to take decisions isn’t really at hand. We don’t, for instance, even really know how many visual artists there are in Hong Kong, what kind of art-making spaces they have access to, or what percentage of their income is from art-related sources. The first area in which research is needed, then, is research into the nature of the Hong Kong visual arts community, and its...

  7. Section III. Hong Kong Art
    • 12 Between East and West: Negotiations With Tradition and Modernity in Hong Kong Art
      (pp. 65-84)

      The most distinct grouping of painters and sculptors to appear so far in Hong Kong art came to prominence from the late 1960s onwards. This group, which is made up of artists who were either born in China or had strong links to that country’s high cultural heritage, tended to position their work as a continuation of the Chinese ink-painting tradition. While there are artists of the same generation who might be taken as ‘traditionalists’ (a complicated notion itself, of course), my particular interest in this essay is with those who have attempted in some way to be ‘modern’ artists,...

    • 13 The Sculpture of Antonio Mak
      (pp. 85-104)

      Arguably the most common schematic story concerning Western modernist art sees it as moving over time towards greater purity and autonomy. This involves an increasing abstraction as visual or formal qualities come to the fore. Art escapes from servitude to the written word, no longer being tied to illustrating pre-existing historical, mythological or religious texts. No narrative, no words, lie behind images any more, according to this grand story of the liberation of the visual.

      The sheer volume of theory that has been generated about modern art (by artists as well as by others) should perhaps lead us to consider...

    • 14 The Art of Yank Wong
      (pp. 105-108)

      The paintings of Yank Wong, recent examples of which were on show at Gallery 7 in Hong Kong during March 1995, can be characterized as having a layered feel. To build up several layers of paint is of course a commonplace way of working in acrylic, but my point is not so much one about technique as one about how the final image looks to the eye. The paint layers remain relatively distinct, thus creating a sense of depth through overlap, although the cues of depth are never allowed to add up to a coherent reading that would undermine a...

    • 15 The Art of Chan Chi-ling
      (pp. 109-113)

      Like those of most other artists, the works of Chan Chi-ling display a great deal of variety. There is, however, one sense in which her images show a remarkable consistency from her student days to the present, and that is in the manner in which they are begun. Almost all her images arise from an encounter with a particular place, and usually too a place in which there is some architectural structure to be found. Her initial visual response to that place, whether it be familiar or not, will commonly take the form of a series of photographs and on-site...

    • 16 A Sense of Place: Chan Chi-ling and Wong Wo-bik in Conversation With David Clarke
      (pp. 114-119)
      David Clarke, Wong Wo-bik and Chan Chi-ling

      DC: The works in your exhibition are unusual in that they are designed to be shown in a particular place, and at the same time they are about that place. Furthermore, some of them were (at least in part) even made in that place. Perhaps, then, we should start by talking about the site itself, the room in which the exhibition is being held. How did you become attracted to this location?

      WWB: It began when I came to see the David Hockney show. I couldn’t help noticing the sink. It is so big, and it sits there right in...

    • 17 Innocence and Experience: The Art of Mei Lo
      (pp. 120-125)

      In a recent exhibition held by the Department of Fine Arts of the University of Hong Kong the paintings and drawings of Mei Lo were seen in public for the first time. Although Mei Lo has been producing art in a concerted manner for the last six or so years, she has worked in comparative isolation from the mainstream art world and has only been prepared to show her images to friends and to a few other interested persons who became aware of her work by word of mouth. While I would question the validity of the concept of naive...

    • 18 The Insufficiency of Tradition: Paintings by Fang Zhaoling and Chu Hing-wah
      (pp. 126-131)

      Hong Kong art displays a great diversity of style and technique, with everything from Chinese calligraphy to video art being practised. Even those artists who prefer to adopt techniques and idioms which signify a relation to Chinese artistic tradition, however, are operating within a field where some reference to modernity becomes necessary for an artist of ambition. In most cases, given that the discourse of modernity is Western in origin and emphasis, this has to be achieved by invoking the language of recent Western art, even though this means an involvement with very different visual codes.

      In the case of...

    • 19 Photography and Social Reproduction
      (pp. 132-137)

      Photography, like a virus, has invaded all areas of our visual world in a way unparalleled by any other medium of image. Not only does it pervade our public spaces, it finds its way into the most private parts of our life as well. Advertising images consciously attempt to frame our desires and future action, while our own old photos function as replacements for, rather than aids to, our memories of the past. The mass-reproducibility of the photo helps it in the first case, while the ease with which it can be taken is the crucial factor in the second....

    • 20 Revisions
      (pp. 138-143)

      For this issue of Dislocation I have invited a number of photographic artists to submit a pair of images. The first of the two photos had to be taken at some time in the past (at the very latest, before the invitation to participate in this project was received). The second photo had to be taken at some time following the invitation (with this particular project in mind), and had to engage in some way with the first image, or with its subject. The second photo needed to be by the invited photographer, although the first didn’t necessarily have to...

    • 21 Zuni Icosahedron in Context
      (pp. 144-148)

      Hong Kong’s economic expansion over the last 20 years has been remarkable, with real gross domestic product now standing at approximately five times its 1966 level. Statistics documenting the economy’s growth may be hard to grasp in the abstract, but they find their physical counterpart in the large and continually expanding number of tower blocks (many of them, appropriately, banks) which line the mostly reclaimed land alongside the busiest harbour in the world. Each building seems larger than the previous one, as if forming part of a three-dimensional bar-chart representing rising Hong Kong land values. Norman Foster’s Hongkong and Shanghai...

  8. Section IV. Western Art in a Hong Kong Frame
    • 22 Grimm’s Fairy Tales: A Series of Etchings by David Hockney
      (pp. 151-156)

      On show at the Hong Kong Arts Centre from March 9th till March 28th are a series of illustrations to the Grimm fairy tales by English artist David Hockney. The etchings were published in 1970, having been produced between May and November 1969. If one includes the time spent collecting reference material prior to beginning work then the project can be said to have begun in 1968, although the idea was around even longer than that. In 1961 and 1962 Hockney had made some prints based on Rumpelstiltskin, one of the most famous of the stories in the Grimm anthology....

    • 23 The Blue Guitar
      (pp. 157-168)

      In 1977 the English artist David Hockney published a series of 20 etchings inspired by the American poet Wallace Stevens. The images he produced were a response to Stevens’s poem The Man With the Blue Guitar, which in its own turn had been inspired by a 1903 painting by Pablo Picasso (which the poet had seen when it travelled to America in the 1930s). Hockney’s etchings are both images about (Stevens’s) words, and images about (Picasso’s) images, and it is the latter relationship which will receive the greatest attention in the following pages. This consideration of Hockney’s involvement with Picasso...

    • 24 Drawing From the Unconscious: The Surrealist Art of Max Ernst
      (pp. 169-173)

      Max Ernst, unlike other Surrealist artists such as Magritte, Dali or Miro, had a close association with Dada. His work, therefore, enables us to examine some of the legacy which Surrealism obtained from that earlier movement. His position in the Surrealist group is also distinctive in that he is an artist who worked in both the illusionistic style which we associate with Magritte and Dali, as well as the more modernistic manner of Surrealists such as Miro and Matta. The former style can be seen in paintings such as Celebes of 1921 (fig. 24.1) or Oedipus Rex of 1922, while...

    • 25 German Graphics of the 1970s
      (pp. 174-177)

      During the 1960s and 1970s, many European and American artists became dissatisfied with what they perceived to be the limitations of traditional materials. Using paint or a graphic medium on canvas or paper seemed an unnecessarily restrictive arena for creativity, and artists began producing artworks that were essentially conceptual—the art was in the idea, not in the manual execution. ‘Happenings’ or artworks which took the form of performances were common, and this tendency is represented in the present exhibition by Walther. Rinke also abandoned painting, using (like Walther) the human body as a material for his art.

      One can...

    • 26 Aspects of Contemporary Australian Art
      (pp. 178-182)

      The diverse styles and intentions of the artists represented in this exhibition could lead one to describe it as kaleidoscopic were it not that so many of them have produced work with a severely limited colour range. Mike Parr, for instance, despite working in several different media (often within the same work) is represented here by images in which black and white are either dominant over the other hues or actually exclude them altogether. Marks are laid down with a gestural energy, carrying an expressive as well as a representational load. In this respect Parr’s works can be compared in...

    • 27 Hot and Cool: The Art of Robert Rauschenberg
      (pp. 183-186)

      Robert Rauschenberg came to public attention in the period when Abstract Expressionism — the first heroic movement of American modernism — was beginning to show signs of losing momentum. Particularly in the hands of the second or even third wave of Abstract Expressionists, what had started as a desire for the expression of transcendental experience in terms of paint had become routinized into a comfortable style like any other. Spontaneous gestures had become codified into a repeatable painterly syntax. Both successful and exhausted simultaneously, Abstract Expressionism became a natural target for those who wished to question its claims to directness...

    • 28 Rodin and the Fragmented Figure
      (pp. 187-197)

      Despite the enormous heights Rodin’s reputation reached in his own day, it was to enter something of an eclipse for a large part of this century. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, did not own a Rodin sculpture till 1955. In trying to evaluate what Rodin might mean for us now, in the 1990s, it is perhaps useful to consider Rodin’s relationship to 20th-century sculpture — to consider where his influence has been lively on the sculpture produced between his time and ours, but also to acknowledge how much 20th-century art’s concerns have moved into different...

    • 29 The Aesthetic of the Sketch
      (pp. 198-201)

      Nineteenth-century French academic art placed a great emphasis on ‘finish’, on the absence of sketchiness and indeed any overt evidence of the artist’s hand. Special brushes were even employed to smooth the paint surface, eliminating any traces of the labour of making. Touch, in the words of Ingres, was an abuse of execution. The texture of brushwork was not allowed to disrupt the illusion offered by the painting. Modernist art reacted strongly against this academic aesthetic, and emphasized informality, directness, spontaneity and lack of finish. The aesthetic values of the sketch became the dominant ones within modernism.

      It is perhaps...

    • 30 National Shows at the 1995 Venice Biennale
      (pp. 202-206)

      The Venice Biennale and the Documenta in Kassel, Germany, are the two major European shows of contemporary art. While the Documenta is basically the choice of one curator (and thus has the possibility of being a more unified show), the Biennale has representations from a number of different countries (and thus has the possibility of greater diversity). The potential advantages of diversity enjoyed by the Biennale are however tempered by its nationalistic structure, which has of course been repeatedly criticized: each country has its own separate pavilion in the permanent site of the Biennale (the Giardini di Castello) and thus...

    • 31 Art and the History of the Body: A Review of ‘Identity and Alterity’, the Keynote Show of the 1995 Venice Biennale
      (pp. 207-212)

      The Venice Biennale takes place in a permanent garden site on which a series of national pavilions have been constructed. In this centenary Biennale there are also various other national shows (such as those put on by Taiwan and Croatia) which are taking place at a variety of sites across the city. In addition to these shows there are also a few thematic exhibitions not organized along national lines, and the most ambitious of these is Identity and Alterity which, because of its size, is divided between three locations: the Palazzo Grassi, the Museo Correr and the Italian Pavilion at...

  9. Section V. Chinese Art:: The View From Hong Kong
    • 32 Li Tiefu and Western Art
      (pp. 215-224)

      It is well known that in the early 20th century a number of Chinese artists looked to the West in their search for means with which to revitalize Chinese painting. Xu Beihong, for instance, travelled in 1919 to Paris, where he was to obtain a training in the French academic manner,¹ and in 1926 Liu Haisu was to gain notoriety in Shanghai because of his introduction of Western methods of art education, including the use of nude models.² These two examples are key parts of the story of early contact with Western art, but I feel that story is often...

    • 33 Exile From Tradition: Chinese and Western Traits in the Art of Lin Fengmian
      (pp. 225-235)

      In the history of early 20th-century Chinese painting’s encounter with Western art three names stand out: Xu Beihong, Liu Haisu and Lin Fengmian. Each played an important role in the development of Chinese art education, and each tried in their own manner to utilize what they had learnt from Western visual sources in the task of modernizing Chinese painting. For Xu Beihong it was the academic tradition of French art which proved most useful, perhaps because this painting (tired though it may have been in the Western context) offered something antithetical to the Chinese literati inheritance, and hence a novel...

    • 34 Reframing Mao: Aspects of Recent Chinese Art, Popular Culture and Politics
      (pp. 236-249)

      The series of portraits of Mao which have been placed on Tiananmen in the period since 1949 are examples of Chinese works in which the influence of European portraiture is seen (fig. 34.1). The medium used for these works itself derives from European art, of course, as does the technique of modelling used to create a sense of three-dimensional form in the head. This technique is also visible in the shadows of the lapels, and the shadow cast by the head onto the shoulder. The close-up head-and-shoulders treatment, as well as the rhetoric of realism which the depiction of a...

    • 35 Foreign Bodies: Chinese Art at the 1995 Venice Biennale
      (pp. 250-258)

      Although the People’s Republic of China does not have a national pavilion at the permanent garden site of the Venice Biennale, Chinese artists were represented in the centenary exhibition in other ways. The Taipei Fine Arts Museum organized a show of artists from Taiwan at the Palazzo delle Prigioni, and mainland artists were included by invitation in the main thematic show of the Biennale, Identity and Alterity. Visitors to the Biennale were therefore given some kind of an introduction to contemporary Chinese art, and were able to see examples of it which would never, in any case, have found their...

  10. Plates
    (pp. 259-284)
  11. Chinese Names
    (pp. 285-286)
  12. Index
    (pp. 287-296)