Research Log | The Advantages of Being Away

It is a city of gambling, with the world’s largest gaming market and about 30 casinos on its 29.2-square-kilometres. On the other hand, it has one of the largest examples of European architectural legacies standing intact on Chinese territory today.

It has been granted the status of World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is Macau, a small town 60 kilometres from Hong Kong and 145 kilimetres from the city of Guangzhou, full of peculiar and vibrant energies that grasp people’s attention in the Pearl River Delta.

While the city’s economy is blooming due to the dramatic growth in Gross Gaming Revenue [1], the contemporary art scene in Macau has also been flourishing. The Macao Museum of Art, the newly established St Paul’s Fine Art Gallery, and Creative Macau, which focuses on local creative industries, together with the Ox Warehouse, all add vivid colour to Macau’s art scene.

The Macao Museum of Art’s ambitious projects in recent years have impressed very much; to name a few, ‘Inward Gazes: Documentaries of Chinese Performance Art’ (2005 & 2008), the first large-scale survey exhibition of Chinese performance art in a museum in China; and ‘Beyond the Surface: Chinese Abstract Paintings’ (2007–08), which attracted outstanding works via open competition. In their current project ‘Refresh: Contemporary Art of Emerging Macao and Shanghai Artists’, four artists from Shanghai have been invited to stay in Macau for two weeks producing new work while young artists from Macau ― as young as a 19-year-old girl who just graduated from secondary school ― have been invited to submit proposals and are featured in the exhibition jointly organized with Zendai Museum of Modern Art [2] , Shanghai.  The strategy of organizing competitions for developing collections is nothing new, but the Museum’s openness and courage in touching on controversial artforms such as performance art, and in showcasing experimental work as well as positioning itself in the rapidly growing Chinese art field is bringing vitality in the local as well as the wider Chinese contemporary art scene.

On the other hand, St Paul’s Fine Art Gallery shows how the local art scene is diversifying. Located at the foot of the landmark Ruins of St Paul's Church, the gallery is housed in a century-old building that is part of St Paul’s Corner, and is owned by a local enterprise. The project coordinator Derek Lam told me that he set up the gallery because he would like to attract people to the arts and cultural side of Macau instead of the gaming side. The gallery and six 400-to-800-square-foot artist studios are subsidized by the business of the bar and restaurant next door; and indeed contemporary art housed in the gallery also brings more people to the business. Currently St Paul Fine Art Gallery is operated by Art for All, formed by six promising mid-career artists: Konstantin Bessmertny, James Chu Cheok-son, Bianca Lei Sio-chong, Ng Fong-chao, Tong Chong and Kent Ieong Chi-kin. Most of the members are also active members of the Old Ladies’ House Art Space[3],  which has been housed in Ox Warehouse and sponsored by the Municipal Council since 2003, as the first government-funded alternative multi-disciplinary arts space. Unlike the Ox Warehouse that has to somehow democratize their programs, St Paul Fine Art Gallery is a space completely independent of the government and enjoying greater freedom and flexibility. Since its beginnings in December 2007, group and solo exhibitions by resident artists have been organized. Their recent exhibition ‘Media Discursiveness ― Impermanent Intrusion’ by Bianca Lei Sio-chong is indeed a good example of an artist’s continuous and sophisticated effort in exploring the use of materials in her art making. Compared to Creative Macau at the Macau Cultural Centre (next to the Macao Museum of Art), which aims to promote creative industries in Macau[4], St Paul’s Fine Art Gallery specializes in contemporary art and, as envisioned by Art For All’s chairman James Chu Cheok-son, could be viewed as an attempt to test the undeveloped local art market by featuring promising local artists.

Struggling between the predominant gambling culture and striving to voice their own personalities, Macau artists often show a kind of anxiety and solitude in their artworks. Being away from the bustling mainstream may be an advantage ― there is freedom to try all kinds of possibilities at one’s own pace, and we should carefully keep our eye on this burgeoning art scene.

Related links:
Macao Museum of Art
St Paul Fine Art Gallery
Ox Warehouse
Creative Macau

1. The Globalysis report estimates that Macau will experience approximately 28.8% growth Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) over its 2007 performance to reach US$13.5 billion for the calendar year 2008. In fact, the city's economy grew 27.3 percent in 2007 from a year earlier, the fastest pace in three years.
2. Not to mention other exhibitions such as those by Chinese ink painting masters Wu Changshuo (2007) and Dong Qichang (2005), and works ranging from Greek art from the Louvre (2008) to sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle (2007).
3. The Old Ladies' House Art Space was first set up in 2002 in a disused heritage building (Old Ladies’ House) managed by the government.  There was a controversy when the government requested the Art Space to move out in 2003 and after some negotiations, the Art Space was settled down in the Ox Warehouse, with tenancy renewed every 6 months.
4. The Creative Macau defines 8 areas of creative industries: advertising, architecture, crafts, design, designer fashion, film and video, interactive leisure software, music, performing arts, publishing, software and computer development, and visual arts.



wen yau, 魂游

Fri, 1 Aug 2008

Relevant content

AAA Project Space, Archiving Materials
Ideas is AAA's New Online Journal

Ideas is AAA's New Online Journal

Asia Art Archive publishes new essays, interviews, and curated journeys through the research collections

In light of the current COVID-19 situation, AAA Library will remain temporarily closed till 5 February.