Matt Chung and Samson Ko, co-founders of the newly opened Haus of Contemporary, talk to us about their ambitions for Hong Kong’s art scene.
Hong Kong has long been a capital for art lovers and collectors — it’s no wonder the biggest fair of them all, Art Basel, selected the city to be its Asian flagship in 2013. At the same time each year, you’ve got Art Central showcasing the next generation of Asian talents; there’s the Affordable Art Fair, where pieces range from HK$1,000 to HK$100,000; and later this year, the Digital Art Fair returns for its sophomore season. And that’s without getting into all of the galleries, museums, exhibitions and outdoor art spaces you can visit year-round. Yeah, a lot of art.
But painful as it is to say, in spite of its global and historical reputation as an art haven, one traditionally underrepresented element of Hong Kong’s myriad art showcases over the years is, unfortunately, Hong Kong artists themselves. From Dutch sculpturist Florentijn Hofman’s rubber duck in Victoria Harbour to French street artist Invader’s three-and-counting Invasions of the city, fine art in Hong Kong tends to far often veer toward import, rather than export.
If there’s a silver lining that we can extract from these last few years, it’s that all of that may finally be changing. Galleries and collectors have begun looking more and more within our borders to spotlight the artists worthy of mention. Whether the lion’s share of the credit goes to necessity and lack of travel plans or to thoughtful reflection and hometown pride, the fairs and the galleries and the people who visit them have started to see the talent, the creativity, the beauty and the straight up sauce that our local artists have to offer.
That’s something Haus of Contemporary co-founders Matt Chung and Samson Ko want to celebrate here in Hong Kong, and in time, the world — all while fostering educational and community-building opportunities for local artists and art lovers alike.
Opened this month on Central’s On Lan Street, the six-storey art gallery-slash-event space kicked things off with a grand party and exhibitions featuring some true local legends in LMF’s Syan ‘MC Yan’ and photographer Wing Shya — who unveiled his CRYPTYQUES project in the space — plus a curated exhibition by Professor Kevin Tsui paying tribute to the work of the late “Kowloon Emperor”, Tsang Tsou Choi.
We reached out to Chung and Ko to discuss Haus of Contemporary, their ambitions for the space and bringing Hong Kong artistry to the world at large.
Matt Chung and Samson Ko on Haus of Contemporary
Tell us a bit about Haus of Contemporary in your own words. What inspired you to open the gallery?
Matt + Samson: Haus of Contemporary is the physical manifestation of everything we’ve learnt and experienced in the last couple of years. Now, we can finally make it a dream come true and transform it into a public space.
What first inspired your love for art? Which pieces are the most important in your own collection and why?
Samson: Although my love for art stemmed from art toy collectibles like Kaws, Bearbricks and Parra from over a decade ago, my taste in art has evolved drastically since. Recently, I acquired a large, dramatic 3D lips canvas artwork by Gina Beavers that I really enjoy. I’ve also fallen in love with the fashion-inspired works of Lily Kemp whom I was introduced to by an overseas gallerist. The ‘Leda and the Swan Painting’ from Andy Dixon’s ‘Masterpieces!’ series also holds a special place in my collection.
You have a lot of diverse and interesting projects that you’ve opened or launched. What draws you to create or what do you look for in terms of who to work with?
Samson: I’m motivated by my art-related bucket list to create. I want to experience and excel in every sector possible in the art industry, and I hope to educate individuals and inspire artistic innovation in Hong Kong. In terms of potential partners, I keep an eye out for people who are flexible, driven, and have proven success. A passion to give back to society is a must as well.
You’ve said there’s an “education and information mismatch” regarding our current digital era — can you elaborate?
Samson: My interpretation of “education and information mismatch” refers to the excessive amount of profit-oriented newcomers joining the art scene. Many businesses and projects have misinterpreted and, consequently, misrepresented the art industry when they engage in the space with a profit-driven mindset. The plunge of cryptocurrencies and NFTs are precisely accredited to the relentless “minting” of projects created by uneducated businesses that disrespect the art ecosystem. To excel in the art industry, you’ll need the experience and dedication of an earnest collector. The market is constantly changing, and the support from a genuine community of art enthusiasts will always go a long way.
What sorts of events do you plan to host in the Members Lounge?
Matt: We hope to strengthen people’s understanding of art through talks and discussions; to deliver events that allow the public to engage more closely with industry professionals and make art more approachable. There’s a misbelief that art collection is only for wealthy individuals, but the truth is, great art comes at all price points and is there for everyone to enjoy. In other words, we want to nurture Hong Kong’s art community and interest through our Member’s Lounge.
What has it been like to work with legends like Wing Shya and MC Yan? What have you learned from them or been able to share with one another?
Samson: MC Yan is among the most interesting people I’ve met in my lifetime. He’s incredibly smart and also very spiritual. His talents often translate into educational and intelligent teachings of life lessons. Wing Shya, on the other hand, is very organised in his approach. He’s masterful in incorporating the surrounding environment into his practice. It’s been really fun working with these two legends. I’ve always looked up to them for their respective trades and it’s been an honour to work with them.
Which audiences will love Haus of Contemporary? How does one become a member and what sort of members do you expect to host?
Matt + Samson: Haus of Contemporary is for everyone to appreciate. We hope to introduce more members-only activities and privileges in the future. As of now, we’ve been attracting interest from companies and individuals from all sorts of fields. We hope to invite more expert collectors and art ambassadors to host our programmes and we’d love to invite those with a serious passion to learn and experience the art world to join us.
How long will the current exhibitions run and how often do you plan on bringing in more?
Matt: We plan on curating several new exhibitions every month for public viewing.
Anything big planned for the future that you can tease?
Matt: We will be focusing on bridging Hong Kong’s art scene to global audiences. A mixture of investment-oriented entry-level works, works from emerging artists, and exciting collaborations will be on the way. A store concept along with a multitude of art and advisory services will also be introduced to Haus of Contemporary soon.
Haus of Contemporary, 9 On Lan St, Central, Hong Kong
(All images courtesy Haus of Contemporary)