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May 26 2020

Hong Kong Galleries Migrate Out of Central

by Charmaine Kong, Pamela Wong

Exterior view of the Beaux-Arts-style Pedder Building, in Central, Hong Kong. Photo by HG Masters for ArtAsiaPacific.

Following a year of anti-government protests and nearly five months of measures to contain Covid-19 in Hong Kong, art galleries in Central are shifting locations and strategies. The key business district, where major banks, corporate offices, and consulates are located, has some of the highest commercial rents in the world and has been a prime destination for art galleries in the last decade. But now with the city’s economic recession deepening, many well-known galleries have been compelled to relocate.  

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Hong Kong veteran Hanart TZ Gallery ended its nine-year run in its current fourth-floor space in the Pedder Building; it has been operating in the famous building since the early 1990s. Its final show shuttered on May 13. Owner Johnson Tsong-zung Chang will move the gallery into Hanart Square, its experimental and installation art space since 2010, in an industrial building in Kwai Chung, New Territories. The neighborhood is close to the newly opened Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT) and artist-run Hidden Space. Hanart TZ’s inaugural show in the new venue “Moving,” will open on June 20, with details yet to come.

Two galleries are moving further east of Central. Edouard Malingue (Hong Kong / Shanghai) will bid farewell to its space on the sixth floor of the office tower at 33 Des Voeux Road where it has been located since January 2015, following five years on Queens Road. The gallery will reopen in 2021 in nearby Wan Chai, home to the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where Art Basel Hong Kong and auctions from Christie’s and Sotheby’s are held each year. Co-owner Lorraine Kiang explained that the move was more for “the gallery’s long-term plans,” although at one point the co-owners contemplated about leaving the city altogether “because business in Hong Kong may not pick up for another couple of years,” as reported by South China Morning Post.

A second gallery is pushing much further east on Hong Kong Island. Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery has rented its current ground-level space on Ice House Street since 2004, when it moved from Aberdeen, on south side of the island. Its new space at the island’s easternmost end in Chai Wan will combine the gallery with its art consultancy and publication offices in an industrial building. Director Catherine Kwai told ArtAsiaPacific that the decision rose from “a change in our operation mode” rather than “costs-cutting,” and that “more substantial projects” are in the works. 

Meanwhile, Wong Chuk Hang—on the southern part of the island, though just three stops on the MTR from Central—is continuing to lure more galleries to its industrial buildings. Ben Brown Fine Arts (London / Hong Kong), which also just ended its lease in the Pedder Building, will open its new space—four times its previous location’s size—in mid-June within the converted industrial building The Factory. Director Amanda Hon told AAP that when renewing the Pedder Building lease, the gallery “could not come to an agreement with the landlords regarding the rent price.” As a result, the gallery decided to invest in “keeping our staff” and “giving our artists a better space to display their work and broaden their creativity.” Hon added that “the staff and artists are what make up the gallery, not the prestige of the building.” Wong Chuk Hang’s larger spaces led Axel Vervoordt (Antwerp / Hong Kong) to move from Central last year into a two-level gallery, joining the southside stalwarts including Blindspot GalleryPékin Fine ArtsRossi & Rossi, and de Sarthe.

While international galleries like David Zwirner and Pace are staying put in the recently opened tower H Queens, and Gagosian remains in the Pedder Building, even mega-galleries are looking at locations across Victoria Harbour. The first to break away is Perrotin (Paris / New York / Hong Kong / Seoul / Tokyo / Shanghai). Based in an office building at 50 Connaught Road in Central since 2012, Perrotin will reopen at the recently opened office tower K11 Atelier in Tsim Sha Tsui, although its opening date is yet to be finalized. Partner Alice Lung told AAP that the plan to move was initiated in 2018, and is “a positive natural force in the long term.” The new location right next to the Hong Kong Museum of Art and not far from the West Kowloon Cultural District, where M+ is currently under construction, would bring “synergistic opportunities for reaching new collaborators and audiences,” Lung added. Other galleries have also been talking about relocating to West Kowloon itself, while the remaining tenants in Central will be watching how these galleries fare in their experiments with new locales, as more leases in Hong Kong are due to expire later this year and into the next one.

Charmaine Kong is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific; Pamela Wong is assistant editor.

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