Obituary: Sandra Walters (1944–2021)
By Martine Ma
On January 30, gallerist and art dealer Sandra Walters, who was co-founder of Hong Kong’s Alisan Fine Arts in the early 1980s, passed away from complications due to cerebral hemorrhage in Paris, aged 76. Walters is most well known for her work in helping to establish formal art spaces in Hong Kong during the early days of the city's art scene in the 1970s and 1980s, and for advocating for artists of the Chinese diaspora.
Sandra Walters arrived in Hong Kong in 1969 with her husband, Richard, after a stint in Chad where she was a member of the Peace Corps. Together with Josette Bertrou of Paris's lithograph gallery, Vision Nouvelle, she staged an exhibition at The American Club in Hong Kong in 1973 to positive responses, featuring lithographs from 15 artists from the School of Paris, including Félix Labisse and Claude Weisbuch, among others. That same year, Walters founded Arts Promotion gallery to sell original lithographs from European and American artists. In the 1980s, Arts Promotion became one of the first galleries to open in the city’s business district in Central.
In 1984, Walters co-founded Alisan Fine Arts on Wellington Street in Central with gallerist and curator Alice King (the gallery's name comes from the merger of their first names). One of the first professionally run art galleries in Hong Kong, it sought to increase local and international recognition for artists from Hong Kong or of the Chinese diaspora. In 1984, its inaugural exhibition presented works by ink painter Lui Shou-kwan. In 1987, the gallery hosted “A State of Transition: Contemporary Painting from Shanghai” at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, staging the city’s first major exhibition of mainland Chinese artists, which included works from Han Tianheng, Hong Jijie, and Li Hou, among others. After leaving Alisan Fine Arts in 1990, Walters operated Mandarin Oriental Fine Arts until 1996, where she presented monthly exhibitions of antiques and contemporary art. The same year, in 1990, she founded her namesake art consultancy. Beginning in 2006 she began to work as the art consultant for Hongkong Land, the largest commercial real-estate holder in Central, which had a collection of more than 350 artworks.
Walters served as the deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Centre from 1992–94 as well as sitting on its board of governors, from 2002–05. She was also on the board of councilors of Public Art Hong Kong from 2003–05. A life-long francophile, she was recognized by France’s Ministry of Culture, who awarded her with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1989, and the Ordre National du Mérite in 2016.
She is survived by her husband Richard and their two sons.
Martine Ma is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.
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