Gallerist Nicole Schoeni is the Bridge Between Hong Kong’s Traditional Old World Collectors and a New World of Urban Contemporary Art
Hong Kong–with its riveting commercial pulse and maelstrom of designer labels–may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think ‘edgy art’ or ‘street art.’ It is conversely better known as a Western gateway for Chinese creators like Wang Yi Guang and Yu Chen, whose work (or ‘investment’) is appealing to more conservative and traditional collectors.
Wang and Yu are familiar names to Nicole Schoeni, director of the renowned Schoeni Gallery in Hong Kong (which exhibits their work). However, art world ‘designer labels’ aren’t the inspiration for her much-loved 21st century urban art project Adapta Gallery Hong Kong, which she dubs “a project of passion.”
Launched in 2008, Adapta Gallery Hong Kong is a collaborative effort between Schoeni Gallery and UK Adapta London, a popular arts and style webzine. It’s run by her best friend and his close mate, or as Schoeni puts it: “my partners in crime.” The UK Adapta webzine has facilitated contact and exposure to new artists–some of whom ultimately show at Adapta Hong Kong.
Schoeni explains that her goal is to bring one or two projects a year to the Adapta Hong Kong “for the purpose of bringing fresh and exciting shows to Hong Kong rather than as a commercial enterprise.” Although the gallery project has sold limited edition prints for as low as HK$800 (just over $100 USD), it also sells original artworks for as much as HK$500,000 (about $65,000 USD).
Anyone who has seen British street artist Banksy’s pseudo-documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop may wonder how mutually exclusive the concepts of street art and commodification are these days. Beyond his obvious talent, Banksy’s certainly the most well-paid anonymous street artist in the business. As a testament to its mainstream appeal, Schoeni Gallery (not Adapta Hong Kong) featured a show of his work in 2008–which Nicole Schoeni describes as having been “a stepping stone to what became Adapta Projects.”
She however reveals, “Banksy’s market isn’t enough to convince my collectors, who are very much Asian-focused, of the potential and artistic value of this genre of art.” But, she’s not giving up hope on the idea of the Hong Kong art collectors becoming more street art friendly in the future. This, in spite of the fact that Hong Kong galleries like No Borders and UFO Gallery– which had opened in recent years and had focused on this genre–have since closed.
She explains, “Many of the older generation are more conservative and see [street art] as vandalism and can’t see through that to the actual artistic contribution it brings to our city.” However, her dreams of street art’s future in Hong Kong rest in the promise of younger generations of collectors, who will surely ascend in influence, power and the financial ranks as the years go by.
“When it comes to younger collectors and the younger Hong Kong Crowd, they love our exhibitions…They felt it was something new and fresh in the Hong Kong art scene, something that they can relate to.” Street art, graffiti art and urban art have, after all, had a relatively short history in Hong Kong in comparison to their lengthier prevalence and relevance in U.S. and U.K. cultures.
The road to mainstream acceptance and appreciation is clearly a long and indirect one for Schoeni and other fans of street art in Hong Kong. But, one Adapta HK artist that could bridge the divide between the Old World and new generation art scenes is a young Brit known simply as Word to Mother.
Although he attended art school and studied illustration, he really began his career in earnest on the streets, via grafitti. Over time, he brought his works to galleries, and is now an artist on-the-verge, according to Schoeni.
“Each piece looks like it took years to evolve as his unique layering skills meld to one another effortlessly,” Schoeni raves.
She closes: “His ability to have such a distinctive style already at a young age, and one that isn’t connected to street art has allowed him to bridge the gap between this genre and contemporary art.”
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