Now that Art Basel in Hong Kong has ended its second edition, the next question is this: what happens next? Of course, this is not about what gallerist Rhona Hoffman noted during the fair’s public days, that: “the art fair continues for weeks afterwards.” Rather, this is about what happens to Hong Kong’s art scene now that Art Basel has cemented its place here.
But aside from the art, something else is taking shape in Hong Kong. On the ride up the mid-levels escalator (to view a video work presented through a window of the Sally Coco sex shop on Cochrane Road as part of Hong non-profit Para/Site’s current group show, Ten Million Rooms of Yearning: Sex in Hong Kong), there were advertisements for a new art and design community recently launched at the old Police Married Headquarters on Aberdeen Street. The development was the winning project submitted for the government’s Conserve and Revitalize Hong Kong Heritage project, which offered the space, built in 1951, to the creative industries in 2010. The winning proposal came from a non-profit making social enterprise set up by the Musketeers Education and Culture Charitable Foundation Ltd. in collaboration with the Hong Kong Design Centre, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Hong Kong Design Institute of the Vocational Training Council.
Having only just opened and with more and more units being filled, the PMQ project is pretty genius. The ground floors are given over to those who can pay Hong Kong’s notorious rents: Vivienne Tam is here, as is Swarovski and G.O.D (Goods of Desire)—Hong Kong’s local design chain flying the flag for local design. Then, the upper floors are given over to local designers who are able to rent studio/shop space at a discount (with a few pop up stores along the way, including Joyce Cares, which launched with an art installation by Josh Maupin). The result is a showcase of local design, and an indication of how not only art by design is gaining greater visibility and presence in the city. PMQ also presents a marriage between art and commerce that somehow manages to benefit artists and designers more directly, in that studio space is one of the hardest things to come by (and afford) in this city.
But Cheng—who also took part in the exhibition staged in both Hong Kong and at The Saatchi Gallery in London, “Hong Kong Eye” (she presented a to-scale wooden tank that viewers could climb into a shoot things with)—doesn’t see a difference between her art practice and her fashion label. In fact, she produces her own fabric designs at her father’s fabric mill, which recalls something another designer mentioned during my visit: that Hong Kong design should be supported, given that the resources are all here in terms of manufacturing. And while Cheng does not view the relationship between art and commerce too kindly, particularly when it comes to art fairs, it makes sense to see her in a studio space that is at once government-subsidized, run as a non-profit, but still retains a commercial character. So far, so Hong Kong.
And so, after Art Basel in Hong Kong packs up for another year, Hong Kong is left with such endeavours as PMQ, which stays true to the idea of art for all. It makes good (and relatively affordable) design available to the public, while maintaining a yearlong presence—and commitment—to the city and its independent producers. (Studios also hold workshops at PMQ and there are also galleries being set up here, too.) It’s nice to know these things are happening, and that as commercial as this city can be, at least its future looks increasingly creative and diverse.
Text: Stephanie Bailey Photo: Erkka Nissinen and Rob Chamorro