Situated between the fishing port of Aberdeen and the Southern District’s beaches, Wong Chuk Hang’s distressed warehouses and drab office buildings bisected by a flyover belie the neighbourhood’s creative spirit.
This is Hong Kong at its most urban and edgy; venture beyond the grimy loading bays and car-mechanic workshops and you’ll discover a flourishing art scene spanning big-name galleries, maker studios and street art.
For Dominique Perregaux, longtime Hongkonger, owner of Art Statements and founder of the South Island Cultural District (SICD), Wong Chuk Hang’s appeal lies in its location, ample-sized spaces and relatively affordable rents: “it’s an industrial, alternative neighbourhood close to affluent districts that’s only 10 minutes from Admiralty by MTR,” he says.
Dominique, who represents 20th-century big guns from Cezanne and Renoir to Basquiat and Fang Lijun, relocated from Central in 2012, when there were but a handful of galleries in Wong Chuk Hang, Ap Lei Chau and Tin Wan combined. Today SICD has 23 members and Dominique is bullish about the future of the area: “there is no doubt that it will become Hong Kong’s main art district by 2019,” he says.
Location and space were also major factors in driving Parisian-born de Sarthe Gallery from Central, “it’s a huge plus” says Director Willem Molesworth. A major benefit of being in the area is that “when people come out to look at art in the neighbourhood, they’re really out there and stay for quite a while. They enjoy the art in a much more intense and thorough way versus just coming on their coffee break in Central,” he adds. Unlike most of the galleries in the neighbourhood, de Sarthe is in a new building on Wong Chuk Hang Road. Venture inside the sleek lobby with its smartly dressed security staff and the space is more resonant of a slick CBD building. The gallery itself is a spacious, high-ceilinged backdrop for de Sarthe’s diverse spectrum of contemporary exhibitions, which range from abstract painting to interactive installations that use the entire room.
Both Art Statements and de Sarthe and indeed most of the galleries in Wong Chuk Hang operate in the private sector; while their exhibitions are open to all, the priority is business, and in Hong Kong art is big business. What about public venues? Hong Kong still lacks a public-funded art gallery, but one space that championed the idea of art for the wider community Spring Workshop, sadly closed in late-2017 at the end of its five-year cycle.
Flying the flag for performance and interactive art, Charbon combines public exhibitions with a roster of thought-provoking artist talks, film screenings, dance and drama performances, and they have a library of art books in Chinese, English and French plus workstations for students, or simply the curious, to use while browsing. Also not to be missed is heavy hitter Rossi & Rossi and Blindspot, which specialises in photography.
Part of SICD’s mission is to engage with the public, which it aims to do through the bi-annual South Island Art Days, held in March and September. All the galleries open their doors, and artist talks, guided tours and kids’ activities are offered free throughout the day, creating a lively buzz. SCID also runs an outreach program connecting with schools and universities, and some of its members offer educational programs.
Art in Wong Chuk Hang isn’t limited to the professionals; the area is also a hotbed of street art. Visitors won’t miss the vivid murals adorning warehouse walls, shutters and doors – from the snaking purple dragon reflected in the mirrored glass of One Island South, to the ethereal woman gracing the corner of Yip Fat Street, or the motto-like Wong Chuk Hang sign outside the teeny sitting-out area on Heung Yip Road.
Non-profit collective HK Walls held their fourth annual neighbourhood takeover in Wong Chuk Hang in March 2017 for which 30 Hong Kong and global artists were let loose on the outdoor canvases, resulting in eye-catching scenes that surprise and enthrall. Taking their cues from the neighbourhood’s industrial roots, these expressions epitomise the creative spirit that infiltrates Wong Chuk Hang.
Dominique and Willem both believe Wong Chuk Hang art district has yet to live up to its potential, “I think the area is going to continue to grow and evolve,” says Willem. “More and more galleries and art spaces continue to open up. I don’t think that will stop for quite some time.” And like Chelsea in New York and London’s Shoreditch, where art starts, so others follow – Wong Chuk Hang has a burgeoning creative scene that encapsulates street art, fashion, architecture, interior design and gastronomy.
Zip to Wong Chuk Hang on this coming Saturday 22 Sep for the South Island Art Day, organised by SICD and Hong Kong Art Gallery Association. Thirteen of the area's galleries are throwing open their doors with exhibitions, artist talks and live performances, plus there's a Kid's Corner, refreshments and special art tours by Accidental Art. For more info about the bumper-packed program, see hk-aga.org
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