Feb 16 2017

Obituary: Nigel Cameron (1920–2017)

by Brittany Dale

Nigel Cameron passed away on February 14, 2017. Pictured here at the First Choice Exhibition (Exhibition Opening), February 5–13, 1977. Photo by Ha Bik Chuen. Courtesy of the Ha Family and Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong. 

Art critic Nigel Cameron passed away at his Hong Kong residence on February 14 at the age of 96. Cameron was a writer for the South China Morning Post between 1972 and 1994, and is remembered for his countless contributions to the port city’s art scene.

John Batten, who presides over the International Association of Art Critics Hong Kong, said that Cameron’s death marked the passing of an era. “He was central to the development of Hong Kong’s fledgling art scene in the 1960s and into the turn of the century as both a writer, curator and exhibition organiser,” Batten told ArtAsiaPacific. “He brought a rare intelligence and sensitivity to a city emerging from the turmoil of the Second World War and revolution in China.”

Born in Edinburgh, Cameron first visited Asia with the British Royal Navy in 1940. He traveled extensively through the continent before settling permanently in 1962 in Hong Kong, where he worked as a historian, art critic, curator and art dealer. In that decade, Cameron organized a great number of exhibitions that helped further the careers of Hong Kong’s first generation of modernist artists, including Luis Chan, Cheung Yee, Rosamond Brown and Irene Chou, who are now considered foundational to the Hong Kong art scene.

Cameron was highly respected by many members of the fragrant harbor’s art milieu. “His greatest contribution was his genuine interest in and support of Hong Kong artists, and his determination to use available colonial resources to provide a platform for them to show their work,” consulting curator at Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery Valerie Doran told AAP. “Although he was of an older generation, he showed up at all kinds of events in the unlikeliest places.”

Daphne King, director of Alisan Fine Art, one of the first galleries showing modern and contemporary art in the city, shared memories of Cameron with AAP and said, “He was instrumental in promoting Hong Kong artists from the very beginning—in the 1970s when no one was really paying attention to Chinese contemporary art. I hope he will be remembered for his invaluable contributions. I remember all the reviews he wrote on our shows in the early days. He was probably one of the first art critics in Hong Kong.”

Cameron was a prolific writer who authored many publications throughout his career. With a primary focus on the art of Asian civilizations, some of his most famous publications include Peking: A Tale of Three Cities (1965), Hong Kong: The Cultured Pearl (1978) and The Buddha in Life and Art (2004).

Speaking to AAP, founder of Hanart TZ Gallery and co-founder of the Asia Art Archive Tsong-zung Chang said of Cameron’s legacy, “During the formative years of New Ink Art in the 1960s, Nigel was already announcing this as Hong Kong’s future art identity, and gave it full support in his columns. He was the art advisor for [property development group] Hongkong Land when Exchange Square gave [Taiwanese artist] Ju Ming his breakthrough exhibition in 1986. At the time, every single exhibition venue was given to Henry Moore, and it gave the impression that Ju Ming was the Chinese answer to Moore, which did miracles for his international reputation, when in fact he had hardly exhibited in the West.”

Cameron’s legacy extends beyond Asia. Batten noted, “The results of those early efforts can be seen with Hong Kong no longer on the periphery of the world’s visual art map—but as the relevant, vital center for art appreciation in Asia.”

Brittany Dale is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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