Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Arts Complex

From my rough introduction so far, Hong Kong artists and art-lovers, or what exist of them, appear to be starving for some cultural institutions that can at least turn the city into a more exciting scene, where international currents can be felt and exciting artists from elsewhere seen or heard. There are great enthusiasts and makers of art here, but time and again, I hear the complaint that there isn't enough newness, and not enough challenges, to keep the community dynamic and optimisitic. A simple set of venues would be nice, but short of your typical high-fallutin dance clubs hosting international DJs, there aren't any to support avant or independent musicians. (I was dismayed to find out that the Kings of Convenience couldn't find a venue here for their current Asian tour, which takes them to Bangkok, Singapore, Japan, etc. When my friend Christina tried to find a place for them at the last minute, the best options seemed to be one small bar that was not neccessarily equipped for a medium-sized performance or my apartment, which would of course be perfect if it weren't for the sketchy bathroom.) Performances that do come by seem to be so riddled with costs that the artists have to take a hit, or have the support of a giant label. Meanwhile, any exciting art shows are gobbled up by an unfortunately small and sometimes incestuous community that doesn't have enough else to chew on. There are few museums here, and the galleries and gallery stores that cater to a more adventurous crowd are great (Para/Site, Videotage, the Cattle Depot) but don't neccessarily draw in the bankers and the scores of working-class foreigners--audiences that deserve to be included, somehow.

Another hitch is the lack of an audience. But this is a chicken-or-egg puzzle really, and I'd bet that the more investment and attention by companies and public trusts that the arts could get--and the less government involvement, which has succeeded mostly in building up a sad bureaucracy of a few unexciting public museums--the more art lovers and artists would visit and live in Hong Kong.

The city's "if you build it they will come" strategy has hit a major setback, and once again proved the government's incompetance when it comes to shaping the art world: the developers involved recognized the financial burdens of building on the 104-acre peninsula in Kowloon, among them the establishment of a 3 billion dollar trust fund that would provide in part for future activities. The development promised to have a canopy designed by Norman Foster and to potentially include outposts of the Guggenheim and the Pompidou Center and the Museum of Modern Art--not Asian institutions and not neccessarily in touch with a local, underground art culture, but nonetheless probably capable of supporting and (hopefully) shaping such a culture, and improving the interational art dialogue. For now, we rely on the efforts of some determined, awesome individuals (word to Issac, Samantha, Adrian, et al!) and groups, but they miss the attention given to poorly-managed and -curated public museums (whose directors don't seem to play much of a role if any in the local art scene), and often lack all the resources they need to make bigger waves or capture new audiences. Whether establishment or not, whether physical or psychic, the growth of Hong Kong's art infrastructure still remains to be seen and heard.

Donald Tsang, Mr. Hui's predecessor as chief secretary and now Hong Kong's leader as chief executive, warned in an interview in December 2004 that if the original plan were not adopted then, it would be a long time before any other plan could be devised that could win broad support.

"It will require a new generation of politicians, a new generation of artists and perhaps a new generation of people to see it in a new light," he said then.

Nearly two years ago, the government put forward a plan calling for a single developer to build four large museums and several indoor and outdoor "performance venues" for everything from pop concerts to operas, in exchange for being allowed to erect commercial and residential buildings elsewhere on the government-owned peninsula.


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