Jehan Chu—or the @Collectionist on Twitter—is a Hong Kong-based art advisor, whom we found to be just as generous with his guidance on matters outside the art world of China’s global city. Leading up to Art Basel Hong Kong, Chu fills us in on his preparation for the fair week and his checklist of galleries that are absolutely not to be missed. Chu also spills on his go-to spot for Chinese food—a plastic stool joint in North Point—known for after hours ’80s music and chilled bowls of beer. This week, let him be your tour guide (we certainly plan to!).
Artsy: What’s exciting in the Hong Kong art world right now?
Jehan Chu: What is isn’t exciting Hong Kong right now? The art world is buzzing in anticipation of the inaugural Art Basel HK edition, and the island has become a hive of activity. What used to be a weekend of art and events has become an extended week, with major dinners and openings starting as early as a week in advance. The art world has become more international as artists and curators make Hong Kong their hub while traveling in and around Asia, and what used to be a primarily commercial scene has started to balance out with nonprofits and institutions increasingly taking a prominent role. M+, the new contemporary art super-institution has launched “Inflation”, an outdoor sculpture park consisting solely of inflatable installations, including Paul McCarthy’s “Complex Pile” (massive inflatable pile of shit) and Tomas Saraceno’s ephemeral thermal bubble installation (held aloft by heated air).
Artsy: Can you give us a brief overview of the gallery landscape in Hong Kong? What galleries should visitors make sure to get to?
JC: While the colonization of the Central business district by international brands like Gagosian, White Cube, and Perrotin continues, fortunately we natives have been treated to world-class exhibitions like Basquiat, Damien Hirst and others. But outside of the Central area where Simon Lee, and recently Pearl Lam and Lehmann Maupin have launched, there is a lot of activity in alternative warehouse districts like Chai Wan (recently featured in Monocle) and Wong Chuk Hang. During the fair period, Chai Wan will host a Friday night party and weekend open studio art/design festival called Chai Wan Mei, while Wong Chuk Hang will also have a host of open studios as well. Also don’t miss Para/Site Art Space’s “A Journal of the Plague Year,” an exhibition spotlighting tragic gay icon Leslie Cheung.
Artsy: What is the one Hong Kong spot you always bring an out-of-town guest?
JC: The go-to spot in Hong Kong to eat is Tung Po, a plastic stool joint in North Point that serves great Chinese food, Harbin beer in chilled bowls, and blasts ’80s music after 9pm. Located at the top of a “wet market” where raw meat and produce are sold during the day, Tung Po is great for large groups and impromptu happenings (like the Scandinavian Children’s choir that randomly broke into song a few weeks ago). For drinks, Salon X is the place to be—imagine being at a friend’s home for a cocktail party, and then imagine that your friend lives in a giant wooden submarine with an E.T. the Extraterrestrial mural. That’s Salon X. Oh, and they have absinthe—so that might explain the mural.
Artsy: Being an art advisor, is there anything you do to prepare for a big fair week?
JC: I like to check in with all of my favorite galleries in advance to see what art they’re bringing. When I show up to the booth with my clients, I’m already prepared and can talk them through the artworks with no surprises. I used to give tours for investment banks and private wealth groups, but now I prefer to keep my schedule open to allow the numerous impromptu meetings and hallway encounters to happen naturally. With scores of amazing people landing in Hong Kong for the fair, there’s so much potential for things to grow out of chance conversations.
Artsy: What Hong Kong-based artists should we have on our radar?
JC: All eyes are on Lee Kit, winner of last year’s ArtHK artist award and representative of HK at this year’s Venice Biennale. In addition, Adrian Wong’s cultural excavation sculptures, Nadim Abbas installations, Tsang Kin Wah’s painting and video installations, and Joao Paiva’s sculptures (recently signed to Edouard Malingue) are all ones starting to make waves beyond Hong Kong island. Artist duo MAP office, winner of the 2013 Sovereign Art Prize and currently exhibiting at UCCA in Beijing, are also on the rise. But the youngest generation of artists including Ho Sin Tung and Trevor Yeung should also be on your radar.
Artsy: Can you choose an artwork on Artsy that you feel epitomizes Hong Kong and explain why?
JC: Adrian Wong’s Sudden Disappearance of Charles and Belinda W. is very Hong Kong in its scale color and texture. It really encapsulates the Hong Kong experience with the classic gate pattern, the claustrophobic domestic space, and even the tile pattern hidden beneath. The mass-produced materials he uses also feel Hong Kong in that it’s such a disposable society where even buildings (like the old Ritz Carlton) are recycled after a couple decades.
Jehan Chu is an art advisor with Vermillion Art Collections working with private and corporate collectors. He is Vice Chairman of Para/Site Art Space, on the board of HK Ambassadors of Design, and founder of Chaiwanese Warehouse Coffee and Eatery.
Explore the fair in its entirety: Art Basel in Hong Kong on Artsy.