Inside the Sumptuous Exhibition Glowing Atop a Hong Kong Tower
Installation view of “Glow Like That,” featuring Raúl de Nieves, Celebratory Skin/Knowledge in foreground, at K11 Atelier, Victoria Dockside, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation.
Three bejeweled, life-sized sculptures by artist Raúl de Nieves preside over Hong Kong’s most opulent new pop-up exhibition space, like sparkling, benevolent deities. The glimmering artworks are all titled Celebratory Skin (all 2019), with subtitles that reveal their virtues: Loyalty resembles a lamb with a pouf of hair fit for a French king; Perseverance looks like a ruby-red bear; and their compatriot, Knowledge, is a masked figure with a long nose who sits on the floor. Behind the trio, floor-to-ceiling windows offer a spectacular view of Victoria Harbour.
De Nieves’s works are new commissions for the exhibition “Glow Like That,” which extends across the 21st floor of local billionaire Adrian Cheng’s office tower, K11 Atelier. First opened in 2017, the building inaugurated Cheng’s forthcoming 3-million-square-foot development, Victoria Dockside. Its $2.6 billion design and retail component, K11 Musea, will open this fall.
Installation view of Larry Bell, The Tall Star, 2019 at “Glow Like That,” at K11 Atelier, Victoria Dockside, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and K11 Art Foundation.
Cheng’s nonprofit, the K11 Art Foundation (which helps fund exhibitions and programming worldwide), is presenting “Glow Like That” through May 13th, when the show will come down and make way for an as-yet-undetermined project. But until then, curator Venus Lau offers a shimmering, haunting show that plays well in the luxurious space.
“The concept [of the show] started when I was buying highlighter for my face,” Lau explained. She considered how skin contouring had become universal, and how social media has changed the way we do our makeup. Lau mentioned that what looks good on Instagram can look bad in person. “‘Glow,’ at least to me, always implies something coming from within, no matter the skin color or light. There’s always an inner space,” she said. “A glow is something revealing and blinding.” The concept allowed her to unite a group of disparate artworks that, together, evoke new perspectives on race, beauty, technology, and surface appearances. In something of a curatorial coup, she made it seem only natural to find resonance between California Light and Space artists (Larry Bell, De Wain Valentine) with millennial Chinese artists (Zhang Ruyi, Alice Wang, Chen Zhou).
Installation views of Chen Wei,Blue Hole, 2017, at K11 Atelier, Victoria Dockside, Hong Kong, 2019.
Some of the artworks in the exhibition quite literally glow—such as Bell’s The Tall Star (2019), made from amber laminated glass, and Chen Wei’s LED-lit sculptures. Chen Zhou’s film Blue Hole (2017) plays within glass walls that echo the tower’s windows. Viewers can sit on an illuminated blue bench and watch as one of the film’s characters types on a radiating phone screen. Towards the end, the live-action footage disappears to make way for an animated butterfly flitting across a deep blue backdrop. Chen Zhou leaves viewers with a haunting final image: a close-up shot of a furry paw taking out a young woman’s bright-blue contact lenses, revealing her deep brown eyes.
Yet other artworks’ connection to the theme are more subtle. Tishan Hsu’s works, for example, are often more muted than glistening. One of his pieces, Heading Through (1984), features a thick plane of vinyl cement and ceramic tile mounted on steel legs; it resembles an archeological ruin, part of a bathroom floor dug up and mounted for museum display. One of Lantian Xie’s entries, SUNSHINE (2018), favors wry social commentary over physical shine. The work simply consists of rows of vitamin D–infused water bottles sitting atop a folding table; their orange packaging reveals that they’re products of Al Ain Water, a corporation from the United Arab Emirates. The piece surfaces the tension that despite the country’s sunny gulf location, its population often suffers from vitamin-D deficiency.
Installation view of “Glow Like That,” at K11 Atelier, Victoria Dockside, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy of K11 Foundation.
When a rush of green appears in the middle of the show—in Yu Honglei’s Gold Sand River (2016) (a wall-mounted, stainless-steel sculpture) and Philip Glass (2016) (in which a rectangular pedestal supports two halved silver balls)—it’s a reminder that somewhere beyond the glass and metal of the gallery, and past the water and high-rise towers just beyond, lies a lush (and diminishing) natural world.
Notably, most of the artists are either North American or Chinese. In fact, the roster entirely lacks African, European, and Latin American artists. The show suggests that the included artists come from cultures that value materialism, slickness, and sheen.
Donna Huanca, SAPO SANGRE, 2018. Courtesy of Peres Projects, Berlin. Photo by: Johannes Stoll.
Out of all the included artworks, Donna Huanca’s 2018 video SAPO SANGRE might exude the most uneasy relationship with beauty and luxury. In the work, hands push shiny red paint—like sparkling blood—against skin: Sensuality mingles uncomfortably with violence.
At the front of the show, however, fashion label Advisory Board Crystals fully embraces bling with a newly commissioned project. The silver exhibition catalogue explains that the brand “started as a love story and transformed into an experimental brand…rooted in the intersection of art and science, old Hollywood, and crystals.” The project, Specimen Series #1, #2, #3 (2019), is essentially an elaborate, durational mechanism for designing T-shirts. At different intervals, exhibition attendants cut swaths off canvases colored with crystal-infused dyes, and affix them to hanging gray garments (which will be for sale via the K11 website). Walking into the exhibition, viewers might be appropriately confused: Am I walking into an art space—or a shop?