Hong Kong has developed a reputation of being filled with suits rushing about trying to make millions of dollars and their rich tai-tai’s spending money like its going out of style. And, to be honest, there are plenty of people like this in the city. But, the rumors that Hong Kong is devoid of good design, culture, or creativity is absolutely wrong. Hong Kong has its own unique aesthetic, you just need to search a little harder to uncover it.
The obvious place to begin is at the Hong Kong Art Museum. While not as large as Beijing’s museums, nor as edgy as some of Shanghai’s museums, this is a great place to begin exploring Hong Kong’s art scene. In addition to pottery samples in all shapes and sizes, dozens of scrolls of gorgeous calligraphy, there are many more subtle examples of Hong Kong identity. Many of the poems and brush paintings on display are ancient examples of protest through artwork. Hidden amongst the bamboo leaves and orchids were critiques of the excesses of court life and calls to return to traditional values. Additionally, when I visited I saw an exhibit of works created by the first Chinese artists allowed to travel to Paris to study Western painting; showcasing Hong Kong’s unique position between East and West. I was also able to view a retrospective for the Hong Kong sculptor Tong King-sum. The exhibit exalted the artist’s use of texture, his strength in overcoming his physical disabilities, and his role in promoting the arts in Hong Kong throughout his life.
They don’t really allow photos inside the museum… so you will just have to visit to see their collections yourself!
My next favorite spot is PMQ in Sheung Wan. PMQ stands for Police Married Quarters, because back during the British colonial period police officers who were married with families lived in this building. Years later, the building was abandoned, and the neighborhood became built up as one of the premier shopping districts on the island. The local government, unwilling to demolish this historical building, but not wanting this valuable real estate to go to waste held a contest. Whoever came up with the best plan for the idea that would allow the public to best appreciate both the legacy of the building and the contemporary state of the neighborhood.
A team of designers came up with a plan to foster young stars in the Hong Kong design industry. Given that real estate is outrageously expensive in Hong Kong, but having a shop or base for others to discover you is so important, especially to those just entering their fields, the team decided to provide subsidized studios/ shops for the designers in the PMQ building. The entire building was renovated to meet modern safety standards, and young professionals in the fashion, jewelry, cosmetics, interior design, product design, bakery, and other related design industries were invited to join a space for two years. Additionally, established brands and restaurants were invited into a limited number of semi-permanent spaces for a higher price, thereby subsidizing the small companies and ensuring sustainability for the project.
What I like most about the PMQ project is that it creatively solves many problems all at once while at the same time staying true to its design roots. Local and foreign artists are invited to put on free shows for the public, creating a rotating stream of attractions, while the more permanent designers have time to develop new products and industry connections. This is one of my favorite places to purchase unexpected gifts for friends and family back home. Not only am I supporting local artists, but I also get have a wonderful experience every time I return!
While you are in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the galleries and antique shops along Hollywood Road. There are dozens of small galleries with a constantly changing array of contemporary artists from all around the world. While some of the locals who prowl the area may be looking for a piece to hang in their apartment, I’ve never had any problems just going in and checking everything out. The people working at the galleries are generally very friendly and love talking about the works.
If you are looking for more traditional art head to Lascar Road (more commonly referred to as Cat Street. The little shops along this road specialize in Chinese and Tibetan antiques. However, be warned that most (if not all) of the items are fakes. If you want the real deal, be prepared to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars at one of the larger Hollywood Rd. shops. Still, the Cat Street market is a fun and colorful shop if you are looking for a “jade” pendant or Mao poster. My personal favorite is the little old man who sells hand painted calligraphy at the end of the street. Pick up a traditional quote or two from him!
Of course, art isn’t limited to museums or galleries. Wandering around in the Soho/Sheung Wan area is a fantastic street art crawl. Just a week or so ago there was a huge initiative by HKWalls to invite graffiti artists to spray or paint huge murals all around this neighborhood. I’ve also heard that they’ve gone to Stanley Beach and done a similar project, but I have yet to return there since winter break. But seriously, grab a map and try to find all of these amazing pieces (and some other surprising unauthorized graffiti too!).
I haven’t even begun to touch on some of the amazing gardens, architecture, historical archives, concerts, plays, or the random pop up events that I’ve occasionally stumbled across. Hong Kong has an amazing and lively art scene, it just takes a little digging to find. A blend of East and West, tradition and modern, commercial and avant garde, there is always something interesting and inspiring going on in this amazing city.