Curator and Art Advisor Robin Peckham on the Heartbeat of Hong Kong

With thanks to Robin Peckham, we’re up to speed on the beating heart of the emerging international Hong Kong art scene—a local group of young artists he claims have come from the underground scenes by virtue of their own blood, sweat, and tears. We caught up with the HK-based curator and art advisor just in time for the Art Basel Hong Kong, and spoke about artists to watch, galleries to visit, and how he defines a perfect day in Asia’s world city.

Artsy: What’s exciting in the Hong Kong art world right now?

Robin Peckham: Hong Kong is finally reaching a state of increasing interaction between the commercial apparatuses of fairs and galleries and institutions with more of a public ethos, like museums and alternative spaces. More and more we’re seeing really strong young artists who have emerged from an underground scene created through their own blood-sweat-and-tears efforts being recognized on relatively more visible platforms—Lee Kit representing Hong Kong through M+ at the Venice Biennale, Adrian Wong commissioned by the Absolut Art Bureau, etc.

Artsy: Can you give us a brief overview of the gallery landscape in Hong Kong? What galleries should visitors make sure to get to?

RP: A lot of the media attention goes to the premier international galleries with branches in the city: Gagosian, White Cube, Simon Lee, Lehmann Maupin, Pearl Lam. But there is a wealth of other options that connect a bit more with what’s going on in Hong Kong and the region at the moment, like 2P Contemporary, which will be featuring the senior statesman of young Hong Kong art; Leung Chi Wo; Platform China, which has a great show of mainland painter Zhou Yilun up; and Edouard Malingue, who has come to represent a truly engaged perspective on this part of the world.

Artsy: A perfect day in Hong Kong means...

RP: Dim sum and a moderately strenuous hike in the hills ending at the beach. One of the best parts of Hong Kong is how easy it is to get away from the city—the ocean is always 10 minutes away in one direction or another.

Artsy: As an art advisor, is there anything you do to prepare for a big fair week?  

RP: Any fair involves a good amount of research into what the galleries are bringing, what’s going on around town, what the artists are talking about, and so on. But in the case of Hong Kong there’s the added responsibility of playing host to clients and friends from out of town. It’s all about scheduling—knowing what’s happening at any given moment and being able to get the right people together there. I spend a lot of my time working on exhibitions and research, so I treat the advisory part of my profession as a more social form of curatorial practice.

Artsy: What Hong Kong-based artists’ studios will you be bringing collectors to, i.e. which artists should we be watching in Hong Kong?

RP: My (now-defunct) project space Saamlung brought together a very tight group of artists who I believe epitomize the beating heart of the new, international Hong Kong art scene: Adrian Wong, who has devised an art bar for Absolut in the basement of the Fringe Club in Central, replete with musical animatronics and geriatric lounge singers; Joao Vasco Paiva, who has a solo exhibition up at the Goethe-Institut playing with the textures and found forms of the city; and Nadim Abbas, who will present a project at the CL3 Architecture offices in the Hong Kong Arts Centre around medical aesthetics and scientific illustrations. There’s also Lee Kit, who is already in Venice working on his exhibition there; Trevor Yeung, who works with plants, fish, and homoerotic suggestion; and Charles Munka, who makes very material expressionistic paintings.

Artsy: Can you choose 3-4 artworks on Artsy that you feel epitomize Hong Kong and explain why?

Adrian Wong’s infamous “chicken kiss” self-portrait was staged at the height of the avian flu crisis in a city brought to its knees just a few years earlier—it will be shown again this month in an exhibition on Hong Kong and public health at Para Site Art Space.

Joao Vasco Paiva’s video captures an iconic view of the Hong Kong skyline, including the empty site of the future West Kowloon Cultural District. More importantly, the video conveys the unique sense that in Hong Kong it is the city that controls how we view the world.

Zheng Guogu lives and works in a city on the western side of the Pearl River Delta that can only be called a provincial backwater. Much of his work has toyed with the unlikely application of Hong Kong-style consumer culture to his own hometown of Yangjiang, particularly through images conveyed in televisual and magazine media.

Cao Fei rose to international prominence due to a series of videos, including this one, that perfectly captured the absorption of Hong Kong-style consumer culture (and, here, office culture) into mainland China.

Hu Xiangqian enacts a parody of rural Chinese democracy by campaigning in a mayoral election for which he is not eligible. Much of his visual imagery is drawn from the American campaign trail, but it is through the relationship with Hong Kong that such political idea have spread through Guangdong.

Robin Peckham is an independent curator, editor, and art advisor currently based in Hong Kong. His writing, translation, and editorial work is published in Artforum, Yishu, LEAP, and the Journal of Visual Art Practice, while recent publications include books on video art pioneer Zhang Peili and architectural interventionists MAP Office. Current research interests lie in post-internet object cultures, casualist abstraction, and accelerationism.

Portrait courtesy of David Boyce.

Explore the fair in its entirety: Art Basel in Hong Kong on Artsy.