Shortlist | Hong Kong

Oscar Ho

curator and educator




This Shortlist is a guide to introduce the development of contemporary art in Hong Kong based on selected material from AAA’s collection. However, while AAA has built a substantial collection of over 7,000 related items, it is difficult to get an overall view of the subject by means of existing publications, since writing on the general history of Hong Kong art has been scarce. Much research still needs to be conducted in order to configure a picture of Hong Kong’s art historical development. For now, with this limitation in mind, three types of material—general reviews, exhibition catalogues, and medium-specific studies—are listed to provide a starting point to approach the subject.

Selected material with a general approach to Hong Kong art, focusing on different time periods, is grouped under "General Reviews." The book Modern Art in Hong Kong, an early attempt to write Hong Kong’s art history, traces the development from eighteenth century’s China trade painting to the early 1980s. The video recording of the talk Snapshots of Hong Kong Art History gives a brief overview of Hong Kong art with a focus on the period from the 1950s to the 1980s. Art & Place is a collection of essays by David Clarke written from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Four other titles—Hong Kong Art Review, Hong Kong Art: Culture and Decolonization, Someone Else’s Story – Our Footnotes, and Through the Transition and Over the Millennium—feature mainly the 1990s, before and after the handover from British to Chinese sovereignty. Topography (published in 2011) and Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits (published in 2012) attempt to map the local artistic landscape by introducing some recent key contemporary art institutions and young artists in Hong Kong respectively.   

Exhibition catalogues offer another way to look at the chronological development of Hong Kong art. Catalogues about the 1970s to the 1990s were selected either because of their nature as surveys, or because of the historical significance of exhibitions. Highlights of the latter include Out of Context, a self-organised exhibition declaring the rise of a new wave of art held over a weekend at an old mansion in 1987. Another landmark exhibition that attempted to declare a new era of contemporary art is Turn of a Decade organised by Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1989. Under severe criticism, Hong Kong Museum of Art for the first time presented an exhibition of local contemporary art entitled City Vibrance in 1992. Catalogues of these exhibitions could serve as sources for understanding the dramatic transitional period from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Two other exhibitions—Contemporary Photography from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan (1994) and Art & Space: From Sculpture to Installation (1996) featured specific media. The former attempted to put Hong Kong within the larger context of the development of contemporary photography in Mainland China and Taiwan. The latter, which offered the campus at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for artists to create site-specific installations, was a direct response to the growth of installation art during the 1990s. Another exhibition, entitled Hong Kong Sixties: Designing Identity (1995), reflects concerns about constructing a local self-identity. In the 2000s, the catalogues listed are chosen merely as examples to illustrate new trends of the decade rather than highlighting individual exhibitions. Several other publications focus on specific art media and they are listed under "Medium-specific Studies."

It should be emphasised that the recommended material provides only a starting point for research. Given the inadequacy of general art historical writings, users are recommended to try out other sources to get an overview of contemporary art in Hong Kong. One channel could be through material on individual artists and organisations. To begin with, users can refer to the second part of this article which is a sketch of Hong Kong contemporary art from my personal observation. Key individuals and organisations are hyperlinked to AAA’s online catalogue where users will find information on a handful of related material. For advanced users, Hong Kong Art: A Bibliographic Guide, Art in Hong Kong: A Chronological Guide to Exhibitions (1985-2001), and Hong Kong Visual Arts Yearbook are useful resources for further research which are not included in this introductory guide. 


The Contemporary Art of Hong Kong: A Sketch

One may say that the New Ink Movement, which emerged in the 1960s, was the first self-consciously "modern" movement of Hong Kong art. Led by Lui Shou Kwan, this group of artists believed in the progressive development of art and the mission of "modernising" Chinese art by bringing in Western elements. It is worth mentioning that during this period there were artists such as Kam Ka Lun, Kwong Yeu Ting, Hon Chi Fun, and Gaylord Chan, who were already involved with abstract painting which was stylistically close to the abstraction and pop art of the West.

When this movement was replaced by a new generation of Hong Kong artists in the late 1970s, the "contemporary art" of Hong Kong emerged. Artists like Choi Yan Chi, Kwok Mang Ho and photographer Leong Ka Tai were active members of this new development, whose work is in line with global art languages and new art forms (such as installation and action art) of their time. They represent the locally born "baby boom generation" of the 1950s who have little identification with China, and are strongly influenced by Western culture.

It was in the 1980s when the contemporary art scene took on a solid form, with the return of a team of "post-50s" artists from the West, including Antonio Mak, Yank Wong, Wong Wo Bik, and Josh Hon. Because of the difference in their backgrounds, their artistic styles were dramatically diversified. Without any Chinese "baggage," these artists were more willing to embrace the artistic language of Western art and its experimental approaches.

It is important to note that the development of contemporary art during this period is a multi-faceted one. There are also artists such as Luis Chan who moved into a distinctive path of surrealist landscape; Chu Hing Wah who developed a distinctive form of ink painting; Wong Cheung who practiced Photo-realism; Ricky Yeung, a self-taught artist whose raw and expressive treatment of sex and violence was unique within the local art scene; and Ellen Pau, a co-founder of Videotage (which began in 1986) and an important figure in nurturing the development of video art in Hong Kong. By the late 1980s, artists who emigrated from the Mainland, such as Yeung Tong Lung, Wang Hai, and Wong Shun Kit, were making significant contributions to the art scene.

Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were several significant exhibitions which marked the rise of contemporary art in Hong Kong. They have been mentioned in the first part of this article. 

In the 1990s, another generation of artists emerged. Most of them were locally trained. Some of them furthered their studies overseas, such as Fiona Wong, Ho Siu Kee, Chan Yuk Keung, Warren Leung, Kith Tsang, and other younger artists such as Leung Po Shan, Phoebe Man, and So Yan Kei.

At a time when Hong Kong people suffered from the anxiety of unification with China as well as the post-1989 trauma, political references and the quest for a Hong Kong identity were common topics in the arts. Capturing the political and psychological turbulence of the transitional period, the development of photography was particularly outstanding. Examples of active photographers during this period are Vincent Yu, Ken Wong, and Almond Chu.

The 1990s was an unusually energetic period in both art making and art criticism. Apart from photography, another prominent development was the growth of installation art which replaced sculpture as the most noticeable form of three-dimensional expression. Independent art spaces also emerged after the mid-1990s, including Para/Site Art Space, 1a space, and the Artist Commune. Once situated at Oil Street artist village, 1a space and Artist Commune later moved to Cattle Depot.

Since 1997, the economic downfall, SARs, the rise of China, the ambiguity over identity, as well as social/political discontent have created a state of limbo and frustration. The contemporary art scene remains diversified with a growing concern about culturally negotiating with China. New, young artists such as Hung Keung, Wen Yau, and Wong Chung Yu continue to add to the dialogue.

Public platforms for contemporary art remain scarce. Grotto Fine Art is devoted to the display of local art, while certain other spaces such as Osage Gallery occasionally present local contemporary art. The economic downfall after 1997 brought down rental costs and enabled artist villages to emerge, first in Fo Tan, and later in Kwun Tong and Chai Wan. Strongly affected by the real estate market, the futures of these artist villages remain unstable.

With an increasing global interest in Asian art, some Hong Kong artists such as Tozer Pak, Wilson Shieh, Chow Chun Fai, and Tsang Kin Wah are getting international recognition, while others such as Luke Ching, Simon Go, Wen Yau, and Jaspar Lau join forces with the local community and engage in social art actions. The demolishment of the Star Ferry Pier in 2006 intensified such movements. Art and social activist groups such as Video Activist, Community Museum, SOCO, CCCD, HULU, and Wooferten attract artists to engage in art projects at a grass-roots level.

While some young artists utilise their art for political causes, there are a substantial number of artists working quietly along their own paths. Without a strong market interest, Hong Kong contemporary art remains distinctive for not having been dictated by the art market, and for the time being, it retains its freedom to be vocally political. It suffers, however, from a lack of direction and self-identity, and worst of all, a lack of infrastructural support.


Recommended Readings



Clarke, David, Art & Place: Essays on Art from a Hong Kong perspective, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 1996 [English] REF.CLD

Clarke, David, Hong Kong Art: Culture and Decolonization, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2001 [English] REF.CLD

Clarke, David, Oscar Ho, eds., Someone Else’s Story—Our Footnotes: Contemporary Art of Hong Kong (1990–1999), Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 2002 [Traditional Chinese & English] 祈大衛、何慶基編,《他人的故事:我們的註腳,香港當代藝術研究 (1990-1999)》,香港藝術中心,香港,2002 [繁體中文及英文] REF.HKAC

Hinterthuer, Petra, Modern Art in Hong Kong, Myer Publishing Ltd., Hong Kong, 1985 [English] REF.HIP2

Lai, Eliza, Snapshots of Hong Kong Art History: 1950–2000, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, 2011 [DVD: in Cantonese] 黎美蓮,《香港藝術史略說:1950 – 2000》,亞洲藝術文獻庫,香港,2011。[錄像:廣東話] CDAAA.000775

Lai Kin Leung, Leung Po Shan, eds., Cong guodu kuayue qianxi: qiren shiyi pinglun zixuan wenji (Through the Transition and Over the Millennium: Self-Selected Visual Art Criticism Essays by Seven Critics), Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 2002 [Traditional Chinese] 黎健強、梁寶山編,《從過渡跨越千禧:七人視藝評論自選文集》,香港藝術中心,香港,2002。[繁體中文] REF.LKK

Lai Tsz-yuen, Topography: 12 Interviews with Contemporary Art Institutions in Hong Kong, Exterior Culture, Hong Kong, 2011 [Traditional Chinese & English] 黎子元,《測繪香港藝術地形:十二間當代藝術機構訪談》,域外文化,香港,2011。[繁體中文及英文] REF.LTY2

Noe, Cordelia, Christoph Noe, eds., Hong Kong Artists / 20 Portraits, Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, Nuremberg, 2012 [English] REF.NOC2

Wear, Eric, Oscar Ho, eds., Hong Kong Art Review, The International Association of Art Critics, Hong Kong, 1999 [Traditional Chinese & English] 華立強、何慶基編,《香港藝術概覽》,國際藝評人協會,香港,1999 [繁體中文及英文] REF.BIH




Tam, Laurence, Hong Kong Art: 1970–1980, Urban Council, Hong Kong, 1981 [Traditional Chinese & English] 《香港藝術1970–1980》,譚志成撰文,市政局,香港,1981 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.HKA


Lau, Van, Ten Years of Hong Kong Sculpture: A 10th Anniversary Programme of Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 1988 [Traditional Chinese & English] 《十年香港雕塑:香港藝術中心十週年紀念項目》,文樓撰文,香港藝術中心,香港,1988 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.TYS

Ho, Oscar, Turn of a Decade: A New Generation of Artists of the Eighties, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 1989 [Traditional Chinese & English] 《轉變的年代:香港新一代藝術家作品展》,何慶基撰文,香港藝術中心,香港,1989 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.TUD

Leung Po Shan, et al., eds., Hong Kong Artists of the 1980s, Para/Site Art Space, Hong Kong, 2002–2006 [Traditional Chinese & English] (the series consists of four monographs) 梁寶山等編,《香港藝術家系列 (1980年代)》 ,Para/Site 藝術空間,香港,2002–2006 [繁體中文及英文] (系列包括四本個人專集) MON.YSC, MON.CYK, MON.HHK, MON.CYC


Dragan, Raymond A., ed., Art & Space: From Sculpture to Installation, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Arts Endowment Committee, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 1996 [Traditional Chinese & English] 莊夢德編,《藝術與空間:從雕塑到裝置》,香港科技大學藝術基金委員會,香港藝術中心,香港,1996 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.ASS(2)

Turner, Matthew, Irene Ngan, eds., Hong Kong Sixties: Designing Identity, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 1995 [Traditional Chinese & English] 田邁修、顏淑芬編,《香港六十年代:身份、文化認同與設計》,香港藝術中心,香港,1995 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.HKSD (Closed Stack)


Au-yeung, Henry, Shen Bin, The Linear Dimension: Contemporary Hong Kong Art, Grotto Fine Art Ltd., Hong Kong, 2010 [English] EX.HGK.LDC

Chang, Jessie, et al., ed., CHiE!—Culture Sieges Politics, Para/Site Art Space, Hong Kong, 2008 [Traditional Chinese & English] 張芷茵等編,《「斷估唔拉」》, Para/Site藝術空間,香港,2008 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.CHIE

Chu, Almond, ed., Imaging Hong Kong: Contemporary Photography Exhibition, pH5 Photo Group, Hong Kong, 2008 [Traditional Chinese & English] 朱德華編,《影像香港當代攝影展》,pH5攝影連動,香港,2008 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.IHK

Lau Kin Wah, ed., Local Accent: 12 Artists from Hong Kong, Para/Site Art Space, Hong Kong, 2003 [Simplified Chinese & English] 劉建華編,《邊位?香港藝術家十二位》,Para/Site藝術空間,香港,2003 [簡體中文及英文] EX.CHN.LOA

Lin, Agnes, ed., Inside Looking Out, Osage, Hong Kong, 2007 [Traditional Chinese & English] 林茵編,《從內到外》,Osage,香港,2007 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.ILO

Schicktanz, Claudia, ed., Urban Utopia: Deutsche Bank Collection Hong Kong, Deutsche Bank AG, Frankfurt am Main, 2010 [Traditional Chinese & English] Claudia Schicktanz編,《都會烏托邦》:德意志銀行藝術收藏香港,德意志銀行股份有限公司,法蘭克福,2010 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.UUD

Tang Hoi-chiu, ‘Hong Kong Art: Open Dialogue’ Exhibition Series II—New Ink Art: Innovation and Beyond, et. al., School of Professional and Continuing Education, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2008 [Traditional Chinese & English] 《新水墨藝術:創造•超越•翱翔》,鄧海超等撰文,香港大學專業進修學院,香港, 2008 [繁體中文及英文] EX.HGK.NIA



Ink Painting

Lee Chun-yi, ed., Xianggang xiandai shuimohua wenxuan (An Anthology of Hong Kong Modern Ink Painting), Hong Kong Modern Chinese Ink Painting Association, Hong Kong, 2001 [Traditional Chinese] 李君毅編,《香港現代水墨畫文選》,香港現代水墨畫協會,香港,2001 [繁體中文] REF.LCY

Installation Art

Cheung, William, ed., Complement and Supplement: Appreciation of Hong Kong Installation Art, Step Forward Multi Media, Hong Kong, 1999 [Traditional Chinese & English] 張鳳麟編,《拆東牆補西牆-香港裝置藝術賞析》, 進一步多媒體有限公司,香港,1999 [繁體中文及英文] REF.CHW2

Video Art & New Media

Yeung Yang, ed., 20 Years of Hong Kong Independent Media Art, Videotage, Hong Kong, 2006 [Traditional Chinese & English] 楊陽編,《雷驚世界極目20:香港獨立媒體二十年》,錄影太奇,香港,2006 [繁體中文及英文] REFL.VID (Closed Stack)

Performance Art

Wen Yau, Project File: Hong Kong Performance Art Research Project, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, 2006 [Traditional Chinese & English] 魂游,《計劃檔案:香港行為藝術研究計劃》,亞洲藝術文獻庫,香港,2006 [繁體中文及英文] Special Collections Room


Lai, Dennis, Contact: 52 wei Xianggang dangdai sheyingjia (Contact: 52 Hong Kong Contemporary Photographers), Pop Art Group Limited, Hong Kong, 2010 [Traditional Chinese] 黎韶琪編,《Contact: 52位香港當代攝影家》,博藝集團有限公司,香港,2010 [繁體中文] REF.LAD4