Too Art is now your Hong Kong Art Agency!
Without physical gallery space, Too Art still continuously to grow as an Art Agent to promote local contemporary art and collaborate with different business sectors. Currently Too Art is providing art consultant service and curatorial exhibition.
Yu Kei Kei
Yu Kei Kei received her Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University (programme co-presented with Hong Kong Art School) in 2007. She took up the position of running Too Art gallery after her graduation; meanwhile, she has curated numerous exhibitions. Yu is now a project manager of the Art Container Project, to collaborate with different sectors positively in order to promote local art development and professionalize art administration.
The birth of Too Art is perhaps a milestone which marks the beginning of a battle in the Hong Kong art scene. The biggest challenge that it is facing is about the public – how can a gallery which truly reveals Hong Kong’s contemporary art gain wider supports? How can it raise public awareness about the value of art collection? Why is it necessary to support local art? To give answers to these questions is by no means an easy task and it does require time to arrive at solutions. Too Art has been constantly reflecting upon these questions over the past two years since its opening.
Stepping into the third year, Too Art is infused with new energy. Its management has been taken up by a younger generation. At the same time, its exhibition space has expanded from just a corner to the whole floor. Adding onto the list of some established artists, Too Art is also aiming to promote other young and emerging artists who have developed some mature concepts in their art making. All the art pieces created by these artists are experimental and yet carry great potentials which make them become fine collector’s items. As Too Art has always valued and put emphasis on artists’ continual art making, each piece of art work selected would carry significant value of this continual process. Reciprocally, we hope that art collectors would appreciate and treasure every single stage in the development of art creation by local artists.
As to the future, your supports will still be essential towards the development of Too Art. We will continue to work towards becoming the leading gallery for Hong Kong contemporary artists as well as providing a top quality investment platform for art collectors at the same time.
A Good Deed Makes a Start"Too Art": A Tailor-made Experimental Project - Carol Lee | Translator: Lim King Na
The Hong Kong economy has been going downhill since the 1997 financial crisis. To revitalize the economy, the government has unprecedentedly included the art and creative industry in its Policy Address. It is hoped that borrowing England’s experience in developing an art hub could save Hong Kong from the economic crisis. Unfortunately, without an adequate long-term policy and a clear developmental direction, the plan to build an international art metropolis is nothing but an empty word. In face of such failings, NGO-led art events appear to be all the more important.
The local art circle has undergone lots of changes in recent years. The establishment of The Art School of Hong Kong Arts Centre (which the name has been changed to Hong Kong Art School) in 2000 has played an important role in providing more comprehensive courses for artistic talents. As different institutes have also offered a variety of art/creative courses, the number of people joining the industry has increased drastically, thereby creating a certain momentum in the formerly quiet art circle. With the changes in government policies, artists have become more active. Led by local artists, different art groups have emerged one after the other in the past few years, such as those in Oil Street, Cattle Depot, Chai Wan, Fo Tan, Kwun Tong and Fu Tak House. The Shek Kip Mei Factory Estate Project and the Green House Project, which have been under much media spotlight recently, witness the efforts of NGOs to promote the creative industry and local art, and their development of art spaces. Lately, the“West Kowloon Effect” has also generated heated debates in the media. Never before have so many people in this city been so concerned about cultural development. How promising the future seems!? Yet, are these really healthy signs or just a replay of the seemingly flourishing art scene before the 1997 handover? After a passing whim, would everything return to their previous silence? Some people believe that the situation has improved as new talents from various institutes suffice to spice up the art circle and lay down a solid foundation for future artistic development. Propaganda by the art field itself also seems to have increased artists’ opportunities to publish and exhibit their works. Yet, as an artist and art student, I deem that the day for achieving a healthy development of local art is still far ahead.
Although the number of art talents has increased year by year, the turn-over rate is yet high for the market fails to absorb these talents, and very few of them could manage to become professional artists. Most of my classmates have to take up part-time or feeelance jobs because they cannot make a decent living by their artistic profession. Even for those who meant to work full-time to support their artistic creation have to give up their dreams and talent eventually in face of the cruel reality. For one to devote his life to art, the reward is way below the value of his education and talent. To say “sacrificing for art” is not a joke at all. Not only is our career prospect gloomy, our professional status is also often challenged.
Although different art zones and exhibition sites emerged in recent years have offered artists more opportunities to exhibit their works, the exhibitions are prone to be dictated by curators’ personal interests. Some of the curators even hard sell artists as if they were superstars. Artists lacking a good social network or with a low profile tend to be poorly recognized, and thus are less competitive. I remember once I saw the artworks of the same artist in several exhibitions about the same time. This way of training artists and promoting their art is indeed questionable. To me, artistic creation is a long-term project, not an instant rendition.
Even if the artists have the opportunities to exhibit, they are burdened by administrative works including promotion, material production, transportation and preparation of printed materials, apart from being having to devote themselves to their own artistic creation. A good friend of mine was once offered an opportunity to exhibit his works in a grand local art competition. Yet without any financial support from the organization, he could not afford to pay the trantsportation fee and consequently lost the golden opportunity of exhibiting his works. The public, too, lost an opportunity to appreciate his art.
I have always asked myself this question: “By what means could the artistic life of an artist be sustained?” Would the situation be improved if an intermediary is there to connect art with living?
Commercial galleries serve to bridge the gap between artists and the society. Artists can make a living; hence continue their artistic career through selling their works there. Although more and more commercial galleries have emerged in Hong Kong, most of them deal mainly with oil paintings from China, Vietnam and other Asian cities. Some may have their focus on foreign artists while also have an eye on one or two local artists. But it is rare to have art galleries advocating contemporary local art alone; even if they do, the number of local artists they promote is very small. The majority of galleries run on commercial principles - they select suitable artworks and pose them as their targets for promotion. They usually adopt rather conservative marketing strategies and sell a limited range of artworks, Video and installation artists would have a deeper understanding about this phenomenon. Galleries have little interest in novices and certain creative media, and accordingly offer them few opportunities. Local galleries fail to play the intermediary role of promoting local art, not to mention assisting artists’ personal development.
Nevertheless, the blame should not be laid entirely at the galleries’ doors. From a commercial perspective, no gallery would like to run a business with loss. The difficulty may perhaps be partly attributable to the lack of collectors and concern for art in Hong Kong. There are few professional artists in Hong Kong, and there are also inadequate channels for selling and buying. Most of the local buyers are expatriates, and they collect but a small number of local artworks, resulting in a lack of confidence of other local collectors in the value of works by native artists. Local collectors and art museums seldom collect contemporary artworks but antiques. I once went to Adelaide to visit the local commercial galleries there, and found out that over 90 % of the works they
represented were by local artists. I was saddened to hear what one gallery owner had said to me, “I previously sold artworks from around the world, but there was hardly a market for them. As the Australians are extremely supportive of natve art, I have therefore changed my running strategy to sustain my business.” “The situation in Hong Kong is exactly the opposite”, I replied with a bitter smile. I strongly believe that art collection help foster art development, and to promote a climate of collecting local art is of vital importance.
Casual chatting and bantering among artists is one of their common ways for communication and addressing problems. In such conversations, which are void of any special motive or deliberation, tend to disclose a strong desire deep inside their hearts, that is, the longing for an effective intermediary. “Too Art” is another tentative project by the original cast of “Kah Zha” of Chai Wan Open Studio, which aims at providing more possibilities for art development in the local art sphere. It positions itself somewhere between an art space and a commercial art gallery. It is self-financed and does not receive any sponsorship from the government or any commercial enterprises. All the participants are volunteers assisting in the areas of planning and administration. Being independent and flexible, the gallery welcomes tentative and conceptual artworks. Its project is conducted along two lines: (1) to promote original artistic creation of local artists and help them sustain their careers; (2) to encourage and cultivate an atmosphere of collecting local artworks. With the support of Louis Yu, the Executive Director of Hong Kong Arts Centre, as well as other colleagues of his, the project was officially inaugurated on 10th December, 2004.
“Too Art”, which attempts to adopt a brand new mode of operation in Hong Kong, may be dubbed a “curatorial gallery”. The gallery only sells those artworks which have been shown in different thematic exhibitions it staged. This has the advantage of allowing the artists to pursue their own styles and developmental trajectories without having to cater to the demands of the gallery.
Each time the gallery sells the original artworks of about twenty to thirty artists on a group basis. It accepts any artwork as long as it is intact and fits in with a particular theme of an exhibition. Almost a hundred artists have participated in the exhibitions held this year and over two hundred pieces of artworks have been offered for sale.
The gallery is meant to be a realm for the general public and refuses to operate in a small circle. While artists can self-recommend their works to the gallery, the gallery owners themselves may also go out to look for suitable artworks for a certain thematic exhibition. The works included for exhibition may be by artists from different institutes or with different backgrounds and qualifications. In this way, artists can be gathered together under the same theme and be offered more chances to sell their works; meanwhile it also broadens the scope of an exhibition as a wide range of artworks is covered. One time when I asked an experienced artist, whom I highly respect, for her works, she made the following comments to me: “The art circle these days only promotes and cares about new artists; those who continue to work hard in a low profile are being forgotten.” Her complaint often reminds me of the importance for the gallery to remain open and broad-ranged in its selection of artworks.
Artworks are sold in consignment at “Too Art” Gallery. As the gallery takes up all the administrative and promotional work, artists can then concentrate wholly on their artistic creation without the need to worry about shouldering the administrative work and expenditure. Although not many artworks are on show in each exhibition, there is a small archive in the gallery for the artists to display their personal folders, through which collectors or viewers can obtain a better overview of the works by individual artists. When necessary, the gallery may also recommend suitable artists and their works to the public. Hopefully by doing so artists would gain more opportunities for their artistic advancement.
To promote art collecting, “Too Art” makes every effort to narrow the distance between viewers and commercial galleries. The public usually think that art is something high-brow, and consider commercial galleries as a holy land. “Too Art”, however, is just located in the corridor on the second floor of Hong Kong Arts Centre, which is delineated simply by a glass door and several white panels. It has anything you name it despite its small size. The gallery positions itself in an interesting space which enables a public exhibitional area and a private gallery to coexist, thus breaking the general notion of commercial galleries as a place to be kept away from. Instead people can now visit the gallery without much hesitation. It is a breakthrough in respect of connecting an art gallery with the public; it serves also as a successful step towards selling artworks.
The climate of collecting in Hong Kong is far from being mature, not to mention the trend of mass collecting. Without much idea about artistic quality and the value of artworks, people lack confidence to purchase expensive artworks and worry about their depreciation. For most people, artworks are nothing more than gifts and gadgets, hence there is often a gap between what they are willing to pay for a particular work and the price that is set for it. In view of this, we set our works at a reasonable price that is affordable to the general art lovers. The intention is to foster their interest in collecting and in turn provide local people with an alternative choice outside their normal consuming practice. When art has become part of their lives, their taste in daily living could be improved. Moreover, the public could acquire a better understanding of the original works by local artists and thus develop a habit of collecting them. Once the atmosphere of collecting is mature, artists could acquire a better chance of pursuing their artistic careers.
Since the general public has limited knowledge and scanty recognition of contemporary art, individual introduction and recommendation is therefore essential. The gallery introduces its artworks to viewers in a relaxing manner in order to let them understand more about the artists’ backgrounds and artistic concepts. The more they learn about the artists, the stronger would be their desire in collecting their works, hence the greater the possibility for the gallery to have them sold. This is an effective way of enhancing people’s interest in collecting. Indeed many artworks in the gallery are successfully sold in this fashion.
Last year, “Too Art” was flexible and quick to make modifications to cope with the market demand. Experience has informed us of the subtle relationship in communication between art and the general public, and that the subject matter of an artwork is of paramountcy for its sale. The exhibition, “Toy’s Story”, is a case in point. Given the topic of toys and games is related to everyone’s experience and memories of growth, it could easily evoke a psychological resonance in the viewer. The exhibition turned out to be quite a success, attracting a large number of visitors, where most of the buyers were local collectors. In this exhibition, a brief explanatory note was placed by the side of each artwork to shorten the distance between the viewer and the artwork. As a gallery owner, I am responsible to maintain not only the quality of artworks, but also the balance and choice of artworks for sale. In order to highlight the distinctive features of each artwork, the gallery needs to spend some time on thinking over matters such as its mounting, decoration, display and other related technical details. It is hoped that when people come to see an exhibition, they would feel like reading a colorful shopping guide, and collectors could choose the pieces they like while browsing through the exhibits. Many families in Hong Kong live in small apartments and have difficulties in placing large-scale artworks at home, especially two-dimensional hanging pieces. For this reason, the gallery, under the condition of not violating its basic principles, also offers small, crafty and delicate art objects for sale.
As “Too Art” is not that well-known, some artists have refused to display their artworks in it. Some artists with little knowledge and connections in the local art circle, though, have recommended their own works and profiles to the gallery. “Too Art” is happy to be their stepping-stone as I am moved by their positive attitudes, passions and bravity towards artistic creation. From a pure commercial perspective, “Too Art” is not yet successful since our artists cannot make a living by merely having their works sold here. We are, however, not pessimistic as the job we did last year has brought not only concrete remunerations, but also opportunities of development for the artists offering them support, encouragement and hope. We understand that there is still a long way to go for cultivating a climate of selling and collecting local art, and this is no easy task to be accomplished by artists alone or by any one single art gallery. The climate is pending to be developed and great hindrances are always there on the way. Nonetheless, the experiment undertaken by “Too Art” has proved to us that similar platforms are necessary for the mutual development of artists and collectors.
A healthy growth of the art cycle in Hong Kong counts on three elements – to establish a consuming culture of art, to provide artists with chances for development, and to promote the trend of collecting local art. In this respect, art galleries have an important role to play as an intermediary. Local art could be developed and promoted only if a wholesome artistic environment is established. The sheer bragging about building an “International Art Hub” is no help to the development of the creative industry, economy and art in Hong Kong. A famous architect once made the following remark in his speech: “There are many excellent artworks in Hong Kong which are worth collecting, and at a good price”. To me, his words are encouraging. Indeed, it is only with the support of the masses that local art can be developed.
“Too Art” is founded with a good primary motive. In the foreseeable future, we hope to see the emergence of more and more similar platforms of buying and selling in different spaces which help bring local art to an all-round development.
Carol Lee received her B.A (Fine Arts) from a course which is jointly organized by The RMIT University and Hong Kong Art School, and is now taking the M.F.A.(Fine Arts) course offered by the same institute. Carol was the coordinator of “Kah Zha” of Chai Wan Open Studio event, she is also one of the founding members of “Too Art”.