ABOUT STOP PRESS

Stop Press is ISBN Magazine’s guide to happenings in Hong Kong. From art to auctions and from food to fashion, to entertainment, cinema, sport, wine and design, scroll through the best of the city's dynamic cultural offerings. And if your event merits mention in our little book of lifestyle chic, write to us at stoppress@isbn-magazine.com

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi

Solar power, submarines, why the sky is blue and space is black, aeroplanes, optics, robots, diving equipment, tanks, parachutes, astronomy, architecture, machine guns, cars, and human and animal anatomy; all were subjects that filled the waking and working hours and extensive notebooks of military and naval engineer Leonardo da Vinci, a handsome Florence-born aesthete, who perfumed his hands with lavender, had a sartorial penchant for the colour pink, and also happened to be an artist. It's a remarkable irony of Da Vinci's legacy; for a man whose scientific and investigative research in notebooks was so prodigious, his painted output was costive. Da Vinci, proclaimed by many as the world's most famous artist, painted just 16 artworks during his 67-year lifetime, or at least, only that number survived. He started hundreds, yet his conversion rate was low, or his attention span elsewhere so high, that he quickly acquired a reputation for being slow, if not indifferent. But that was only part of the story. Da Vinci was a perfectionist in matters of painting, working for five or six years on individual canvases, altering colours or shade, here and there, as he saw fit. Part of that is explained by the agony and ecstasy of newfound technology; Da Vinci's art moment coincided with the development of oil paint, and art's switch from tempura colour to oil. As such, art, and specifically painting, took on a whole new dimension, and layering, and Da Vinci was oil paint's pioneer. When his master Andrea del Verrochio saw Da Vinci's first work in oil, he proclaimed, according to Renaissance artist, writer and historian Giorgio Vasari: "Alas, my work is done". 

Imagine then, being an astronomer today and discovering a planet. Such a scientific finding could be likened to the discovery of Leonardo Da Vinci's painting, Salvator Mundi in 2005, thought to have been lost or destroyed, but which now represents a sale of biblical proportions through auction house Christie's in New York on November 15. Lest you think the planetary analogy is too grandiose, consider two of Da Vinci's canvases; the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. This latest discovery is the first since 1909, when the Benoit Madonna, now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia, came to light. There are fewer Leonardo paintings in existence than there are Shakespeare plays, yet the work of these two reclusive men and their magnificence, set a course for Western culture that's still palpitant 500 hundred years later. Ironically, for two men who depicted humanity in such detail, neither left behind a defining self-portrait of themselves. 

Dating from around 1500, the enigmatic oil-on-panel Salvator Mundi depicts a half-length figure of Christ as Saviour of the World, facing frontally and dressed in flowing robes of lapis and crimson. He holds a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right hand in benediction. The painting was long believed to have existed but was generally presumed to have been destroyed until it was rediscovered in 2005.

The painting was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles I (1600-1649), and thought to have hung in the private chambers of Henrietta Maria – the wife of King Charles I – in her palace in Greenwich, and was later in the collection of Charles II. Salvator Mundi is next recorded in a 1763 sale by Charles Herbert Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it into an auction following the sale of what is now Buckingham Palace to the king.

It then disappeared until 1900 when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. By this time, its authorship by Leonardo, origins and illustrious royal history had been entirely forgotten, and Christ’s face and hair were overpainted. In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, it was ultimately consigned to a sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 where it sold for £45. It disappeared once again for nearly 50 years, emerging only in 2005 when it was purchased from an American estate at a small regional auction house. Its rediscovery was followed by six years of painstaking research to document its authenticity with the world’s leading authorities on the works and career of da Vinci.

Salvator Mundi is a painting of the most iconic figure in the world by the most important artist of all time; the Holy Grail of the art world," says Loic Gouzer, Chairman, Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s in New York. More remarkable still, is that despite the conservation process on the painting, both of Christ’s hands, the curls of his hair, the orb, and much of the drapery are well preserved and close to their original state. The painting retains a remarkable presence and haunting sense of mystery that is characteristic of Leonardo’s finest paintings. Above the left eye (right as we look) are still visible the marks that Leonardo made with the heel of his hand to soften the flesh.

British painter Lucien Freud once said he disliked the paintings of Raphael (a painter who learned a great deal from Leonardo and Michelangelo), because his faces look homogenised, more synthetic than particular and that “there’s no sense of weight, flesh, of the texture of the skin.” Da Vinci didn't just capture sensibility and skin anew, he made reality of art, he de-classicised the mannered heroics of Michelangelo (the two held a healthy dislike and disregard for one another's styles) and prioritised human vulnerability; he took art from the pantheon and made it the reality television of the Renaissance. And to see it in the flesh is a revelation at hand. And a reserve of US$100 million.  

Footnote: As of November 15, Salvator Mundi sold in New York for a record US$400 million.

Image: Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi. Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

arto wong - hong kong young fashion designer 2017

On a night when you could slice the excitement with a knife, or the proverbial couture needle, fifteen of Hong Kong's emerging design talents converged for the Young Fashion Designers' Contest 2017 awards at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, before a table of top industry players and tastemakers, and iconic Japanese designer, MUG, who was the night's VIP.

MUG, a veteran of the Japan fashion scene through her own sassy label G.V.G.V, carried by Hong Kong's I.T Group, also judges contests at Tokyo's legendary Bunka fashion college, the design laboratory where Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto cut their textural teeth. How did she find the comparison between Tokyo and Hong Kong's designers in 2017. "I found them very close," she says. "The work has similar attention to details and fabrics, and some feels very commercial. You could sell some of the work straight away that I've seen today," she told ISBN, one hour before heralding Hong Kong's design champion.

Which in this case was Arto Wong Hiu To, also winner of the New Talent award, whose collection (left) elevated the mise-en-scene to another level. Her looks graced the runway, a quartet of canvases in quiet harmony. Already a full-time designer, Wong was inspired by the possibilities of transforming molecules into matter. She played with weight and proportion for the ruffles in her knitwear and created patterns from scratch which formed vivid and striking motifs. Voluminous yet light and uplifting, the collection [Zero to Unlimited] and its energy derived from a less-is-more, stealth philosophy. Small molecules, big moment and Wong finds herself HK$35,000 richer, receives mentorship from Joyce boutique to develop a capsule collection of shoes. She will also make a study trip abroad, which includes a visit to G.V.G.V studio, courtesy of Sun Hing Knitting Factory Limited.

Where Wong was stealthy and linear in mind and material, other designers couldn't raid their cupboards fast enough and lacked the same coherence. Stuff was piled high and low, like multiple walking catalogues; one particular standout though was Sonic Lam's outsized red bag [Barren Land], which helped him win First Runner-up prize. There were great themes and ideas elsewhere, too - Jason Lee [Kingdom of the Underground] asked the question: what if grunge rocker Kurt Cobain found himself living in Qing Dynasty China? While the answer wasn't nirvana, Lee's looks, a sort of mashed-up 'China grunge', won him the Best Footwear Design Award (right). 

Murfi Lau enacted iconic singer and actor Leslie Cheung as inspiration, exploring the idea of fluid sexuality through gold foil embroidery and cheongsam tailoring techniques [Les Lie]; Helianthus To treated humans as scientific experiments [Lab Rats] in silk organza and yarn, along with ropes and hangar knots, symbolising transparency and constraint. A dotted pattern on the trousers spelled out the Morse Code for "lost" and "SOS", suggesting a cry for help. Oddly, they felt more like angels than laboratory agents and more serene than sterilised. Yoyo Ng [Humeur} reacted to the distorted reality wrought by social media in overlapping and asymmetrical techniques distinguished by digital print, silver foil and netted heads. A particular shout-out must go to Ayumi Kwan [Primordial Hue], an environmentalist whose coral-influenced renderings in an array of pastel felting, hand-painted and weaved embroidery, were as popped-out as Murakami, and surreal as big, fluffy soft toys. The other prevailing trend was black, tribal, utility, functional, sportswear-y street, in styles reminiscent of Yamamoto's Y3, both in Wong Ka Wai [Streamline], and Second Runner-up winner Wilson Choi [The Stolen Soul]. 

A vibrant, compelling and vivid night for Hong Kong fashion was concluded by MUG addressing the designers. She said each should "try to express their own style through designs that are true to themselves". She noted the originality of Arto Wong's winning knit collection which she said showcased "originality, personal style and market value", and believes Wong is destined for a buzzy career. She also added a word of caution, too. "While marketability is important, designers should not easily be influenced by trends, nor should they find ways to adapt their works to the trends." Ultimately, Wong's collection, Zero to Unlimited, dressed not just the body but best expressed the mindset of the competing designers - four of whom represent The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HK PolyU) - and watching students, too.    

superior interiors

To walk into Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong and observe Dutch artist Jan Worst's Interiors is an almighty visual deception. On first sight they appear to be photographs, on which the artist has played some trick of light, and we wonder what elevates them to the realm of 'art'. But closer inspection reveals the creative 'wow' of the work; these are paintings, right down to the last methodical and meticulous detail of the letters on every leather-bound book spine on shelves, gilded door knobs, alabaster statues and folded napkins and wine bottles on dining tables. The photographic realism of these canvases is stunning - almost unsettling - to behold. 

Everything's so stately, a sort of Architectural Digest meets Grace Coddington mood board for Vogue, and rendered in a style reminiscent of photographer Robert Polidori's visual diary of the restoration of The Palace of Versailles in France, yet redolent of the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century and painters such as Jan Vermeer. 

  

Worst portrays lavish interiors of seemingly historic, presumably European, grand homes. Incongruously confined within each dimly lit interior is a young woman whose likeness is directly inspired by contemporary fashion magazines - scantily clad, gazing into the distance, languorously perched upon the formal furniture. It makes us think of the current Guccification of the aesthetic, nurtured by designer Alessandro Michele, the Gucci-sponsored exhibition at England's Chatsworth House, and the adverts the Italian luxury house plans to shoot within Chatsworth and the grounds of the historic house for the next three years. Or did it work the other way. Did Worst make Michele think of such mise-en-scene for the Italian fashion house?

But that's just the half of it. Adding to the tension and sense of voyeurism in these paintings, there is often a seemingly aristocratic small child or older gentleman lurking in a corner or shadow, the female figure entirely unaware of or indifferent to their presence. Or in the case of The Lecture, which has a Hockney-esque staging to it, we sense a connection between 'characters' with a past and present. Belgian artist Michael Borremans does a similar thing with a different palette. He depicts contemporary characters in somewhat ludic outfits and settings, but rather than place them in historic settings, he paints in the historic style of Velasquez or Goya to destabilise the viewer's expectations and understanding. 

It's suspense. A plot device as old as storytelling. Worst has maintained a very deliberate ambiguity throughout his career. Is he glorifying or critiquing the wealth and privilege of his subjects and their sumptuous dwellings? Why are these seductive women lurking in staid and airless rooms and what is their relationship to the children and men in the paintings? Worst's paintings challenge viewers with these questions while at the same time simply allow us to savour their beauty, opulence and richness of detail, all perhaps a meditation on human desire.

A young, nude model clinging to a black gown (left) punctuates the centre of a stately room in Divine Details (2013-2014), as though she were cut from a fashion magazine or film still and collaged into the scene. (Worst often uses the same figure in identical poses in other canvases) Worst employs playful contrasts in the painting by depicting an antiquated portrait of a white-wigged sitter hanging directly above the youthful model's head, the ornate candelabra on the wall becoming a mock crown. His dexterous renderings of mirrors and reflections demonstrate his painting virtuosity and reverence for old masters such as Johannes Vermeer. The irresistible beauty of both the female figure and the perfectly appointed room with its rose-patterned carpet and flickering candles subtly belies the unsettling and enigmatic nature of the scene. Great to gaze at, gawp at, and gram, (that's Instagram), for those so inclined. 


Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong, 303 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong. Opening times: Mon-Sat 11am-7pm




Images from top: 

Objects and Icons, 2017, oil on canvas, 120cm x 120cm. 

A Proper Distance, 2016, oil on canvas, 150cm x 150cm

Divine Details, 2013-2014, oil on canvas, 250cm x 200cm 

© 2016 BenBrownFineArts

sotheby's greatest hits

Sotheby's on March 1 at its Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London will auction a veritable greatest hits of glamorous canvases by the likes of Gauguin, Picasso, and more, the headliner of which is Gustav Klimt's luminous Bauerngarten, (1907, left), dating from the artist’s celebrated and much-loved golden period and from the same year as his famous golden irradiation of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Innovative in its composition and jewel-like in its blaze of colours, Bauerngarten is one of the Klimt's greatest and rarest works to come to auction. Klimt's landscapes often bear the 'echo' of a figure  - here the shape of a woman, or a dress, or a woman in a dress is decipherable in the triangular composition of the flowers. Bauerngarten was painted during summer, when Klimt would retreat to the shore of Attersee to paint, with his lifelong companion designer Emilie Floge. 

Influence: Impressionist and Post-Impressionist leanings on Klimt are evident, from Claude Monet's treatment of waterlilies to Van Gogh's dynamic still life flower portraits. Just as Monet used square canvases to depict his waterlily ponds at Giverny, so Klimt chose a square canvas to heighten the work's impact. By stripping away sky, and taking a 'point of view' approach to a scene, their work was more abstract, joyful, patterned and coloured. It is thus possible to look at Bauerngarten and see a quartet of combined influence with dazzling technical ability melded into one: Monet's Nympheas, Van Gogh's Nature more, vase aux marguerites, any Edgar Degas' Four Dancers, and any Toulouse Lautrec promotional Moulin Rouge posters. (Estimates on request, but  expect anything up to US$60 million). 

Then there's Amedeo Modigliani, whose Nu couché (Reclining Nude) set a record as the world's second most expensive painting in 2015 at US$170.4 million. This one, Portrait de Baranowski (right) painted in 1918, depicts a young Polish poet and painter - Pierre-Edouard Baranowski - with fragile good looks and a pensive, introspective air which captures typical Modigliani elements - geometric simplification of the stylised human form to the almond, vacant eyes that render the sitter impenetrable. Modigliani was a chronicler of the vie boheme of Montparnasse and this piece is typical. Its estimate is small relative to Nu couché, but its transgendered ambiguity hits a zeitgeistful sweet spot. (He could be the Chanel Monsieur poster-boy should the brand ever launch couture menswear). Estimated at US$18.55 million. Expect US$30m. 

Pablo Picasso's Plant de tomato (left) was not a work we knew the existence of. Painted between August 6-9, 1944, (and one of five he painted over nine days) symbolic of victory in Europe, and created in the apartment he shared with his lover Marie-Therese, it's ripe with personal as well as political and cultural significance - reflecting the spirit of hope and resilience of the times. Rarely can a still life - the grey and yellow background of which reflects the smoke and gunfire pervading the city - have been invested with such meaning. Picasso's artwork was blacklisted by the Nazi regime and paintings he completed during this time remained in his studio and were only exhibited after the war. The painting has been in a private collection for the last 40 years. (Estimated at US$18,550, expect US$25 million). All an interesting barometer of the art world market in the time of President Donald Trump.

Images: Courtesy of Sotheby's

points of view

If you only see one art exhibition this spring, make it Swedish painter Jens Fänge's Sister Feelings, showing at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong (until March 11), comprising 17 panel paintings created in 2016. And eye-catchingly topical stuff it makes too. You won't discern the exact likeness of the late great David Bowie, but his presence resides in one of the images, or even two. Music and Fänge it transpires, are close bedfellows - the show is named after a former punk album by the band that became Simple Minds. And in a remarkable coincidence, the Bob Dylan-loving Fänge was asked by Stockholm's legendary Nobel Peace Prize organisation to produce an artwork for Dylan's Nobel Diploma. (All Nobel Prize winners receive diplomas with commissioned pieces of art).

Fänge's shifting perspectives, points of view and intertextual references don't make for easy explanation, but do create intrigue, storytelling and provocative symbiosis. It's tempting to view each work as a short story, or narrative game of 'what happens next', or 'what just happened' prior the image in question, but Fänge likens them to "singles on an album". Either way, in each language or listening, or viewing or watching - a series of inter-states we seem to flit between when we stand in front of Fänge's work, this latter-day Pieter de Hooch-like panel-ism makes for the most fantastical parlour game of picture reading. 

Fänge's work echoes that of others; he's sometimes compared with Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, whose painting felt as though he were transcribing dreams, though the Swede's work feels more dream as drama, or theatre of the absurd. His assemblage and collage can feel Henri Matisse-ian, his colour palette Andre Derain-ian, his rainbow whisps of colour Wassali Kandinsky-esque or his random patterns the Kasimir Malevich-ian syntax of Suprematism. The relief in the work Kurt Schwitters, the suspense not un-Hopperesque, the perspective Edvard Munchian, a Hockney-an photo splash, his upended - and suspended - figures Baselitzian, his emphasis on found objects Alberto Burri-an. But high or low, fine art or commercial, painterly or post-modern or pre-and-post-pop, Dadaism or Dutch Golden Age, his work has a kind of all-schoolism about it. Strangely the work reminded this writer most of Jan Van Eyck and The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), distinguished by its use of a mirror which reflects the artist's subjects from the back and even hints at the presence of the Flemish painter.

Whatever the surrealistic matryoshka-like aesthetics, the paintings within paintings, the composites, iconic portraits, still lives, domestic interiors, cityscapes and landscapes of geometric abstraction, rendered in oil paint, pencil, vinyl, cardboard and fabric on panel, look out for the work above, Arrivals, which feels for all the world as though Munch's early 20th-century Scream subject has departed his/her haunted bridge and reappeared as cut-out retrospectively gazing back over the last 100 years from the democratised and domestic mis-en-scene of a living room wondering what all the fuss was about - not unlike the passage of art over the same period. Subtle and tantalising, once seen, you won't get this soundtrack out of your head.   

IMAGE: Jens FÄNGE, Arrivals, 2016. Oil, vinyl and fabric on panel 65 x 54 cm. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

17/F, 50 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong; T: +852 3758 2180; E: hongkong@perrotin.com

Opening hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 7pm 

t.o.p of the class: asia's young art aficionados changing global landscape

The geo-cultural shift  in the global art market was clearly felt at Sotheby's Hong Kong early this month. The auction house - in a prescient marketing ploy - enlisted pop phenom T.O.P (real name Choi Seung-Hyun) from Korea's all-boy band BIG BANG to curate an art exhibition for auction. T.O.P's interest in art isn't coincidental - his granduncle is Korea's leading post-war contemporary artist Kim Whanki, and T.O.P has parlayed that influence into good friendships with the likes of Japan's Takashi Murakami and other artists. He also leveraged his artistic clout to borrow Jean-Michel Basquiat's Infantry from Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa, who bought it earlier this year. 

The exhibition and auction, #TTTOP, the result of a year-long collaboration, celebrates the rise of young Asian collectors who seek art across cultural boundaries. By showcasing new and important Asian artists, the sale united various generations, cultures, styles and schools of thought. This selection not only reflected T.O.P’s artistic choices - he commissioned six works from Japanese artists including Murakami -  but also the international taste of the young Asian collecting community. A portion of the proceeds of the sale will be donated to the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) to provide opportunities to emerging Asian artists.

Yuki Terase, Specialist of Sotheby's Contemporary Asian Art Department and curator in charge of the sale which raised US$17.4 million, said of the event: "Through video, social media, the web and exhibitions in Korea and Hong Kong, we introduced millions of young enthusiasts to T.O.P's passion for art and the work of this special group of contemporary artists." 

Part of that community includes heavyweights like Shanghai's Kelly Ying. China's answer to Moscow's Dasha Zhukova, Ying co-founded Art021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair with Bao YIfeng in 2013, on a scale and ambition to rival Art Basel. (This year's Art021, November 11-13, features work Ying especially commissioned from prominent Chinese artist Liu Wei and the inaugural visit of New York art power dealer David Zwirner). 

Ying was shopping during T.O.P's art moment and had her eye on a very personal and stunning piece. T.O.P had commissioned Naoki Tomita, a young Japanese painter and recent graduate of Tokyo University of the Arts, to create an oil painting View (T.O.P) from a photo he'd originally taken on his iPhone in Germany and posted to his Instagram. It came as little surprise shortly after Terase registered a telephone bid of US$29,000, to find a joyous message posted on Ying's Instagram account (@kellyyingxoxo): "Finally I got it!!, wrote Ying, "Love the concept and the artist." 

Asia is making its voice and presence increasingly felt in the art world, and a 20-something pop and art star with a  5.8 million Instagram following (@choi_seung_hyun_tttop) whose curation and art commissioning is watched and bought by glamorous 30-something artrepreneur and cultural impresario Ying, is a sino the times in a rapidly changing art world. 

Image: Naoki Tomita, View (T.O.P). Courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong

Degas: the draughtsman's contract

Despite being exhibited with the Impressionist school of painting - with which he was mistakenly associated - French artist Edgar Degas was scathing of the movement. Plein-air, or open air - the creative cry of Claude Monet and his cohorts - was anathema to Degas, the consummate draughtsman and technical innovator. On visiting a Monet exhibition at Durand-Paul in Paris, Degas declared: "I met Monet and said: 'Let me get out of here. Those reflections in the water hurt my eyes!' Degas claimed Monet's pictures were "too draughty" and made him "turn up my coat collar" for fear of catching cold. Furthermore, he referred to the impressionists mockingly as 'the landscapists', and claimed an urge to want to fire at them in the countryside, he told Andre Gide in 1909. "Bang! Bang! There should be a police force for that purpose," he said. 

So while they battled mosquitoes and sunstroke in pastoral settings, Degas stuck to his attic studio like a hermit: "I can get along very well without ever going out of my own house," Degas would say. "With a bowl of soup and three old brushes you can make the finest landscape ever painted." Yet he didn't care much for colour either, preferring black and white. Economy of colour and speech, was a Degas trademark. Observing the Japanese Exhibition in 1890 at the Beaux-Arts, he's as pinpoint as his artistic technique: "Alas! Alas! Taste everywhere!"

Degas, contrary to the commonly held belief that his paintings - like photography - captured only fragmented scenes in daily life, resisted the urge to capture 'the moment'. He once said: “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the Great Masters." 

And so it was. Degas' feeling for the modern aesthetic was rooted in a robust sense of artistic tradition. Discussing a red-chalk drawing of a hand he'd purchased by Ingres, here's Degas: "Look at those fingernails, see how they are rendered. That is my ideal of genius, a man who finds a hand so lovely, so wonderful, so difficult to render, that he will shut himself away, content to do nothing but indicate fingernails."

Such obsession accords with Degas penchant for the gestures of individuals absorbed in a particular task - the recurring pose of a ballet dancer tying her slipper, for example. Degas it seems, struggled with the opposition in his work between the contained and the expressive. Don't look for story in a Degas painting, there isn't one, yet each canvas presents the syntax of artistic technique. 

To those who called him the painter of the "ballet rats", Degas said later in life: "People call me the painter of dancing girls. It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes." Never a truer word was spoke. For memorable paintings of fleshed-out, full-blooded dancing girls look no further than Degas' contemporary Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who celebrated dancing's glamour and its characters, not its geometry and calculus. Degas, at times, can feel as much number cruncher as creative spirit, more spreadsheet than starving artist, the latter of which, he never was.

"If one wants to be a serious artist today and create a little niche, one must immerse oneself in solitude. There is too much tittle-tattle. It is as if paintings were made - like speculations on the stock markets - out of the friction among people eager for gain. All this trading sharpens your mind and falsifies your judgement." So wrote Degas, at the tender age of 22, in 1856. It would be another 22 years before he first exhibited La danseuse a la robe de tulle, (pictured) at the World's Fair in 1878. It was, somewhat remarkably, the only sculptural work shown during his lifetime. Pierre-Auguste Renoir called Degas the best sculptor in Paris on account of the little dancer, recalls art dealer Ambrose Vollard, on the very day that Rodin sold The Thinker and the Gates of Hell to a private collector in Paris.  

Degas had a private income, and became a high-powered collector (little known to many of his contemporaries) building a veritable art inventory at his home at 6 Boulevard de Clichy in Paris. He acquired Ingres and Delacroix, El Greco and Van Gogh, David and Cezanne, Manet, Millet and Mary Cassatt, among others, mostly from Vollard. At an auction of his collection in 1918, one year after Degas' death, Manet's Grand portrait de familie was withdrawn after the Louvre purchased it for 400,000 French francs. An article in Le Monde by year's end claimed that proceeds from the sales of Degas' collection had surpassed 12 million French francs. Proof that no artist had such an eye and ear for movement, be it art or the stock market's, as the spectacular and speculative Monsieur Degas.

Degas, Figures in Motion showcases 74 bronze sculptures never before shown in Asia, supported by the French Consulate General of France in Hong Kong & Macau through the Le French May at MGM Art Space, MGM Macau, until November 20, 2016. Opening hours: 12pm-9pm, closed on Mondays (except public holidays). Free admission.

Image: The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer. The M.T. Abraham Foundation for the Visual Arts © All Rights Reserved.

Monet: man of the moment

For a man whose work appears today so art establishment, Claude Monet’s influence on painting was radical and divisive in its day. Monet (1840-1926) urged his friends and peers (which included types like Edouard Manet doing portrait and figure compositions) to abandon formula and get out of their studios, paint en plein air (open air) in front of the ‘motif’. Monet took to the water and had a small boat fitted out as his mobile studio - an effect so dramatic, Manet painted Monet working in his boat, in 1874.

Monet had been influenced by JMW Turner, the British painter whose London seascapes convinced Monet that the effects of light and air combined with water mattered more than practical subject matter. Monet painted in the moment, a technical innovation. As nature evolved by the minute, so Monet said the painter must work fast, capturing light as it was changing. Forget the multi-layered Old Mastery of nature as a finished work, this was pre-photographic shutter speed strokes of the brush, the artist in New-World instantaneousness. And the critics, much like the Establishment, hated it.

In France at that time, the only venue for an artist to gain recognition was the Salon de Paris, an annual and biannual exhibition of the Academie des Beaux-Arts, whose conservative offerings perfectly matched the audience's preconceived notions of the look and purpose of art. Monet and his contemporaries couldn't get their work accepted by the Salon in 1863. (Neither could Manet or Whistler, doubly ironic given that Manet acknowledged his inspiration as coming from the Old Master tradition of Titian, Velazquez and even Goya).

As a result, Monet and friends in 1874 arranged a show at Durand-Ruel, a photographer's studio. One of Monet's pictures - a harbour seen through morning mist - was titled in the catalogue, Impression: sunrise. One of the critics saw the image, and underwhelmed by its ridiculous title, referred to the artists as The Impressionists - it wasn't a compliment; he thought the work unsound from an artistic perspective and more like 'pictures'. He wrote: "What ease in the brushwork. Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more laboured than this seascape." But the label stuck. A satirical magazine of the time labelled them lunatics suffering from collective delusion.

By 1900, at the age of 60, in the same Durand-Ruel gallery, Monet exhibited 22 paintings of his most daring work: the waterlilies in his Giverny garden, into which he’d moved in 1883. Monet had to ask the mayor of Giverny if he could dig a small pond in his garden and install a sluice so he might capture the water from the Epte river flowing alongside it. He grew exotic plants and installed a Japanese bridge inspired by Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Sites in Edo; he also had rare flowers delivered to the garden from Japan through Tamada Hayashi, a Japanese dealer and collector living in Paris. The work was a triumph and the influence of The Impressionists and their once called ‘palette scrapings’ assured.

Claude Monet: The Spirit of Place at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (part of Le French May 2016 festival in Hong Kong) is the largest exhibition ever devoted to the artist in the city. It features some of his most emblematic paintings, pastels and tapestries from site-specific places in his life; Normandy and Brittany Paris and the Ile-de-France region; London and Venice; and Giverny. Proof that over 70 years, his genius and perseverance ensured universal approval. Monet was a free spirit and much like his work, a force of nature.

  

Claude Monet: The Spirit of Place. Hong Kong Heritage Museum, May 4 - July 11.

Image: Courtesy the Hong Kong Heritage Museum; Le French May 

H&M: "The best of the best"

Magnus Olsson was appointed Country Manager at H&M of Greater China (Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau) this year and has been in Asia for two-and-a-half years. Prior Asia, he worked in various positions and countries within H&M and has been at the Stockholm-based company for more than 20 years. ISBN spoke with him on the eve of H&M's launch of its largest global flagship store [October 29] in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay and the brand’s current designer collaboration #HMBalmaination with Balmain's Olivier Rousteing [November 5].

What’s your definition of success for the new four-floor Causeway Bay store?

When I see the customers lining up, and hear the excitement coming, and yesterday I passed by a friend of my wife, saying ‘see you on Thursday’, that to me is amazing. Because then we fulfil a need, a satisfaction. If people can, in general, dress a personality regardless of their economic situation, I think we have succeeded.

The billboards outside the store during construction are white and gold. Not an obvious H&M choice.

Is it good or bad?

Good. But when I first saw it, I didn’t think H&M. I was looking for some red.

But the feeling is that it should be something exclusive and gold has that quality.

Will there be a celebrity performance at the event?

We have the Canto-pop singer and actress Sammi Cheng. She’s singing for the first time in-store, and it’s the first in-store performance for H&M. So it’s a first for both of us.

You’ve been in Asia for two-and-a half years. What surprised you most about this market?

The speed of development and the dynamism. It’s a very creative environment with a lot of energy.

Why has it taken so long to open another store on Hong Kong island?

We only came to Asia in 2007, now we have 285 stores in the region. We have worked pretty hard. This year we have also opened up Taiwan as a market and we have opened up Macau as a market. There is a limited amount of large space. We wanted to make sure we had the best location. It also had to be a store that creates this extra shopping experience, an amazing shopping experience. There are a lot of criteria to be fulfilled. It’s not that easy.

The limited amount of supply of great retail space made that process slower. When we open in shopping centres we can see the number of people coming to the centre increases.

How many stores are there in China?

We are in an expansion period. I would say right now we have 205-ish. If you take Greater China the customers appreciate that we’re a global fashion brand and after that comes credibility, and aspiration of what the consumer wants. That’s interesting to me and gives us great confidence in the future of China.

Does Chinese President Xi Jinping shop at H&M?

No. Not that I’ve seen.

And his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan? She’s also something of a celebrity?

You have some very good ideas [laughter]. But we do have a lot of Chinese ambassadors that like H&M and help to promote the brand.

Balmain. Congratulations, it’s a great, young, buzzy campaign.

Thank you. The good thing is that it ticks all the right boxes of collaboration to show that price and design is not necessarily a contradiction. We want to surprise our customers and I think this collaboration was a surprise as well.

Has it got harder to surprise?

More and more companies are doing designer collaboration, but without sounding too partial, I think we are the best one doing it. But I don’t think that anyone else is doing it in the way we do it with the quality of designers. It’s really there. The best of the best.

Can we expect Marc Jacobs soon?

Would that be a surprise though?

Five years ago, yes. Now I’m not so sure.

Obviously I cannot comment. But you’re not the only one that has mentioned Marc Jacobs.

Maybe H&M could start again, revisit the greatest hits. Like Karl Lagerfeld 2.0?

That could be a really interesting surprise, I agree. Karl Lagerfeld was one of my favourites of course. He was the first one as well. A very exciting collection.

You lived in London for eight years. What did you like about it?

There is so much I like about it. You have the history, you have the multicultural aspects all living together, and I love the British humour and the football as well.

COS is based in London. Do you oversee that brand too in Asia?

We work in collaboration with COS locally. It’s a great success, a great brand. Absolutely we’re looking into more COS stores as well, but as with H&M, it’s important that it’s the right location, and the right business terms. COS has a very tight expression, its a very style-sensitive brand. It can also compare to much higher priced labels.

Does anyone ask you what COS stands for?

No. Strangely enough I never get asked that question. It’s just accepted as it is. Of COS.

Tell us about And Other Stories. Where do you place that in the H&M/COS hierarchy?

It’s a fairly new brand. Obviously we would like to bring that to Asia as well. We are looking into it, but we’ll wait until we’re ready. It complements COS/H&M. It’s a very style and fashion conscious concept with a great identity as well. Other Stories do only ladies clothes though. It has a big proportion of accessories. It’s high fashion, style, quality and price.

Where would you recommend people to go in Stockholm?

It depends upon the preference. The archipelago is magnificent, but that’s obvious. I enjoy Liljevalchs, an art gallery [one hundred years old in 2016]. And then the Mood galleria for shopping; the great thing about Mood is that there are lots of H&M stores around it. You would have four opportunities to shop H&M. That’s quite important. There’s a museum called Fotografiska for contemporary photography that is great as well [showing Martin Schoeller Up Close until February 2016]. I’d recommend food shopping at Östermalms Hallen, which is more like an old-style market place, with good quality food in a beautiful setting. There’s a place called Sofo / Nytorget with a lot of shops, though not so many H&M stores. For restaurants, I think Riche is good for both lunch and dinner. A classical restaurant called Prinsen is very good. Then there’s Café Opera. What else? There’s also a place called Kött & Fiskbaren. And I also have on my list Rosendal’s Garden Café which is very romantic and beautiful.

Twenty years at H&M. You and the company must be doing things right. How do you maintain the work/life balance?

H&M is a company where we appreciate work/life balance from the perspective of trying to keep things simple and not overdoing things. We do not promote anyone just because of long hours. Another point, because of our female workforce we are used to having workers on maternity leave, which in fact, isn’t a problem but becomes more like an opportunity, which we all appreciate. I try to be efficient, plan ahead and spend as much time as I can on both. Get a job you enjoy, and the work/life balance takes care of itself.

What’s your favourite Ingmar Bergman film?

Fanny & Alexander. In fact, that’s the only Bergman film I like. While I recognise him as a director, his are not the kind of movies I spend a lot of time with.

So what is your desert island film?

Dead Poet’s Society.

Apple or Samsung?

Apple. But I also like Sony Ericsson.

Art. Do you like and collect art?

I don’t actively collect. I like interior design more than art. But I like the work of John Constable. He’s not modern, but his technique is admirable. 

Show Me The Modigliani - US$170.4m

"The child's character is still so unformed. He behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We shall have to wait and see what is inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist?". So wrote the mother of Italian artist-to-be Amedeo Modigliani (known as  "Dedo" to his parents and "Modi" to his friends) when he was 11 years old in 1895.

Some prophecy. Livorno-born, Paris-based Amedeo Modigliani's Nu couché (Reclining Nude), painted between 1917-18, was unveiled in Hong Kong today at Christie's auction house. Almost 100 years old, but so lustrous was its sheen and so vivid the texture, it might have been painted 100 minutes ago - a cosmetic mood board with a Shu Uemura make-up palette. Step close enough and you could feel its pulse. 

To be auctioned in New York on November 9, this little-known and even lesser-seen masterpiece is being offered for sale, surprisingly, for the first time - a commercial virgin extraordinaire that's worth her reserve (US$100 million) and then some. 

Whatever the outcome, it should surpass the existing auction record (US$70.7m) for the artist's work Tete, a sculpture of a goddess's head (1911-12) made with limestone that Modigliani had purloined from a Paris construction site and which sold last November. The artist's most valuable painting to date, Jeanne Hébuterne (au chapeau), which depicts his lover and common-law wife in 1919, sold for US$42.1m in 2013 to a Russian client.  

Modigliani's work and life is a tale of contrast, debauchery, womanizing, pharmacopeia and ill-health. As much influenced by Italian Renaissance art and sculpture, and artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Boldini and Domenico Moirelli (a melodramatic Italian Biblical painter) as by Paris, Pablo Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, one of his teachers called him "Superman", as Modigliani was known to regularly quote from Friedrich Nietzche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and appreciate the thinker's radical philosophies. Modi wasn't shy to speak his mind either. On meeting Picasso in 1907 who was dressed in workmen's clothes, Modigliani said though the man was an artistic genius such talent shouldn't "excuse his uncouth appearance".

While Modigliani maintained a dapper sartorial silhouette, he dispensed with dress in matters related to his models. His reclining nudes, begun in 1916, were based on women he knew, had conjugated with or even married. But unlike Renaissance painters or 19th century artists who invested their images with allegory or mythological references and attributes, Modigliani focused - implicitly and explicitly - on his model's eroticism. As such, his nudes were considered by many to be pornographic and caused police in Paris to seize a portfolio of his canvases in 1918. He was dead two years later, at the tender age of 36. His wife committed suicide the day after his death, jumping from a window bearing the couple's unborn baby. Their orphaned daughter Jeanne Modigliani, born in 1918, lived to 1984 and wrote a biography of her father, Modigliani: Man and Myth

The provenance of Nu Couche is unknown, as is the model. But, the work stands head and shoulders (we often don't see hands and feet in Modi's works) above his prodigious output. In its dazzling contemporaneity, Modigliani's Nu couché  is Botticelli's Birth of Venus for the modern age. In this moment, this sumptuously stylized triumph on paper, Modigliani made magic as fresh today as it was controversial then. Ladies and gentlemen: any advance on US$130m? 

ADDENDUM: The above artwork sold in New York on November 10 for US$170.4 million to Chinese collector Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei, making it the second most expensive artwork at auction after Pablo Picasso's The Women of Algiers which sold in May 2015 for US$179.4 million. Liu and Wang own Shanghai's Long Museum. Said Christie's auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen who oversaw the sale. "We are in a masterpiece market." 

IMAGE: Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Nu couché , oil on canvas, 59.9cm x 92cm, 1917-1918. Courtesy of Christie's 2015. 

Yves Saint Laurent: Take a Bowes

The Bowes Museum and the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent have collaborated to create Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal, the first exhibition in the UK to present a comprehensive display of the French fashion designer’s work and life. The show highlights the defining elements of his vision, and its influence on fashion and the way we understand womenswear.  It's hard to know which is the greater surprise; that it's Saint Laurent's British exhibition debut, or that the venue is The Bowes, an unlikely, iconic museum, which takes the form of a French chateau in the North of England in the vibrant market town of Barnard Castle. Bowes, opened in 1892, boasts a wealth of artistic treasures, with paintings by Canaletto and Goya among them. 

“Fashion fades, style is eternal”, Yves Saint Laurent said. Articulating this idea, the exhibition presents 50 garments comprising iconic pieces from the Russian Collection, the Mondrian dresses and the Tuxedo. The show also opens up a dialogue with The Bowes Museum's collection, creating a unique sense of narrative around the history of fashion. It inhabits much of the Museum's first floor, including the award-winning Fashion & Textiles Gallery, which has hosted high profile fashion exhibitions such as Vivienne Westwood shoes, Stephen Jones Hats, Henry Poole & Co Tailoring, and most recently Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion.

After heading up the Christian Dior fashion house from 1957 to 1960 as Artistic Director, Saint Laurent created his own fashion house with partner Pierre Bergé, and first catwalk show in 1962. For 40 years, Bergé managed the business while Saint Laurent made material magic.

In the first 12 years, Saint Laurent defined a new style and composed the quintessential elements of the modern woman’s wardrobe: the pea jacket and trench-coat in 1962; the first tuxedo in 1966; the safari jacket and the first trouser suit in 1967; the jumpsuit in 1968. A selection of these iconic garments are on show at The Bowes Museum - a wonderful chance for fashion cognoscenti to appreciate  some of the 5,000 garments and over 15,000 accessories, drawings, paper patterns and objects conserved and kept by the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent in its archives at 5 avenue Marceau, Paris. 

By invoking male dress codes, Saint Laurent brought women social empowerment whilst retaining their femininity, a sentiment emphasised by Bergé: “If Chanel gave women their freedom, it was Saint Laurent who empowered them.” Saint Laurent had the ambition to dress all women, not just haute couture clientele. In 1966, he opened the first ready-to-wear boutique to bear a couturier’s name, SAINT LAURENT rive gauche, opening the way to fashion as we know it today. Saint Laurent believed in the 'democratisation' of fashion four decades before Sweden's H&M and Karl Lagerfeld.

 

Passionate about the arts, and a collector himself, Saint Laurent paid homage, as early as 1965, to various artists in his haute couture collections, with the famous Mondrian dresses, as well as his homage to Diaghilev and Picasso in 1979 and tributes to Matisse, Cocteau, Braque and Van Gogh in the 1980s, some of which are displayed at The Bowes Museum.

Style is Eternal highlights the diverse influences of Yves Saint Laurent. The show explores themes ranging from art, lace and transparency, to Masculine - Feminine, as well as featuring the different eras and styles of his creative career. It's a reminder of not just his design genius but also his infinite variety. 

Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal, The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham, England. Until October 25, 2015. 

IMAGE: A drawing for one of Yves Saint Laurent's couture dolls. The Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent Fondation, 1935-54.

1935
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1954 per dolls cut out of magazines and glued onto cardboard. Garm Fondationents ade of paper cut
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puts, ink, watercolour, and
©Fondation Pierre Bergé
Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

Digital Dreams of Russia

A remarkable occurrence is underway in Hong Kong, in which Rusal, the first Russian company to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the world-leading aluminium producer, commemorates its 15th anniversary with Digital Dreams of Russia, Hong Kong’s first-ever multimedia exhibition of Russian visual art. It is also the first ever digital “enlivening” of masterpieces from the State Tretyakov Gallery.

The State Tretyakov Gallery is one of the world’s major art museums and a veritable treasure trove of Russian art. The museum holds a collection of more than 170,000 pieces, including works of global significance. Fifteen of its most revered 19th and 20th-century masterpieces have been thoughtfully selected for this exhibition at Hong Kong's PMQ, representing various aspects of Russian life throughout the ages. The work is showcased through cutting-edge multimedia audio-visual animation and sound, specifically created for this exhibition. The show tells the story of Russia and its diverse nature and people, its long and rich history and traditions, economic development, and fascinating mythology.

Said Ms Vers Kurochkina, Rusal's deupty CEO, "We hope visitors will be inspired by the cutting-edge multimedia and also have a chance to understand the 'mystery of the Russian soul.'"

The artworks will be a revelation to most. From Boris Kustodiev's uplifting festive snowscape Pancake Week (1916), with sleigh rides and racing troikas, which wouldn't look out of place on any lacquered box, to Aristarkh Lentulov's Vasily the Beatified (1913), a fantastic architectural myth that invokes French Cubism and traditions of folk art to render the famous St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow, with blue cupolas, golden stars and colored strips of sky. Lentulov was a founder of the Russian Avant-Garde. 

Kazimir Malevich, founder of Suprematism, and one of Russia's leading though largely unknown startists, is represented by Haymaking (1928-1929), which shows a monumental, immovable peasant (see above) and a return to the artist's figurative work. This painting was presented in 1929 for a solo Malevich exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery. As the 1917 revolution came and went and times changed, so did the artwork, and Yuri Pimenov's Heavy Industry (1927) depicts the new man and woman, workers, transforming the world around them, in a rich photomontage of a painting. The everyday becomes epic, and the humble workers heroes. It's propagandist, dramatic and theatrical and strangely premonitious of the work of contemporary French photographer Jean-Paul Goude.

And then there's the technology, used to enhance and enable the experience of the viewer by revealing the 'life' of each painting's respective depth and feeling. Rather than gimmicking, gadgetising and game-playing the art, it delivers an unexpected 'point of entry'. The works become virtual reality canvases we step into and want to stay in. 

Much like the entire exhibition. This is grand work from an even greater country. 

Until July 5, 2015: The Qube, PMQ - 35 Aberdeen Street, Central (From 11am; Free admission)

IMAGE: Haymaking, 1928-1929, Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935). Courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery

H&M Collaborations @ 10

"Mass elitism, which has long been my dream, is the future of modernity," said Karl Lagerfeld, on the eve of his groundbreaking fashion collaboration with Sweden's H&M in 2004. The aim, a kind of 'massclusivity', was to create an exclusive product on a limited-edition basis. The result - his clothes sold out in 25 minutes in New York - shifted the fashion/retail paradigm, of the industry, designers and consumers. 


"We've been operating this business for 60 years and we've never seen anything like it," said Jorgen Andersson, marketing boss of H&M at the time. "We are as surprised as the customer [at the rapid sellout]." Lagerfeld was left bemoaning its astonishing success: "I'm sorry for the clients because I like the idea that everyone could wear Lagerfeld." The three top hits were a Lagerfeld silhouette T-shirt (US$19.90); a sequin jacket ($129), and a lace dress ($99.90). Later that day, 69 of the products were already selling on eBay. Women's jeans at $59.90 were selling for $75. "H&M has made inexpensive desirable," concluded Karl."Today, this is fashion". 

 

This year H&M sought out Alexander Wang, who designs his own brand, and for Balenciaga. It was the Swedish e-, re-, and ubiqui-tailer's first collaboration with an American. Despite being released in November, the project was announced in April, and by July, taking advantage of social media, a first knock-out product was posted on H&M's Twitter account: an Alexander Wang-branded boxing glove keyring. Vogue ran a 'look book' of products in October calling the strappy scuba dresses, cropped bra-tops and leather joggers a "sporty-minded fantasy". 


And on November 6th, six months of selective 'Instagrammable' social media marketing later, H&M stores launched the H&M/Alexander Wang collaboration (right). Wang's cutting-edge, logo-laden  'athleisure wear', which contained elements of his spring/summer 2015 campaign, sold out in 45 minutes, with some pieces selling online within the hour. Wang, like Lagerfeld, was left applauding H&M's style: "they push boundaries and set a platform for creativity," he said. 


H&M is a game-changer, not just as fashion democratizer of the high street, but also of electric avenue. The retailer saw the value of a mass e-porium, and introduced a virtual dressing room in 2006, whereby shoppers could 'try' clothes on a virtual model designed to look like them. The technology has since been refined and the latest iteration lets shoppers change the hairstyle and expression of virtual models, dress them in myriad H&M looks, button and unbutton clothes on them, rotate the models to see silhouettes front and back, and even choose the most appropriate skin colour. Shoppers get to play stylist and creative director before they buy; it's retail rebooted as added-value purr-chase.  


H&M brought the same excitement to designers they worked with. "Exuberant, sexy, covetable and hopeful," is how former Pucci designer Matthew Williamson described his capsule collection for H&M in 2009. "I want my friends, family, young girls, old girls, even my Mum, to wear it," he said of the trouser suits, peacock prints and cocktail dresses. H&M also asked Williamson to design menswear, his first foray into male fashion territory. So too, Tamara Mellon, at Jimmy Choo (2009). "They had to push me a bit!", said Mellon, who was asked to imagine the look of the beau that would date/partner Jimmy Choo belle. "But we came up with washed leather jackets, slim cashmere sweaters in electric blue and grey, light suiting and some bags as well - the man bag! And Chelsea boots," said Mellon. "The idea was pioneering and we felt flattered to be asked." As did French designer Isabel Marant (2013): "H&M's invitation is an exciting honour."


H&M collaborations were like a variation on a classic 'two-for-one' Hong Kong deal. H&M gets great PR and strengthens its brand as a fashion house, while designers can reach a younger demographic at a lower price point. Stella McCartney (2005) was gung-ho from the get-go. "I think the impact of collaboration is fast and furious. You leave a good taste in everyone's mouth. I think they're great way to  speak to a wider audience and let them get to know me and my designs better. At the end of the day, it's about consumers being happy. I'm very aware, and I think not many other people are these days, that it's about the customer." Lanvin (2010), Versace (2011) and Maison Martin Margiela (2012) all benefitted from the cross-pollination.


That exposure worked especially for Japan's Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons (2008 - left), H&M's most avant-garde choice. "I thought it would be exciting to work with H&M to sell CdG clothes in new markets and appeal to consumers who, up until now, may not have been familiar with the CdG concept. Pairing H&M's international design expertise with Comme des Garçons' creations has resulted in a fascinating accomplishment," Kawakubo said. "The coming together of two contrasted histories, asethetics, ideas leads often to something greater than the sum of its parts."


An unsung voice central to all collaborations is H&M creative advisor Margareta van den Bosch. She instigated the majority, and despite 'retiring' from H&M several years ago, continues to oversee the projects. "They are all important and exciting projects for us. We like to surprise by doing the unexpected. Karl Lagerfeld, master of couture, street-cool Stella, Viktor & Rolf with their modern twist on tailoring, Roberto Cavalli, glamorous and extravagant, and then Rei Kawakubo: always pushing the frontiers of design and never accepting the status quo. It has been an amazing journey." Does she have a favourite? "I have millions of fantastic memories at H&M and I'm still collecting new ones. My first encounter with Karl Lagerfeld was memorable. He was extremely aimiable and just the perfect host. The collaboration with him was a real pleasure." 


A book commemorating H&M's decade of fashion democratization has been released, 25 percent of which goes to UNICEF's work against child marriage. With behind-the-scenes pictures, campaign visuals, interviews with all designers and key pieces from each collection, it's playfully titled, too. The First Ten Years. "I like the constant change, the humour, the open attitude, the classic fashion designers and tailors as well as the hyped-up stars, the beautiful and the strange - sometimes even the ugly," says van den Bosch of the business. "Fashion should be fun, feeling good about yourself." Here's to the next decade. 


Images: Courtesy of H&M


Russian Art Rush



Of all the enigmas, riddles and mysteries concerning Russia, none is more recondite than our limited knowledge of its artists, a fact made all the more apparent given the kaleidoscopic super-abundance of its other cultural icons, which we namedrop with the boutiqued ease of French and Italian luxury labels. Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Gogol, Chekov, Tolstoy and Nabokov in literature; Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky in music, and from dance's Rudolph Nuryev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, the Ballet Russes and the Bolshoi, to stage and cinema's Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky and Constantin Stanislavsky. Just to rub salt in the aesthetic wound, movies gave us director Alexander Sokurov's mesmerising Russian Ark, filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum in a single 96-minute Steadicam sequence shot in 2002, in what may be cinema's greatest artwork. 


And yet ... Russia's artists? Well, there's Kandinsky, Wassily Kandinsky, of course. But who else? Russia, the largest country on the planet by size, is yet to find its place in the art world and conquer the global art market. Despite the efforts of Western galleries internationally, such as the Guggenheim in New York, Russian art is still a black hole, a blank canvas to most of us, and Russia's galleries haven't helped much either. The Russian government has done little to promote its contemporary artists' works, there are few contemporary art museums, and traditional museums lack the means to build collections.

 


All of which makes the appearance of St Petersburg-based Erarta Galleries in Hong Kong something of a revelation. Stylishly set opposite Hollywood Road's Man Mo Temple, the gallery's inaugural exhibition, Game Changers, lays down the artistic gauntlet and lets it run. As magnetic as it is magnificent, and as fresh as it is flamboyant, this energetic confection of more than 30 exclusive works by contemporary Russian artists is everything like, and nothing like, you've seen before. Bristling, philosophical, poetic and technological, it's Matrioshka doll unravelled in 21st-century mosaic, artistic epicentre of everything.  


There's Pavel Brat, a Moscow favourite, known for creating collages that invoke the worlds of fashion, design and advertising. Brat is considered among Russia's most collectible young artists. Likewise Konstantin Khudyakov, one of Russia's pioneering digital media artists (see The Birth of the Moon, 2014, left). Emerging talents include the wistful Degas-esque sculptures of Aleksey Gromov, and the elegantly executed graffiti work of Katya Krasnaya (Boat, 2014, below).


There's no single movement at work, but pluralities of influence; surrealism, the Italian avant-garde, and social realism, along with Pop Art's declensions and plenty of them. There's early Salvador Dali in the 3-D works of Viktor Ponomarenko; a parody of Japanese otaku in K.G.B's Girl in Blue, and Warholian Marilyn overtones in Egor Bogachev. There's Dmitry Shorin's guardian angel for the modern age Angel No. 8, (given jet engine wings to keep up with progress) a retrofuturistic standout of Michelangelo proportions, to reminders of Russia's prodigious space provenance in Aleksey Chizhov's (Gagarin, 2011, top) two canvases which can be purchased for HK$58, 800 each, or as a diptych. Russian cosmonaut and national hero Gagarin spent 90 minutes orbiting Earth from the bespoke black of space in 1961, the first human to accomplish such a feat. 


There's a Russian proverb: Vsio vozmozhno, tolko ostorozhno (everything's possible, just be careful). Game Changers is a celebration of endless and economic reality - each canvas comes with a price tag. With art this appealing and affordable, just be careful not to buy everything.


Game Changers: Erarta Galleries, 159 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Opening hours: Tues-Sat 11am-19:00pm; Tel: +852 2685 5199; Email: hongkong@erartagalleries.com; Until January 17, 2015

Images Gagarin by Aleksey Chizhov, Acrylic on Canvas (Diptych), 100 x 100 cm each, 2011; The Birth of the Moon. Limited edition 2 of 5, 110 x 110cm, 2014; Boat by Ekaterina Krasnaya, 170 x 100cm, 2014.


 

Future Perfect

Science fiction has been around for longer than many might think. In fact, gazing into the future and imagining mankind's potential has been with us since the dawn of civilization. Parts of the Bible have such elements - the prophet Ezekiel's 'vision' is thought to be a UFO sighting, as does the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (2000 BC), reckoned by many to be the first reference to sci-fi in humanity. Greek playwright Aristophanes had voyagers flying to other worlds in The Birds and The Clouds, as did Ovid's Metamorphoses. The Indian Hindu epic Ramayana (5th century) - one thousand years before Leonardo Da Vinci created robots in 1495 - has flying machines that travel into space and destroy galactic cities using advanced weapons, and the old English poem Beowulf (9th century) and German poem Nibelungenlied (1230) all have futuristic, though often fantastical rather than science fictional elements. Sightings of strange objects such as flying saucers may even predate modern man. Carvings on rocks of the granite mountains of Hunan Province, China, reckoned to be 47,000 years old, around the time of Neanderthal man, show cylindrical objects resembling spacecraft.

Structured around the themes of retrofuturism, steampunk and archeomodernism – a concept developed by the academic, critic and curator Arnauld Pierre - the exhibition FUTURE PERFECT strives to create a dialogue between past cultural output that imagined the future – our postmodern era – with work from contemporary artists, which in both form and substance refer to the past by revisiting and reviving certain visions of the future or of modernity, generated between the last third of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. We feel the strong influence on and of cinema, and superhero comic forms on this journey. We also feel the impact of scientific and technological development. 


There's some interesting discoveries too. Hugh Ferriss, a trained US architect who never built a single structure but influenced generations of his peers. He was a delineator - creating a perspective drawing of a building - whose work was frequently used for advertising purposes. He was the architectural equivalent of fashion's Rene Gruau. (See Ferriss's The Metropolis of Tomorrow, sketches of tall buildings and skyscrapers to get a flavor of his work). 


The transporting works on display evoke divided feelings: first, the triumph of science fiction - or its popularization of science - as a genre on culture for 150 years and its ability to foretell events which came to pass. Second, whither science fiction today? So techno, bio, nano and digitally driven, it has become almost indistinguishable from the world it attempts to signify; bionics, gene therapy, asteroid mining, bio-terrorism, nano-medicine, NASA space suits for Mars, robotics, 'designer babies', 'mind uploading' and 3D printing of satellites. We already live in futopia, a cyberlyptic, robopolitan neuro-now. Science fiction was meant to be the contemplation of the 'What if', yet humanity's progress and expectation has surpassed it. 'What if' has become 'When'. Technology will make transhumans, or posthumans of us all and the long dreamed of 'future perfect' might be one in which, ironically, humanity transcends itself. Old-school science fiction has become new-school artifactual, and it's a tantalising and troublesome vision to contemplate. Here's hoping the artwork and its impact on 21st century culture continues to be as exhilarating as this collection. 

FUTURE PERFECT curated by Jean-Francois Sanz. agnès b.’s LIBRAIRIE GALERIE. G/F, 118 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Until July 5. 11:00am - 7:30pm daily (closed on Sundays and public holidays) Tel: 2869 5505. Free Admission.

IMAGES: (Top)  Ray Caesar, Metatron, 2012. Digital Ultrachrome on paper. 8/10, signed. 183x122cm. 

(Below): Warped, Mr TIB: New Order, 2011. Digital print © Warped Prod. 35x50cm


 



Signs of the Times

The neonscape of three- and four-storey electronic signs has been a trademark of  Hong Kong's street life - and its cinema - for decades, like a signature of approval. But while relentless property and retail development sweeps out characterful old for panglossian new, neon has become less luminous in the ever-changing palimpsest. 


"Neon signs, which hold a prominent position in the visual culture of Hong Kong, are fast-disappearing from the city's urban landscape," says Dr Lars Nittve, Excecutive Director of M+, Hong Kong's future museum for visual culture in the West Kowloon Cultural District. 


NEONSIGNS.HK, M+'s first online interactive exhibition, is a reaction to their demise. As well as celebrating this key feature of the city's urban landscape by researching, exploring and revealing stories behind individual neon signs - members of the public are invited to contribute to the museum's research by uploading images and stories of their favorite signs to an electronic "Neon Map", via Instagram, e-mail, and the Neonsigns.Hk website. These will be searchable by district and "featured" sections, and sharable through social media. 


The site will be updated with new curatorial content - essays, slideshows, videos and timelines - to provide a richer view of Hong Kong's neon signs from the perspectives of craft and industry, design and typography, urbanism, cinema, visual art, literature and popular culture, within both local and global frameworks.


The exhibition is also a public call to action. "The intention is to elicit the public's help in documenting and researching the city's remaining neon signs--but also to further a discussion about the multiple readings offered by these once ubiquitous landmarks of Hong Kong's streetscapes,” say Nittve.


M+ recently bought two of the city's most recognizable neon signs: the neon cow that hung above Sammy's Kitchen steakhouse in Sai Ying Pun since 1977, and a Kai Kee Mahjong School rooster sign, dating from 1976, from the company's now-closed branch in Kwun Tong. At one time, Hong Kong had the world's biggest neon sign sponsored by Nanfang Pharmaceutical Factory's 999 brand of traditional Chinese medicines; it stood six stories tall, 111-metres wide, weighed 80 tons and beamed from the Shun Tak Centre in Central. The three figure '9's were made up of more than 13 kilometres of tubing; a neon-colonial sign of the times. 



NEONSIGNS.HK - until June 30, 2014; Instagram: #HKNEON

Grab a line

Frank Gehry’s Fish Lamps see the legendary architect on perfect form

 

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, at times, looks like a fish. It leaps and flashes and glides and shimmers and undulates with every curvilinear form and contour of its exuberant, quicksilvered gills. To say Bilbao was a game changer is the understatement of 20th-century architecture. Bilbao was architecture’s most significant moment since the Colosseum. Bilbao rewrote Vitruvius. Bilbao rewrote Roman code. Bilbao recalibrated 2,000 years of architecture by opening the door to a bold and brave new world of aesthetic and imaginative possibility. Bilbao was Wow times one-hundred. Bilbao. Wow. Wow.   


Even today, 17 years on, revisit Bilbao and catch sight of those scales, and the hairs of the back and the down on the cheeks rise in adulation. The senses salute. Erumpent, triumphant, transcendental, monumental and miracle. "The fish is a perfect form," Gehry once said. Much like Bilbao. 

Fascinating it is then to discover a darkened gallery space brightened by Gehry’s luminous life-size and outsize fish at Gagosian Asia in Hong Kong, for which Gehry specially created these vigorous light sculptures. Playful and kinetic, the Fish Lamps, (first made by Gehry in 1983) are composed from a formica plastic laminate called ColorCore to form individual groupings, elaborate chandeliers and wall sconces. Curling and flexing as if in motion, they emit a warm, incandescent, almost meditative light. They are lantern-like, and they are piscatorial, yet, neither ticks any obvious Chinese box, despite the prevalence and provenance of both in China's artistic culture.  And they are perched – no pun intended for these are koi – on wooden pedestals, celebratory canvases sprung from an easel, like prize possessions. 

And then, unannounced, appears a snazzy, flashy, party piece of reptilian accessory.  So vivid you expect it to move, and still so fresh it's yet to be christened. For now, it's known as the rather unsnappy Untitled. Much like Damien Hirst’s 1991 shark in formaldehyde, you don’t question this piece; it’s a snap decision – you like it, you buy it. Boutique hotels, garden parties and D&G or Versace showrooms could wear this shiny black statement-maker like a second skin. 


Gehry's energetic structures prompt an unusual reaction: you want them to move. One pictures the glossy predator prowling the apron of an outdoor swimming pool, menacing, and the fish, shoaling and streamlining through the mid-air of anywhere. Now and zen. There's direction for today's frantic zeitgeist - art performance rather than performance art - living the art, not just looking at it. Which brings us back to Bilbao and a bold future. And Gehry shining new light on it, once again ...  


Frank Gehry: Fish Lamps Gagosian Gallery, 7/F Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852.2151.0555. 

Hours: Tues-Sat 11am to 7pm. 

 

Images: Fish: Untitled (Hong Kong II), 2013. Metal wire, ColorCore formica and silicone on wooden base, 66 x45 x42 inches (167.6 x114.3 x 106.7cm). ©Frank Gehry. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Josh White/JWPictures.com.  

Alligator: Untitled (Hong Kong IX), 2013. Metal Wire, ColorCore formica and silicone. 26 3/4 x 118 1/8 x 148 inches (68 x300 x 376 cm). ©Frank Gehry. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Josh White/JWPictures.com.


The New Victorientals

What do Ian Fleming, Isabella Blow, Mary Shelley, Joseph Conrad and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart all have in common? They all lived and worked in London's Victoria district at one time or another in their careers. That may surprise some, for whom Victoria evokes images of a scruffy and sprawling railway, tube, bus and coach terminus, and back-packer central mentality; it's more a place to pass through than pass time in. But, much like 110 years ago when the partially completed railway station was destined to become a bustling hub for Continental traffic, Victoria is having another moment, care of London developer Land Securities and a new cultural interchange. 

Land Securities' ongoing new-build residential, office and mixed-use projects are refitting and rebranding Victoria as an upscale, creative and fashionable destination in which to work and play. So far, its colossal 
£2.2 billion investment is paying dividends: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, auctioneers Phillips de Pury, British fashion house Burberry and American designer Tom Ford have all set up headquarters in Victoria, raising the district's style credentials.
  
But as much as elegant living space, it's about dynamic investment potential. Prime Central London property prices are at an all-time high, having risen 60 percent since the financial crisis of March 2009. Prices for the best homes increased by 7 percent during 2013. And if Continental was the buzzword in Victoria over a century ago, today it's Oriental. Buyers from Hong Kong and China were the largest group of new-build prime London buyers in 2012-13, comprising 27 percent of the market by volume. London has accounted for 80 percent of all Chinese property investment in Europe since 2008. 

New on Victoria's block this month is Nova (pictured), Land Securities' ultra-modern, cutting-edge Benson + Forsyth-designed office, residential and shopping development with luxury concierge services, business centre, private cinema, residents’ lounge and rooftop garden overlooking Buckingham Palace. The private sale of Nova’s luxury apartments starts this month in Hong Kong. Given China’s predilection for London and the capital's financial and regenerative potential, it seems a 21st-century cultural shift is unfolding. The Age of The New Victorientals is upon us.  


Les Enfantines debuts in Hong Kong

Despite the prevalence of fashion and high-fashion design in today’s world for toddlers, there’s yet to emerge a leader in the pack. Until now, with the arrival of Les Enfantines, French haute-couture for children from 3 months to 8 years.


Les Enfantines is the vision of Laure Gues, descendant of the legendary Jeanne Lanvin, one of France’s most influential designers of the 1920s and 30s. Following a Masters in Management Science and Marketing from Paris Dauphine University, Gues worked with some of France’s leading lifestyle and luxury brands, such as LVMH, developing their branding, marketing and even designing their packaging. 


But the birth of two children saw Gues step into children’s fashion.


Blending classic and contemporary, but reviving lines with a modern twist and surprising marriages of fabric, Gues describes Les Enfantines as “quintessentially French”: think chic, luxurious and timeless. Note one of the brand’s signature trademarks: adjustable collars which are interchangeable from one dress to another for different looks.


Gues feels children’s fashion should be more fun, and develops her collections so the collars, the pockets et al, become accessories, making each outfit unique and new everyday. Elegant animal iconography such as elephants, butterflies, frogs, squirrels, crabs, ants, locusts and ducks feature prominently on her wares. It’s a tribal motif that taps well into kid’s natural curiosity.


And that's a market expanding faster than any in retail. A recent Global Industry Analysts' report projects the world market for children's wear will reach US$173.6 billion by 2017. Fashion trends, current adult wear, and demand for smart and hip infant wear from more 'market savvy' kids are driving the market. Despite economic problems in Europe and America in recent years, the children's apparel market has sustained momentum, while growing affluence in emerging markets and smaller families are fostering rapid market growth, too. Asia-Pacific, spurred by the markets of India, China, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, will deliver the fastest growth rate of 5.3% over the next three years. 


Hoping to tap into that burgeoning market, Paris-based Les Enfantines is growing as rapidly as the young bambinistas it dresses. Gues is looking East, where she currently sells at Cherbébé in Seoul, South Korea, and has just debuted Les Enfantines in Hong Kong at TroiZenfants boutique in Wanchai. Les Enfantines is one to watch. lesenfantineshk.com


The Venus Beauty Myth

If beauty resides in the eye of the beholder then Florentine Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli's Venus, currently showing at MGM Macau's newly inaugurated 8,000-square foot MGM Art Space, is a blinder. We gaze, so wrapped up in its grace, that we don't immediately spot the unnatural length of the somewhat sturdy neck, the steep fall of her almost non-existent  left shoulder, and the odd way her seemingly overlong and muscular left arm is hinged to the body, a clumsy artificial protuberance that seems to belong to someone else. For one so beautiful, Venus can seem more misfitted than muse in close-up, in her impossibly ungainly pose, anchored by her bloated feet yet angular, extended, architectural toes. The real beauty, the artist seems to be saying, or painting, resides in the imperfection. 

Venus, painted on wood around 1482,  is one of a series of paintings commissioned by Florence's powerful Medici family. The goddess - symbol of love, beauty, fertility and prosperity in Greco-Roman mythology - was recast by Botticelli and his workshop who juxtaposed her contrapposto posture against numerous backdrops in variant works, most notably, the Birth of Venus, (1482), in which her floating vision balances atop an oyster shell, a Renaissance metaphor for the vulva. Some of these works hung in assorted Medici homes and even bedrooms, and may have incorporated personal aesthetic predilections. Painters sold different versions of identical or similar compositions to wealthy and less-wealthy clients alike during the Renaissance. This was especially evident in Botticelli's Madonna and Child images, which were produced more like fast moving consumer goods than objects of sanctity. If LVMH had existed in the Renaissance, Botticelli would have been their bag. 

Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, nicknamed 'Botticelli', (from 'botticello' meaning 'small wine cask'), had his moment from 1477-1490. The much-debated Primavera (Spring) and Athene and the Centaur were created at this time. The year before Venus, Pope  Sixtus IV summoned Botticelli to Rome - his only commission outside Florence - to decorate the walls of the recently completed Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, along with Ghirlandaio, Rosselli from Florence and Perugino from Umbria (Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes came 27 years later). On his return, Botticelli  painted Venus, along with Venus and Mars three years later. But the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492 saw the lights dim on Botticelli's moment. Dominican preacher Giorlamo Savonarola, whose influence grew in Florence, denounced Botticelli's paintings as 'lascivious', along with certain books, and urged people to destroy such 'vanities'. In the face of such condemnation and the approach of younger artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, Botticelli faded into relative obscurity. Little commissioned and in bad health, he later died in 1510. His name didn't re-emerge until the 19th century with renewed interest in his, and Florentine artwork. 

Botticelli's Venus - The Life and Times of a Goddess, until Feb 16, 2014; Tuesday to Sunday, 12-noon to 9pm. Free admission. MGM Macau, Avenida Dr. Sun Yat Sen, NAPE, Macau. Phone: (853) 8802 8888 or email: artspace@mgmmacau.com. 
Sandro Botticelli Venus, circa 1482. Tempera and oil on wood. H 177cm x W 71cm. Galleria Sabauda. Turin. 


Loliconography

Mr. (real name: Iwamoto Masakatu, who took his alias from the nickname of a Japanese baseball player) is a so-called otaku, who paints innocent girl characters in cartoonish style with Lolita-esque sexualization. Otaku, originally a term that meant geek, has come to define a person with obsessive interests in anime, manga, sci-fi, video game and cosplay that can push the boundaries of acceptability, especially in matters of sex. Cyberpunk author William Gibson defined otaku in 1996 as "pathological-techno-fetishist with social deficit" and later as "the information age's embodiment of the connoisseur". Otaku has evolved to include a declension called 'moe' (the slant of the works at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong). Moe involves a predilection for fictional preadolescent girls and fetishization of a single object. For example, a fixation on broken glasses moe (girls with broken spectacles), large watery eyes moe, and military moe (cute girls in uniform brandishing guns). Surprisingly, the otaku/moe industry in Japan is driven as much by women, as men. 

Against which backdrop arrives Sweeet!, 44-year-old Mr.'s art specially created for Galerie Perrotin. Standing in the white-walled gallery observing these poster-sized glossy controversial confections of voyeurism and fetish, hurry-scurry with multiple mo(e)tifs promoting cute and kink - young girls almost like dreamy pets - it's hard to reconcile as art, and can seem like tacky grotesquerie; a gallery of pre-teen fandom stuck on a bedroom wall, the busied paint-splattered canvases like premature ejaculations or the pre-pubescent wet dreams of a sensibility that never grows up. It isn't saucy, just saucer-eyed. 


Mr. paints things he is ashamed of. He is a  'lolicon', a term derived from Vladimir Nabokov’s protagonist Humbert Humbert who bears the ‘Lolita complex’, and projects his dark, obsessive and presumably doomed desire through his moe girls. This time around, he has incorporated elements of Western art, sort of Banksy-san, with graffiti-esque patterns familiar to a wider audience. But if the subject matter shames the artist, how should the viewer feel? Do we berate the artist, how 'lo-moe' can he go, or do we just indulge the cartoon or comic Pop and some of its undeniable wit and fun, as though viewing a version of Roy Lichtenstein's splashy canvases, and ignore the parental guidance rating? 


Iwamoto is a big name in Japanese art, who matured under the even bigger shadow of Takashi Murakami. After graduating from the Department of Fine Arts, Sokei Art School in Tokyo in 1996, he became Murakami's assistant, and founding member of Murakami's Kaikai Kiki company, a Japanese equivalent of Andy Warhol's Factory in New York. Iwamoto has been associated with the Superflat art movement - which explores the emptiness of Japan's post-war consumer culture and sexual fetishism, where distinctions between high and low art dissolve at the door. 


Of the pictures Mr. fashioned for Hong Kong's Perrotin gallery, only one  so far remains unsold (right). Illustrating a form of 'Yankee street' culture (yet another otaku declension), we see a girl in black leather and a car (auto moe) behind her; its effect is positively post-coital compared to the rest, and certainly more Western driven. Which makes one switch gears and relap the gallery: Mr.'s work is not racy, but chaste, and feels ready for H&M's first artistic collaboration to drape its multi-coloured Kuteness around. 


But we're still left with a paradox: On the surface these confections are contagious, candy flossy, highly cultured Pocky-sweet pop, yet, below, like the ever-present references to planetary opposites Jupiter and Saturn in the paintings, we feel Jupiter law-abiding, honourable, and Saturn, licentious, one step away from restraint. Such explicitly vibrant work, harbours a mordant subtext; Mr.'s impossible love, a dark desire that cannot speak its name but can show its lot in supra-luminous paint. And standing four feet ten in one sock, it's worth a look.  


"Sweeet!" at Galerie Perrotin, 17/F, 50 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tues-Sat: 11am - 8pm. Until November 9. 


Images: High School Story - Satsuki-tan & Miyabi-kyun Favorite (194cm x 162cm); and Shakotan Love: Virgin Blue (162cm x 130cm); ©2013 Mr./Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

China's shot of avant-garde

Miss C, 1994, Zhang Haier

During the Cold War era following World War II, China was a closed country up to the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s. Photography for those 30 years was mostly limited to official media and private family portraits. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) sought to destroy artistic and intellectual heritage of centuries of imperial rule. After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, China under his successor Deng Xiaoping began to pull back the curtain and gaze out. The April Photo Society took the lead in a 1979 Beijing exhibition titled "Nature, Society, Human," a significant shift in which the photographic focus switched from politics to art. However, the country was still mostly rural, poor, censorship was severe, and artists were eyed with equal parts derision and suspicion. [Photographers in China were still being arrested or detained in the mid-1990s]. Nonetheless, a revolution in Chinese photography started in the early 1980s - the post-Mao/pre-McDonald's era in which China's long-term destiny and immediate direction wasn't at all clear - with the birth of the New Wave art movement, economic development and the influx of Western ideology and pop culture. 


And then came 1989. 


The "China/Avant-Garde Art Exhibition" opened at the National Art Gallery in Beijing, featuring installation, photography, performance and video works. Chinese artist Xiao Lu shot to fame overnight when she fired a loaded gun at her work Dialogue on the show's opening day and modernism in China halted in that moment. Four months later, a man, a tank and Tiananmen Square silenced a captivated world. Just as Chinese photography had been about to reach an important turn, it came to a standstill, an impasse between man, machine and the void between. 


During this time, and thereafter, as much as critiquing or not the establishment's present, future or past, these independent photographic voices - 12 of whom are showcased here including notables like Ai Weiwei, Gu Zheng, Zhang Haier and RongRong, the curator - began producing experimental, and highly individual work, much of which was published in New Photo magazine, launched in 1996, China's first such independently-run title, co-founded by RongRong and Liu Zheng. Much work expressed a sense of people's fear, isolation, ambiguity to identity, and laid the blueprint for much of what followed. China's journey from 'New Documentary' photography, to conceptual and then experimental photography in one long avant-garde flash makes striking and surprising revision for apres-garde eyes. A cultural revolution in the history of photography. 

New Framework: Chinese Avant-garde photography 1980s-90s. Blindspot Gallery (Central) and Blindspot Annex (Wong Chuk Hang). Until June 22.

Image: Zhang Haier, Miss C, 1994.

Going up in the world

The tall, small city of Hong Kong gets some Gulliverian artistic appreciation with the appearance of six giant inflatable sculptures on the site of the Park at West Kowloon Cultural District, next to M+, Hong Kong’s future museum for visual culture, until June 9, 2013.


This playground of monumental artworks make Mobile M+: Inflation! one of the largest contemporary art exhibitions mounted in the city, and features selections by international artistic luminaries - Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller's 'Sacrilege' a full size inflatable replica of one of the world's iconic monuments, Stonehenge (bottom) - alongside newly commissioned artworks by local and regional artists Tam Wai Ping (giant insect, below) and Cao Fei (glowing pig, left). The six works will be accompanied by a performance piece by Tomás Saraceno (Argentina) on May 4 and 25  and June 8.

Inviting the public to interact like Lilliputians with this sizescape, Inflation! questions the nature of public art and ways audiences engage with it. (Anything like the recent Andy Warhol free-floating silver pillows exhibit at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, then adults - and kids - are in for a treat). Several pieces are derived from everyday objects inflated to render the familiar defamiliar, more tangible and tactile. Others question the nature and potential of art and architecture in public space through installations which reflect on human relationships to the built environment and the natural world.

By exploring the shifting notions of nature and artifice, intimacy and monumentality, temporariness and permanence, as well as beauty and the grotesque, Inflation! probes the role of public art in the context of an evolving and endlessly mutating constructed landscape. It's art but not as we know it and Tam's channelling of Planet of the Apes, the Statue of Liberty, the lower half of a human body and a headless cockroach in black latex may not please the aesthetes, but makes exclamation marks. 

Inflation! acts as a prelude to the opening of the Park in 2014, highlighting the future possibilities for multi-disciplinary arts programming on the site. “Inflation! is an example of the numerous possibilities that the future park will offer for our exhibition programming," says Lars Nittve, executive director of M+. "It represents our ambition to display the full spectrum of visual culture from a Hong Kong perspective that incorporates a global vision. Inhabiting the future site of the Park of West Kowloon Cultural District, ‘Mobile M+: Inflation!’ also broaches the possibilities of how art might play an integral role in this park as we go forward,” Nittve says.

Inflation! is a part of Mobile M+, a series of pre-opening ‘nomadic’ exhibitions curated by M+ that aim to engage the public ahead of the opening of the museum, scheduled for completion in late 2017. By realising projects that aren't possible in a conventional museum, Mobile M+ seeks to turn the perceived disadvantage of being “rootless” into an advantage by staging events that embrace a multi-disciplinary approach. Watch this space!

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of on-site events ranging from artist talks, workshops, guided tours to performances.

Mobile M+: INFLATION!Tues – Thurs: 12pm to 7pm; Fri – Sun: 11am to 8pm; Closed MondaysDuring Art Basel Hong Kong: 10am – 8pmWest Kowloon 

stamps: our silent ambassadors

An obsession, or occupation, an addiction, a disease, a fate, an absurdity and a fascination, stamps are more than just proof of postage. These unassuming colored windows into time and space have, since their inception in 1840, become a chronicle of our development. They are miniature gateways to the world instructing collectors and novices in geography, politics, biography, history, culture and art. They honour heroes and stories of heroism, they honour daring explorers and major scientific events, they commemorate historical events and the leaders who either made them happen or governed over them. Stamps have transcended their quotidian function and become something greater: compelling works of art that serve, in the words of the poet W. B. Yeats,  as "the silent ambassadors on national taste."  As art - postage stamps are seen by the largest audience - they gallery around the globe. 


And then there's monetary value. From nerd to niche, stamp collectors and their art are the new painting, jewellery, vintage cars and complex watches combined. Sweden's Treskillng Yellow, accidentally printed yellow rather than blue-green, at $US2.3 million and weighing 0.02675 grams, is described as the world's most valuable item. That's a mighty US$85.98 billion per kilogram. Can any artifact fight so far above its weight as the ubiquitous and flimsy stamp? The stamp is stylish syntax no lifestylester can afford to be stuck without. And their names, titles and eccentricities are legends you may next be quoting, if not wearing: the Mauritius Blue, the Penny Black and Twopenny Blue, the Inverted Jenny and 1c Z grill. The Treskilling has a glamorous past. The only one of its type ever found, it was discovered by a Swedish schoolboy in 1885, [try finding that on PlayStation today] later seized by the French government as reparations after the first world war and has since belonged to eminent collectors including King Carol II of Romania. [England's King George V was a prolific collector and his oeuvre was passed on to Queen Elizabeth II]. 


Given increased interest in collectable items with the rising affluence of Hong Kong and mainland consumers, stamp auctions are becoming as frequent as their wine and watch counterparts, To wit, Zurich Asia will auction a series of stamps and covers [more than 2,000 lots] issued by the British Postal Agencies in China (1917-1930), comprising many rare Hong Kong CHINA overprints. These treasures have never been auctioned before. The star lot is a unique 1922 'two cents' green 'specimen' stamp [above] in black italic, thought to be the only one of its kind, and expected to fetch between HK$130,000-HK$150,000. Britain gained a number of commercial privileges in select Chinese ports in the 19th century, which were also known as 'Treaty Ports'. In each, British consulates were created where consuls acted like postal agents. From 1844 onwards, the Hong Kong Post Office allowed the consults to receive and transmit post to Hong Kong. In the 1910s, a set of stamps were specifically printed for use in China, rather than adopting Hong Kong adhesives. These stamps were used for a short period as the Chinese government negotiated the abolition of all foreign postal agencies on the mainland on the first day of 1923

Also noteworthy is a unique 1894 Dowager 9 Candarins bright green block of four [right] with perforations between and on the corner margins which is expected to fetch from HK$800,000 to HK$1 million. It is the only recorded tete-beche block [a pair of stamps printed with one upside-down in relation to its partner - see bottom-left pane - which happens either  deliberately or by accident]. The stamps were previously in the private collection of esteemed luminary Huang Ming Fang.


Sale items will go on view at the Harbour Plaza Hotel in North Point, from April 11-12, where Zurich Asia will hold its auction: Stamps, Postal History & Coins of China and Other Countries from April 13-14.



Top of the Pops

http://www.isbn-magazine.com/stop_press/files/armadillo/media/35.jpg

Now extended until April 1, 2013 - 210,000 visitors have seen the exhibit since its December 16 opening - the Hong Kong Museum of Art's Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal exhibition comprises more than 400 works by the influential superstartist divided into four sections spanning the 1950's to the '80s. Paintings, drawings - Warhol cited fashion illustrator René Gruau as a big influence during the first decade of his career in the 1950's - photographs and screen prints, sculptures, films and videos [he made more than 600 films and nearly 2,500 videos], ensure Warhol's prodigious output is broadly represented. His greatest hits are there - the Campbell's Soup Can series, the Brillo Box, the Marilyn, Mao and self-portraits, along with art project Time Capsule-23, which includes items collected by Warhol during his visit to Hong Kong in 1982.

The surprise is that the lesser known work is more interesting and more varied. As chief curator Eve Tam notes: "I am sure visitors will appreciate the fact that the art of Andy Warhol is more than the familiar images of Campbells Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe."  His shoe illustrations from the 1950s are high on style and humour, the latter a quality less evident the longer Warhol's work goes on; Suicide [1964],  a grainy black and white silkscreen print depicts a man  with bent legs and upraised arms in free-fall following a leap from a high-rise tower, and is harrowingly reminiscent of the World Trade Centre attacks of September 11, 2001. Alternatively, installation piece Silver Clouds [1960s] is a room filled with free-floating pillow-shaped silver balloons - a fantastical children's playground - conceived by Warhol to give visitors a joyful experience. It's fun, smart, surprising, the sort of mass-participation counter-culture that says Warhol's Pop art is for everyone. 

Sunsets [1972] - who knew Warhol painted such natural subjects - emerge like a prototype Apple Mac colour palette. A 'Children's Gallery' showcases Warhol's work for pop tots in 1983; monkeys, parrots, dogs and circus clowns are set against Fish wallpaper. The extended Long Horse painting is enchanting, and the Day-Glo pink and chartreuse of Warhol's Cow (left) in wallpaper format vivid and uplifting. Films Empire and Eat are worth a diversion, while Greek king Alexander the Great [1982] gets two iconic images to himself. All of which goes to prove, when it comes to Warhol's pop art, there's more fizz in the less familiar. 

The Hong Kong Museum of Art, 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. From 10am to 8pm daily. The museum is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Chinese New Year. Admission HK$20 on Monday, Tuesday and Friday to Sunday, and HK$10 on Wednesday. 

 

Image: Andy Warhol, Cow, 1966, screen print on wallpaper. Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh ©2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi

Solar power, submarines, why the sky is blue and space is black, aeroplanes, optics, robots, diving equipment, tanks, parachutes, astronomy, architecture, machine guns, cars, and human and animal anatomy; all were subjects that filled the waking and working hours and extensive notebooks of military and naval engineer Leonardo da Vinci, a handsome Florence-born aesthete, who perfumed his hands with lavender, had a sartorial penchant for the colour pink, and also happened to be an artist. It's a remarkable irony of Da Vinci's legacy; for a man whose scientific and investigative research in notebooks was so prodigious, his painted output was costive. Da Vinci, proclaimed by many as the world's most famous artist, painted just 16 artworks during his 67-year lifetime, or at least, only that number survived. He started hundreds, yet his conversion rate was low, or his attention span elsewhere so high, that he quickly acquired a reputation for being slow, if not indifferent. But that was only part of the story. Da Vinci was a perfectionist in matters of painting, working for five or six years on individual canvases, altering colours or shade, here and there, as he saw fit. Part of that is explained by the agony and ecstasy of newfound technology; Da Vinci's art moment coincided with the development of oil paint, and art's switch from tempura colour to oil. As such, art, and specifically painting, took on a whole new dimension, and layering, and Da Vinci was oil paint's pioneer. When his master Andrea del Verrochio saw Da Vinci's first work in oil, he proclaimed, according to Renaissance artist, writer and historian Giorgio Vasari: "Alas, my work is done". 

Imagine then, being an astronomer today and discovering a planet. Such a scientific finding could be likened to the discovery of Leonardo Da Vinci's painting, Salvator Mundi in 2005, thought to have been lost or destroyed, but which now represents a sale of biblical proportions through auction house Christie's in New York on November 15. Lest you think the planetary analogy is too grandiose, consider two of Da Vinci's canvases; the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. This latest discovery is the first since 1909, when the Benoit Madonna, now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia, came to light. There are fewer Leonardo paintings in existence than there are Shakespeare plays, yet the work of these two reclusive men and their magnificence, set a course for Western culture that's still palpitant 500 hundred years later. Ironically, for two men who depicted humanity in such detail, neither left behind a defining self-portrait of themselves. 

Dating from around 1500, the enigmatic oil-on-panel Salvator Mundi depicts a half-length figure of Christ as Saviour of the World, facing frontally and dressed in flowing robes of lapis and crimson. He holds a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right hand in benediction. The painting was long believed to have existed but was generally presumed to have been destroyed until it was rediscovered in 2005.

The painting was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles I (1600-1649), and thought to have hung in the private chambers of Henrietta Maria – the wife of King Charles I – in her palace in Greenwich, and was later in the collection of Charles II. Salvator Mundi is next recorded in a 1763 sale by Charles Herbert Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, who put it into an auction following the sale of what is now Buckingham Palace to the king.

It then disappeared until 1900 when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work by Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond. By this time, its authorship by Leonardo, origins and illustrious royal history had been entirely forgotten, and Christ’s face and hair were overpainted. In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, it was ultimately consigned to a sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 where it sold for £45. It disappeared once again for nearly 50 years, emerging only in 2005 when it was purchased from an American estate at a small regional auction house. Its rediscovery was followed by six years of painstaking research to document its authenticity with the world’s leading authorities on the works and career of da Vinci.

Salvator Mundi is a painting of the most iconic figure in the world by the most important artist of all time; the Holy Grail of the art world," says Loic Gouzer, Chairman, Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s in New York. More remarkable still, is that despite the conservation process on the painting, both of Christ’s hands, the curls of his hair, the orb, and much of the drapery are well preserved and close to their original state. The painting retains a remarkable presence and haunting sense of mystery that is characteristic of Leonardo’s finest paintings. Above the left eye (right as we look) are still visible the marks that Leonardo made with the heel of his hand to soften the flesh.

British painter Lucien Freud once said he disliked the paintings of Raphael (a painter who learned a great deal from Leonardo and Michelangelo), because his faces look homogenised, more synthetic than particular and that “there’s no sense of weight, flesh, of the texture of the skin.” Da Vinci didn't just capture sensibility and skin anew, he made reality of art, he de-classicised the mannered heroics of Michelangelo (the two held a healthy dislike and disregard for one another's styles) and prioritised human vulnerability; he took art from the pantheon and made it the reality television of the Renaissance. And to see it in the flesh is a revelation at hand. And a reserve of US$100 million.  

Footnote: As of November 15, Salvator Mundi sold in New York for a record US$400 million.

Image: Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi. Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

arto wong - hong kong young fashion designer 2017

On a night when you could slice the excitement with a knife, or the proverbial couture needle, fifteen of Hong Kong's emerging design talents converged for the Young Fashion Designers' Contest 2017 awards at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, before a table of top industry players and tastemakers, and iconic Japanese designer, MUG, who was the night's VIP.

MUG, a veteran of the Japan fashion scene through her own sassy label G.V.G.V, carried by Hong Kong's I.T Group, also judges contests at Tokyo's legendary Bunka fashion college, the design laboratory where Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto cut their textural teeth. How did she find the comparison between Tokyo and Hong Kong's designers in 2017. "I found them very close," she says. "The work has similar attention to details and fabrics, and some feels very commercial. You could sell some of the work straight away that I've seen today," she told ISBN, one hour before heralding Hong Kong's design champion.

Which in this case was Arto Wong Hiu To, also winner of the New Talent award, whose collection (left) elevated the mise-en-scene to another level. Her looks graced the runway, a quartet of canvases in quiet harmony. Already a full-time designer, Wong was inspired by the possibilities of transforming molecules into matter. She played with weight and proportion for the ruffles in her knitwear and created patterns from scratch which formed vivid and striking motifs. Voluminous yet light and uplifting, the collection [Zero to Unlimited] and its energy derived from a less-is-more, stealth philosophy. Small molecules, big moment and Wong finds herself HK$35,000 richer, receives mentorship from Joyce boutique to develop a capsule collection of shoes. She will also make a study trip abroad, which includes a visit to G.V.G.V studio, courtesy of Sun Hing Knitting Factory Limited.

Where Wong was stealthy and linear in mind and material, other designers couldn't raid their cupboards fast enough and lacked the same coherence. Stuff was piled high and low, like multiple walking catalogues; one particular standout though was Sonic Lam's outsized red bag [Barren Land], which helped him win First Runner-up prize. There were great themes and ideas elsewhere, too - Jason Lee [Kingdom of the Underground] asked the question: what if grunge rocker Kurt Cobain found himself living in Qing Dynasty China? While the answer wasn't nirvana, Lee's looks, a sort of mashed-up 'China grunge', won him the Best Footwear Design Award (right). 

Murfi Lau enacted iconic singer and actor Leslie Cheung as inspiration, exploring the idea of fluid sexuality through gold foil embroidery and cheongsam tailoring techniques [Les Lie]; Helianthus To treated humans as scientific experiments [Lab Rats] in silk organza and yarn, along with ropes and hangar knots, symbolising transparency and constraint. A dotted pattern on the trousers spelled out the Morse Code for "lost" and "SOS", suggesting a cry for help. Oddly, they felt more like angels than laboratory agents and more serene than sterilised. Yoyo Ng [Humeur} reacted to the distorted reality wrought by social media in overlapping and asymmetrical techniques distinguished by digital print, silver foil and netted heads. A particular shout-out must go to Ayumi Kwan [Primordial Hue], an environmentalist whose coral-influenced renderings in an array of pastel felting, hand-painted and weaved embroidery, were as popped-out as Murakami, and surreal as big, fluffy soft toys. The other prevailing trend was black, tribal, utility, functional, sportswear-y street, in styles reminiscent of Yamamoto's Y3, both in Wong Ka Wai [Streamline], and Second Runner-up winner Wilson Choi [The Stolen Soul]. 

A vibrant, compelling and vivid night for Hong Kong fashion was concluded by MUG addressing the designers. She said each should "try to express their own style through designs that are true to themselves". She noted the originality of Arto Wong's winning knit collection which she said showcased "originality, personal style and market value", and believes Wong is destined for a buzzy career. She also added a word of caution, too. "While marketability is important, designers should not easily be influenced by trends, nor should they find ways to adapt their works to the trends." Ultimately, Wong's collection, Zero to Unlimited, dressed not just the body but best expressed the mindset of the competing designers - four of whom represent The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HK PolyU) - and watching students, too.    

superior interiors

To walk into Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong and observe Dutch artist Jan Worst's Interiors is an almighty visual deception. On first sight they appear to be photographs, on which the artist has played some trick of light, and we wonder what elevates them to the realm of 'art'. But closer inspection reveals the creative 'wow' of the work; these are paintings, right down to the last methodical and meticulous detail of the letters on every leather-bound book spine on shelves, gilded door knobs, alabaster statues and folded napkins and wine bottles on dining tables. The photographic realism of these canvases is stunning - almost unsettling - to behold. 

Everything's so stately, a sort of Architectural Digest meets Grace Coddington mood board for Vogue, and rendered in a style reminiscent of photographer Robert Polidori's visual diary of the restoration of The Palace of Versailles in France, yet redolent of the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century and painters such as Jan Vermeer. 

  

Worst portrays lavish interiors of seemingly historic, presumably European, grand homes. Incongruously confined within each dimly lit interior is a young woman whose likeness is directly inspired by contemporary fashion magazines - scantily clad, gazing into the distance, languorously perched upon the formal furniture. It makes us think of the current Guccification of the aesthetic, nurtured by designer Alessandro Michele, the Gucci-sponsored exhibition at England's Chatsworth House, and the adverts the Italian luxury house plans to shoot within Chatsworth and the grounds of the historic house for the next three years. Or did it work the other way. Did Worst make Michele think of such mise-en-scene for the Italian fashion house?

But that's just the half of it. Adding to the tension and sense of voyeurism in these paintings, there is often a seemingly aristocratic small child or older gentleman lurking in a corner or shadow, the female figure entirely unaware of or indifferent to their presence. Or in the case of The Lecture, which has a Hockney-esque staging to it, we sense a connection between 'characters' with a past and present. Belgian artist Michael Borremans does a similar thing with a different palette. He depicts contemporary characters in somewhat ludic outfits and settings, but rather than place them in historic settings, he paints in the historic style of Velasquez or Goya to destabilise the viewer's expectations and understanding. 

It's suspense. A plot device as old as storytelling. Worst has maintained a very deliberate ambiguity throughout his career. Is he glorifying or critiquing the wealth and privilege of his subjects and their sumptuous dwellings? Why are these seductive women lurking in staid and airless rooms and what is their relationship to the children and men in the paintings? Worst's paintings challenge viewers with these questions while at the same time simply allow us to savour their beauty, opulence and richness of detail, all perhaps a meditation on human desire.

A young, nude model clinging to a black gown (left) punctuates the centre of a stately room in Divine Details (2013-2014), as though she were cut from a fashion magazine or film still and collaged into the scene. (Worst often uses the same figure in identical poses in other canvases) Worst employs playful contrasts in the painting by depicting an antiquated portrait of a white-wigged sitter hanging directly above the youthful model's head, the ornate candelabra on the wall becoming a mock crown. His dexterous renderings of mirrors and reflections demonstrate his painting virtuosity and reverence for old masters such as Johannes Vermeer. The irresistible beauty of both the female figure and the perfectly appointed room with its rose-patterned carpet and flickering candles subtly belies the unsettling and enigmatic nature of the scene. Great to gaze at, gawp at, and gram, (that's Instagram), for those so inclined. 


Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong, 303 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong. Opening times: Mon-Sat 11am-7pm




Images from top: 

Objects and Icons, 2017, oil on canvas, 120cm x 120cm. 

A Proper Distance, 2016, oil on canvas, 150cm x 150cm

Divine Details, 2013-2014, oil on canvas, 250cm x 200cm 

© 2016 BenBrownFineArts

sotheby's greatest hits

Sotheby's on March 1 at its Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London will auction a veritable greatest hits of glamorous canvases by the likes of Gauguin, Picasso, and more, the headliner of which is Gustav Klimt's luminous Bauerngarten, (1907, left), dating from the artist’s celebrated and much-loved golden period and from the same year as his famous golden irradiation of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Innovative in its composition and jewel-like in its blaze of colours, Bauerngarten is one of the Klimt's greatest and rarest works to come to auction. Klimt's landscapes often bear the 'echo' of a figure  - here the shape of a woman, or a dress, or a woman in a dress is decipherable in the triangular composition of the flowers. Bauerngarten was painted during summer, when Klimt would retreat to the shore of Attersee to paint, with his lifelong companion designer Emilie Floge. 

Influence: Impressionist and Post-Impressionist leanings on Klimt are evident, from Claude Monet's treatment of waterlilies to Van Gogh's dynamic still life flower portraits. Just as Monet used square canvases to depict his waterlily ponds at Giverny, so Klimt chose a square canvas to heighten the work's impact. By stripping away sky, and taking a 'point of view' approach to a scene, their work was more abstract, joyful, patterned and coloured. It is thus possible to look at Bauerngarten and see a quartet of combined influence with dazzling technical ability melded into one: Monet's Nympheas, Van Gogh's Nature more, vase aux marguerites, any Edgar Degas' Four Dancers, and any Toulouse Lautrec promotional Moulin Rouge posters. (Estimates on request, but  expect anything up to US$60 million). 

Then there's Amedeo Modigliani, whose Nu couché (Reclining Nude) set a record as the world's second most expensive painting in 2015 at US$170.4 million. This one, Portrait de Baranowski (right) painted in 1918, depicts a young Polish poet and painter - Pierre-Edouard Baranowski - with fragile good looks and a pensive, introspective air which captures typical Modigliani elements - geometric simplification of the stylised human form to the almond, vacant eyes that render the sitter impenetrable. Modigliani was a chronicler of the vie boheme of Montparnasse and this piece is typical. Its estimate is small relative to Nu couché, but its transgendered ambiguity hits a zeitgeistful sweet spot. (He could be the Chanel Monsieur poster-boy should the brand ever launch couture menswear). Estimated at US$18.55 million. Expect US$30m. 

Pablo Picasso's Plant de tomato (left) was not a work we knew the existence of. Painted between August 6-9, 1944, (and one of five he painted over nine days) symbolic of victory in Europe, and created in the apartment he shared with his lover Marie-Therese, it's ripe with personal as well as political and cultural significance - reflecting the spirit of hope and resilience of the times. Rarely can a still life - the grey and yellow background of which reflects the smoke and gunfire pervading the city - have been invested with such meaning. Picasso's artwork was blacklisted by the Nazi regime and paintings he completed during this time remained in his studio and were only exhibited after the war. The painting has been in a private collection for the last 40 years. (Estimated at US$18,550, expect US$25 million). All an interesting barometer of the art world market in the time of President Donald Trump.

Images: Courtesy of Sotheby's

points of view

If you only see one art exhibition this spring, make it Swedish painter Jens Fänge's Sister Feelings, showing at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong (until March 11), comprising 17 panel paintings created in 2016. And eye-catchingly topical stuff it makes too. You won't discern the exact likeness of the late great David Bowie, but his presence resides in one of the images, or even two. Music and Fänge it transpires, are close bedfellows - the show is named after a former punk album by the band that became Simple Minds. And in a remarkable coincidence, the Bob Dylan-loving Fänge was asked by Stockholm's legendary Nobel Peace Prize organisation to produce an artwork for Dylan's Nobel Diploma. (All Nobel Prize winners receive diplomas with commissioned pieces of art).

Fänge's shifting perspectives, points of view and intertextual references don't make for easy explanation, but do create intrigue, storytelling and provocative symbiosis. It's tempting to view each work as a short story, or narrative game of 'what happens next', or 'what just happened' prior the image in question, but Fänge likens them to "singles on an album". Either way, in each language or listening, or viewing or watching - a series of inter-states we seem to flit between when we stand in front of Fänge's work, this latter-day Pieter de Hooch-like panel-ism makes for the most fantastical parlour game of picture reading. 

Fänge's work echoes that of others; he's sometimes compared with Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, whose painting felt as though he were transcribing dreams, though the Swede's work feels more dream as drama, or theatre of the absurd. His assemblage and collage can feel Henri Matisse-ian, his colour palette Andre Derain-ian, his rainbow whisps of colour Wassali Kandinsky-esque or his random patterns the Kasimir Malevich-ian syntax of Suprematism. The relief in the work Kurt Schwitters, the suspense not un-Hopperesque, the perspective Edvard Munchian, a Hockney-an photo splash, his upended - and suspended - figures Baselitzian, his emphasis on found objects Alberto Burri-an. But high or low, fine art or commercial, painterly or post-modern or pre-and-post-pop, Dadaism or Dutch Golden Age, his work has a kind of all-schoolism about it. Strangely the work reminded this writer most of Jan Van Eyck and The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), distinguished by its use of a mirror which reflects the artist's subjects from the back and even hints at the presence of the Flemish painter.

Whatever the surrealistic matryoshka-like aesthetics, the paintings within paintings, the composites, iconic portraits, still lives, domestic interiors, cityscapes and landscapes of geometric abstraction, rendered in oil paint, pencil, vinyl, cardboard and fabric on panel, look out for the work above, Arrivals, which feels for all the world as though Munch's early 20th-century Scream subject has departed his/her haunted bridge and reappeared as cut-out retrospectively gazing back over the last 100 years from the democratised and domestic mis-en-scene of a living room wondering what all the fuss was about - not unlike the passage of art over the same period. Subtle and tantalising, once seen, you won't get this soundtrack out of your head.   

IMAGE: Jens FÄNGE, Arrivals, 2016. Oil, vinyl and fabric on panel 65 x 54 cm. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

17/F, 50 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong; T: +852 3758 2180; E: hongkong@perrotin.com

Opening hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 7pm 

t.o.p of the class: asia's young art aficionados changing global landscape

The geo-cultural shift  in the global art market was clearly felt at Sotheby's Hong Kong early this month. The auction house - in a prescient marketing ploy - enlisted pop phenom T.O.P (real name Choi Seung-Hyun) from Korea's all-boy band BIG BANG to curate an art exhibition for auction. T.O.P's interest in art isn't coincidental - his granduncle is Korea's leading post-war contemporary artist Kim Whanki, and T.O.P has parlayed that influence into good friendships with the likes of Japan's Takashi Murakami and other artists. He also leveraged his artistic clout to borrow Jean-Michel Basquiat's Infantry from Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa, who bought it earlier this year. 

The exhibition and auction, #TTTOP, the result of a year-long collaboration, celebrates the rise of young Asian collectors who seek art across cultural boundaries. By showcasing new and important Asian artists, the sale united various generations, cultures, styles and schools of thought. This selection not only reflected T.O.P’s artistic choices - he commissioned six works from Japanese artists including Murakami -  but also the international taste of the young Asian collecting community. A portion of the proceeds of the sale will be donated to the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) to provide opportunities to emerging Asian artists.

Yuki Terase, Specialist of Sotheby's Contemporary Asian Art Department and curator in charge of the sale which raised US$17.4 million, said of the event: "Through video, social media, the web and exhibitions in Korea and Hong Kong, we introduced millions of young enthusiasts to T.O.P's passion for art and the work of this special group of contemporary artists." 

Part of that community includes heavyweights like Shanghai's Kelly Ying. China's answer to Moscow's Dasha Zhukova, Ying co-founded Art021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair with Bao YIfeng in 2013, on a scale and ambition to rival Art Basel. (This year's Art021, November 11-13, features work Ying especially commissioned from prominent Chinese artist Liu Wei and the inaugural visit of New York art power dealer David Zwirner). 

Ying was shopping during T.O.P's art moment and had her eye on a very personal and stunning piece. T.O.P had commissioned Naoki Tomita, a young Japanese painter and recent graduate of Tokyo University of the Arts, to create an oil painting View (T.O.P) from a photo he'd originally taken on his iPhone in Germany and posted to his Instagram. It came as little surprise shortly after Terase registered a telephone bid of US$29,000, to find a joyous message posted on Ying's Instagram account (@kellyyingxoxo): "Finally I got it!!, wrote Ying, "Love the concept and the artist." 

Asia is making its voice and presence increasingly felt in the art world, and a 20-something pop and art star with a  5.8 million Instagram following (@choi_seung_hyun_tttop) whose curation and art commissioning is watched and bought by glamorous 30-something artrepreneur and cultural impresario Ying, is a sino the times in a rapidly changing art world. 

Image: Naoki Tomita, View (T.O.P). Courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong

Degas: the draughtsman's contract

Despite being exhibited with the Impressionist school of painting - with which he was mistakenly associated - French artist Edgar Degas was scathing of the movement. Plein-air, or open air - the creative cry of Claude Monet and his cohorts - was anathema to Degas, the consummate draughtsman and technical innovator. On visiting a Monet exhibition at Durand-Paul in Paris, Degas declared: "I met Monet and said: 'Let me get out of here. Those reflections in the water hurt my eyes!' Degas claimed Monet's pictures were "too draughty" and made him "turn up my coat collar" for fear of catching cold. Furthermore, he referred to the impressionists mockingly as 'the landscapists', and claimed an urge to want to fire at them in the countryside, he told Andre Gide in 1909. "Bang! Bang! There should be a police force for that purpose," he said. 

So while they battled mosquitoes and sunstroke in pastoral settings, Degas stuck to his attic studio like a hermit: "I can get along very well without ever going out of my own house," Degas would say. "With a bowl of soup and three old brushes you can make the finest landscape ever painted." Yet he didn't care much for colour either, preferring black and white. Economy of colour and speech, was a Degas trademark. Observing the Japanese Exhibition in 1890 at the Beaux-Arts, he's as pinpoint as his artistic technique: "Alas! Alas! Taste everywhere!"

Degas, contrary to the commonly held belief that his paintings - like photography - captured only fragmented scenes in daily life, resisted the urge to capture 'the moment'. He once said: “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the Great Masters." 

And so it was. Degas' feeling for the modern aesthetic was rooted in a robust sense of artistic tradition. Discussing a red-chalk drawing of a hand he'd purchased by Ingres, here's Degas: "Look at those fingernails, see how they are rendered. That is my ideal of genius, a man who finds a hand so lovely, so wonderful, so difficult to render, that he will shut himself away, content to do nothing but indicate fingernails."

Such obsession accords with Degas penchant for the gestures of individuals absorbed in a particular task - the recurring pose of a ballet dancer tying her slipper, for example. Degas it seems, struggled with the opposition in his work between the contained and the expressive. Don't look for story in a Degas painting, there isn't one, yet each canvas presents the syntax of artistic technique. 

To those who called him the painter of the "ballet rats", Degas said later in life: "People call me the painter of dancing girls. It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes." Never a truer word was spoke. For memorable paintings of fleshed-out, full-blooded dancing girls look no further than Degas' contemporary Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who celebrated dancing's glamour and its characters, not its geometry and calculus. Degas, at times, can feel as much number cruncher as creative spirit, more spreadsheet than starving artist, the latter of which, he never was.

"If one wants to be a serious artist today and create a little niche, one must immerse oneself in solitude. There is too much tittle-tattle. It is as if paintings were made - like speculations on the stock markets - out of the friction among people eager for gain. All this trading sharpens your mind and falsifies your judgement." So wrote Degas, at the tender age of 22, in 1856. It would be another 22 years before he first exhibited La danseuse a la robe de tulle, (pictured) at the World's Fair in 1878. It was, somewhat remarkably, the only sculptural work shown during his lifetime. Pierre-Auguste Renoir called Degas the best sculptor in Paris on account of the little dancer, recalls art dealer Ambrose Vollard, on the very day that Rodin sold The Thinker and the Gates of Hell to a private collector in Paris.  

Degas had a private income, and became a high-powered collector (little known to many of his contemporaries) building a veritable art inventory at his home at 6 Boulevard de Clichy in Paris. He acquired Ingres and Delacroix, El Greco and Van Gogh, David and Cezanne, Manet, Millet and Mary Cassatt, among others, mostly from Vollard. At an auction of his collection in 1918, one year after Degas' death, Manet's Grand portrait de familie was withdrawn after the Louvre purchased it for 400,000 French francs. An article in Le Monde by year's end claimed that proceeds from the sales of Degas' collection had surpassed 12 million French francs. Proof that no artist had such an eye and ear for movement, be it art or the stock market's, as the spectacular and speculative Monsieur Degas.

Degas, Figures in Motion showcases 74 bronze sculptures never before shown in Asia, supported by the French Consulate General of France in Hong Kong & Macau through the Le French May at MGM Art Space, MGM Macau, until November 20, 2016. Opening hours: 12pm-9pm, closed on Mondays (except public holidays). Free admission.

Image: The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer. The M.T. Abraham Foundation for the Visual Arts © All Rights Reserved.

Monet: man of the moment

For a man whose work appears today so art establishment, Claude Monet’s influence on painting was radical and divisive in its day. Monet (1840-1926) urged his friends and peers (which included types like Edouard Manet doing portrait and figure compositions) to abandon formula and get out of their studios, paint en plein air (open air) in front of the ‘motif’. Monet took to the water and had a small boat fitted out as his mobile studio - an effect so dramatic, Manet painted Monet working in his boat, in 1874.

Monet had been influenced by JMW Turner, the British painter whose London seascapes convinced Monet that the effects of light and air combined with water mattered more than practical subject matter. Monet painted in the moment, a technical innovation. As nature evolved by the minute, so Monet said the painter must work fast, capturing light as it was changing. Forget the multi-layered Old Mastery of nature as a finished work, this was pre-photographic shutter speed strokes of the brush, the artist in New-World instantaneousness. And the critics, much like the Establishment, hated it.

In France at that time, the only venue for an artist to gain recognition was the Salon de Paris, an annual and biannual exhibition of the Academie des Beaux-Arts, whose conservative offerings perfectly matched the audience's preconceived notions of the look and purpose of art. Monet and his contemporaries couldn't get their work accepted by the Salon in 1863. (Neither could Manet or Whistler, doubly ironic given that Manet acknowledged his inspiration as coming from the Old Master tradition of Titian, Velazquez and even Goya).

As a result, Monet and friends in 1874 arranged a show at Durand-Ruel, a photographer's studio. One of Monet's pictures - a harbour seen through morning mist - was titled in the catalogue, Impression: sunrise. One of the critics saw the image, and underwhelmed by its ridiculous title, referred to the artists as The Impressionists - it wasn't a compliment; he thought the work unsound from an artistic perspective and more like 'pictures'. He wrote: "What ease in the brushwork. Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more laboured than this seascape." But the label stuck. A satirical magazine of the time labelled them lunatics suffering from collective delusion.

By 1900, at the age of 60, in the same Durand-Ruel gallery, Monet exhibited 22 paintings of his most daring work: the waterlilies in his Giverny garden, into which he’d moved in 1883. Monet had to ask the mayor of Giverny if he could dig a small pond in his garden and install a sluice so he might capture the water from the Epte river flowing alongside it. He grew exotic plants and installed a Japanese bridge inspired by Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Sites in Edo; he also had rare flowers delivered to the garden from Japan through Tamada Hayashi, a Japanese dealer and collector living in Paris. The work was a triumph and the influence of The Impressionists and their once called ‘palette scrapings’ assured.

Claude Monet: The Spirit of Place at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (part of Le French May 2016 festival in Hong Kong) is the largest exhibition ever devoted to the artist in the city. It features some of his most emblematic paintings, pastels and tapestries from site-specific places in his life; Normandy and Brittany Paris and the Ile-de-France region; London and Venice; and Giverny. Proof that over 70 years, his genius and perseverance ensured universal approval. Monet was a free spirit and much like his work, a force of nature.

  

Claude Monet: The Spirit of Place. Hong Kong Heritage Museum, May 4 - July 11.

Image: Courtesy the Hong Kong Heritage Museum; Le French May 

H&M: "The best of the best"

Magnus Olsson was appointed Country Manager at H&M of Greater China (Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau) this year and has been in Asia for two-and-a-half years. Prior Asia, he worked in various positions and countries within H&M and has been at the Stockholm-based company for more than 20 years. ISBN spoke with him on the eve of H&M's launch of its largest global flagship store [October 29] in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay and the brand’s current designer collaboration #HMBalmaination with Balmain's Olivier Rousteing [November 5].

What’s your definition of success for the new four-floor Causeway Bay store?

When I see the customers lining up, and hear the excitement coming, and yesterday I passed by a friend of my wife, saying ‘see you on Thursday’, that to me is amazing. Because then we fulfil a need, a satisfaction. If people can, in general, dress a personality regardless of their economic situation, I think we have succeeded.

The billboards outside the store during construction are white and gold. Not an obvious H&M choice.

Is it good or bad?

Good. But when I first saw it, I didn’t think H&M. I was looking for some red.

But the feeling is that it should be something exclusive and gold has that quality.

Will there be a celebrity performance at the event?

We have the Canto-pop singer and actress Sammi Cheng. She’s singing for the first time in-store, and it’s the first in-store performance for H&M. So it’s a first for both of us.

You’ve been in Asia for two-and-a half years. What surprised you most about this market?

The speed of development and the dynamism. It’s a very creative environment with a lot of energy.

Why has it taken so long to open another store on Hong Kong island?

We only came to Asia in 2007, now we have 285 stores in the region. We have worked pretty hard. This year we have also opened up Taiwan as a market and we have opened up Macau as a market. There is a limited amount of large space. We wanted to make sure we had the best location. It also had to be a store that creates this extra shopping experience, an amazing shopping experience. There are a lot of criteria to be fulfilled. It’s not that easy.

The limited amount of supply of great retail space made that process slower. When we open in shopping centres we can see the number of people coming to the centre increases.

How many stores are there in China?

We are in an expansion period. I would say right now we have 205-ish. If you take Greater China the customers appreciate that we’re a global fashion brand and after that comes credibility, and aspiration of what the consumer wants. That’s interesting to me and gives us great confidence in the future of China.

Does Chinese President Xi Jinping shop at H&M?

No. Not that I’ve seen.

And his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan? She’s also something of a celebrity?

You have some very good ideas [laughter]. But we do have a lot of Chinese ambassadors that like H&M and help to promote the brand.

Balmain. Congratulations, it’s a great, young, buzzy campaign.

Thank you. The good thing is that it ticks all the right boxes of collaboration to show that price and design is not necessarily a contradiction. We want to surprise our customers and I think this collaboration was a surprise as well.

Has it got harder to surprise?

More and more companies are doing designer collaboration, but without sounding too partial, I think we are the best one doing it. But I don’t think that anyone else is doing it in the way we do it with the quality of designers. It’s really there. The best of the best.

Can we expect Marc Jacobs soon?

Would that be a surprise though?

Five years ago, yes. Now I’m not so sure.

Obviously I cannot comment. But you’re not the only one that has mentioned Marc Jacobs.

Maybe H&M could start again, revisit the greatest hits. Like Karl Lagerfeld 2.0?

That could be a really interesting surprise, I agree. Karl Lagerfeld was one of my favourites of course. He was the first one as well. A very exciting collection.

You lived in London for eight years. What did you like about it?

There is so much I like about it. You have the history, you have the multicultural aspects all living together, and I love the British humour and the football as well.

COS is based in London. Do you oversee that brand too in Asia?

We work in collaboration with COS locally. It’s a great success, a great brand. Absolutely we’re looking into more COS stores as well, but as with H&M, it’s important that it’s the right location, and the right business terms. COS has a very tight expression, its a very style-sensitive brand. It can also compare to much higher priced labels.

Does anyone ask you what COS stands for?

No. Strangely enough I never get asked that question. It’s just accepted as it is. Of COS.

Tell us about And Other Stories. Where do you place that in the H&M/COS hierarchy?

It’s a fairly new brand. Obviously we would like to bring that to Asia as well. We are looking into it, but we’ll wait until we’re ready. It complements COS/H&M. It’s a very style and fashion conscious concept with a great identity as well. Other Stories do only ladies clothes though. It has a big proportion of accessories. It’s high fashion, style, quality and price.

Where would you recommend people to go in Stockholm?

It depends upon the preference. The archipelago is magnificent, but that’s obvious. I enjoy Liljevalchs, an art gallery [one hundred years old in 2016]. And then the Mood galleria for shopping; the great thing about Mood is that there are lots of H&M stores around it. You would have four opportunities to shop H&M. That’s quite important. There’s a museum called Fotografiska for contemporary photography that is great as well [showing Martin Schoeller Up Close until February 2016]. I’d recommend food shopping at Östermalms Hallen, which is more like an old-style market place, with good quality food in a beautiful setting. There’s a place called Sofo / Nytorget with a lot of shops, though not so many H&M stores. For restaurants, I think Riche is good for both lunch and dinner. A classical restaurant called Prinsen is very good. Then there’s Café Opera. What else? There’s also a place called Kött & Fiskbaren. And I also have on my list Rosendal’s Garden Café which is very romantic and beautiful.

Twenty years at H&M. You and the company must be doing things right. How do you maintain the work/life balance?

H&M is a company where we appreciate work/life balance from the perspective of trying to keep things simple and not overdoing things. We do not promote anyone just because of long hours. Another point, because of our female workforce we are used to having workers on maternity leave, which in fact, isn’t a problem but becomes more like an opportunity, which we all appreciate. I try to be efficient, plan ahead and spend as much time as I can on both. Get a job you enjoy, and the work/life balance takes care of itself.

What’s your favourite Ingmar Bergman film?

Fanny & Alexander. In fact, that’s the only Bergman film I like. While I recognise him as a director, his are not the kind of movies I spend a lot of time with.

So what is your desert island film?

Dead Poet’s Society.

Apple or Samsung?

Apple. But I also like Sony Ericsson.

Art. Do you like and collect art?

I don’t actively collect. I like interior design more than art. But I like the work of John Constable. He’s not modern, but his technique is admirable. 

Show Me The Modigliani - US$170.4m

"The child's character is still so unformed. He behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We shall have to wait and see what is inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist?". So wrote the mother of Italian artist-to-be Amedeo Modigliani (known as  "Dedo" to his parents and "Modi" to his friends) when he was 11 years old in 1895.

Some prophecy. Livorno-born, Paris-based Amedeo Modigliani's Nu couché (Reclining Nude), painted between 1917-18, was unveiled in Hong Kong today at Christie's auction house. Almost 100 years old, but so lustrous was its sheen and so vivid the texture, it might have been painted 100 minutes ago - a cosmetic mood board with a Shu Uemura make-up palette. Step close enough and you could feel its pulse. 

To be auctioned in New York on November 9, this little-known and even lesser-seen masterpiece is being offered for sale, surprisingly, for the first time - a commercial virgin extraordinaire that's worth her reserve (US$100 million) and then some. 

Whatever the outcome, it should surpass the existing auction record (US$70.7m) for the artist's work Tete, a sculpture of a goddess's head (1911-12) made with limestone that Modigliani had purloined from a Paris construction site and which sold last November. The artist's most valuable painting to date, Jeanne Hébuterne (au chapeau), which depicts his lover and common-law wife in 1919, sold for US$42.1m in 2013 to a Russian client.  

Modigliani's work and life is a tale of contrast, debauchery, womanizing, pharmacopeia and ill-health. As much influenced by Italian Renaissance art and sculpture, and artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Boldini and Domenico Moirelli (a melodramatic Italian Biblical painter) as by Paris, Pablo Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, one of his teachers called him "Superman", as Modigliani was known to regularly quote from Friedrich Nietzche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and appreciate the thinker's radical philosophies. Modi wasn't shy to speak his mind either. On meeting Picasso in 1907 who was dressed in workmen's clothes, Modigliani said though the man was an artistic genius such talent shouldn't "excuse his uncouth appearance".

While Modigliani maintained a dapper sartorial silhouette, he dispensed with dress in matters related to his models. His reclining nudes, begun in 1916, were based on women he knew, had conjugated with or even married. But unlike Renaissance painters or 19th century artists who invested their images with allegory or mythological references and attributes, Modigliani focused - implicitly and explicitly - on his model's eroticism. As such, his nudes were considered by many to be pornographic and caused police in Paris to seize a portfolio of his canvases in 1918. He was dead two years later, at the tender age of 36. His wife committed suicide the day after his death, jumping from a window bearing the couple's unborn baby. Their orphaned daughter Jeanne Modigliani, born in 1918, lived to 1984 and wrote a biography of her father, Modigliani: Man and Myth

The provenance of Nu Couche is unknown, as is the model. But, the work stands head and shoulders (we often don't see hands and feet in Modi's works) above his prodigious output. In its dazzling contemporaneity, Modigliani's Nu couché  is Botticelli's Birth of Venus for the modern age. In this moment, this sumptuously stylized triumph on paper, Modigliani made magic as fresh today as it was controversial then. Ladies and gentlemen: any advance on US$130m? 

ADDENDUM: The above artwork sold in New York on November 10 for US$170.4 million to Chinese collector Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei, making it the second most expensive artwork at auction after Pablo Picasso's The Women of Algiers which sold in May 2015 for US$179.4 million. Liu and Wang own Shanghai's Long Museum. Said Christie's auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen who oversaw the sale. "We are in a masterpiece market." 

IMAGE: Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Nu couché , oil on canvas, 59.9cm x 92cm, 1917-1918. Courtesy of Christie's 2015. 

Yves Saint Laurent: Take a Bowes

The Bowes Museum and the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent have collaborated to create Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal, the first exhibition in the UK to present a comprehensive display of the French fashion designer’s work and life. The show highlights the defining elements of his vision, and its influence on fashion and the way we understand womenswear.  It's hard to know which is the greater surprise; that it's Saint Laurent's British exhibition debut, or that the venue is The Bowes, an unlikely, iconic museum, which takes the form of a French chateau in the North of England in the vibrant market town of Barnard Castle. Bowes, opened in 1892, boasts a wealth of artistic treasures, with paintings by Canaletto and Goya among them. 

“Fashion fades, style is eternal”, Yves Saint Laurent said. Articulating this idea, the exhibition presents 50 garments comprising iconic pieces from the Russian Collection, the Mondrian dresses and the Tuxedo. The show also opens up a dialogue with The Bowes Museum's collection, creating a unique sense of narrative around the history of fashion. It inhabits much of the Museum's first floor, including the award-winning Fashion & Textiles Gallery, which has hosted high profile fashion exhibitions such as Vivienne Westwood shoes, Stephen Jones Hats, Henry Poole & Co Tailoring, and most recently Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion.

After heading up the Christian Dior fashion house from 1957 to 1960 as Artistic Director, Saint Laurent created his own fashion house with partner Pierre Bergé, and first catwalk show in 1962. For 40 years, Bergé managed the business while Saint Laurent made material magic.

In the first 12 years, Saint Laurent defined a new style and composed the quintessential elements of the modern woman’s wardrobe: the pea jacket and trench-coat in 1962; the first tuxedo in 1966; the safari jacket and the first trouser suit in 1967; the jumpsuit in 1968. A selection of these iconic garments are on show at The Bowes Museum - a wonderful chance for fashion cognoscenti to appreciate  some of the 5,000 garments and over 15,000 accessories, drawings, paper patterns and objects conserved and kept by the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent in its archives at 5 avenue Marceau, Paris. 

By invoking male dress codes, Saint Laurent brought women social empowerment whilst retaining their femininity, a sentiment emphasised by Bergé: “If Chanel gave women their freedom, it was Saint Laurent who empowered them.” Saint Laurent had the ambition to dress all women, not just haute couture clientele. In 1966, he opened the first ready-to-wear boutique to bear a couturier’s name, SAINT LAURENT rive gauche, opening the way to fashion as we know it today. Saint Laurent believed in the 'democratisation' of fashion four decades before Sweden's H&M and Karl Lagerfeld.

 

Passionate about the arts, and a collector himself, Saint Laurent paid homage, as early as 1965, to various artists in his haute couture collections, with the famous Mondrian dresses, as well as his homage to Diaghilev and Picasso in 1979 and tributes to Matisse, Cocteau, Braque and Van Gogh in the 1980s, some of which are displayed at The Bowes Museum.

Style is Eternal highlights the diverse influences of Yves Saint Laurent. The show explores themes ranging from art, lace and transparency, to Masculine - Feminine, as well as featuring the different eras and styles of his creative career. It's a reminder of not just his design genius but also his infinite variety. 

Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal, The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham, England. Until October 25, 2015. 

IMAGE: A drawing for one of Yves Saint Laurent's couture dolls. The Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent Fondation, 1935-54.

1935
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1954 per dolls cut out of magazines and glued onto cardboard. Garm Fondationents ade of paper cut
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puts, ink, watercolour, and
©Fondation Pierre Bergé
Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

Digital Dreams of Russia

A remarkable occurrence is underway in Hong Kong, in which Rusal, the first Russian company to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the world-leading aluminium producer, commemorates its 15th anniversary with Digital Dreams of Russia, Hong Kong’s first-ever multimedia exhibition of Russian visual art. It is also the first ever digital “enlivening” of masterpieces from the State Tretyakov Gallery.

The State Tretyakov Gallery is one of the world’s major art museums and a veritable treasure trove of Russian art. The museum holds a collection of more than 170,000 pieces, including works of global significance. Fifteen of its most revered 19th and 20th-century masterpieces have been thoughtfully selected for this exhibition at Hong Kong's PMQ, representing various aspects of Russian life throughout the ages. The work is showcased through cutting-edge multimedia audio-visual animation and sound, specifically created for this exhibition. The show tells the story of Russia and its diverse nature and people, its long and rich history and traditions, economic development, and fascinating mythology.

Said Ms Vers Kurochkina, Rusal's deupty CEO, "We hope visitors will be inspired by the cutting-edge multimedia and also have a chance to understand the 'mystery of the Russian soul.'"

The artworks will be a revelation to most. From Boris Kustodiev's uplifting festive snowscape Pancake Week (1916), with sleigh rides and racing troikas, which wouldn't look out of place on any lacquered box, to Aristarkh Lentulov's Vasily the Beatified (1913), a fantastic architectural myth that invokes French Cubism and traditions of folk art to render the famous St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow, with blue cupolas, golden stars and colored strips of sky. Lentulov was a founder of the Russian Avant-Garde. 

Kazimir Malevich, founder of Suprematism, and one of Russia's leading though largely unknown startists, is represented by Haymaking (1928-1929), which shows a monumental, immovable peasant (see above) and a return to the artist's figurative work. This painting was presented in 1929 for a solo Malevich exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery. As the 1917 revolution came and went and times changed, so did the artwork, and Yuri Pimenov's Heavy Industry (1927) depicts the new man and woman, workers, transforming the world around them, in a rich photomontage of a painting. The everyday becomes epic, and the humble workers heroes. It's propagandist, dramatic and theatrical and strangely premonitious of the work of contemporary French photographer Jean-Paul Goude.

And then there's the technology, used to enhance and enable the experience of the viewer by revealing the 'life' of each painting's respective depth and feeling. Rather than gimmicking, gadgetising and game-playing the art, it delivers an unexpected 'point of entry'. The works become virtual reality canvases we step into and want to stay in. 

Much like the entire exhibition. This is grand work from an even greater country. 

Until July 5, 2015: The Qube, PMQ - 35 Aberdeen Street, Central (From 11am; Free admission)

IMAGE: Haymaking, 1928-1929, Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935). Courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery

H&M Collaborations @ 10

"Mass elitism, which has long been my dream, is the future of modernity," said Karl Lagerfeld, on the eve of his groundbreaking fashion collaboration with Sweden's H&M in 2004. The aim, a kind of 'massclusivity', was to create an exclusive product on a limited-edition basis. The result - his clothes sold out in 25 minutes in New York - shifted the fashion/retail paradigm, of the industry, designers and consumers. 


"We've been operating this business for 60 years and we've never seen anything like it," said Jorgen Andersson, marketing boss of H&M at the time. "We are as surprised as the customer [at the rapid sellout]." Lagerfeld was left bemoaning its astonishing success: "I'm sorry for the clients because I like the idea that everyone could wear Lagerfeld." The three top hits were a Lagerfeld silhouette T-shirt (US$19.90); a sequin jacket ($129), and a lace dress ($99.90). Later that day, 69 of the products were already selling on eBay. Women's jeans at $59.90 were selling for $75. "H&M has made inexpensive desirable," concluded Karl."Today, this is fashion". 

 

This year H&M sought out Alexander Wang, who designs his own brand, and for Balenciaga. It was the Swedish e-, re-, and ubiqui-tailer's first collaboration with an American. Despite being released in November, the project was announced in April, and by July, taking advantage of social media, a first knock-out product was posted on H&M's Twitter account: an Alexander Wang-branded boxing glove keyring. Vogue ran a 'look book' of products in October calling the strappy scuba dresses, cropped bra-tops and leather joggers a "sporty-minded fantasy". 


And on November 6th, six months of selective 'Instagrammable' social media marketing later, H&M stores launched the H&M/Alexander Wang collaboration (right). Wang's cutting-edge, logo-laden  'athleisure wear', which contained elements of his spring/summer 2015 campaign, sold out in 45 minutes, with some pieces selling online within the hour. Wang, like Lagerfeld, was left applauding H&M's style: "they push boundaries and set a platform for creativity," he said. 


H&M is a game-changer, not just as fashion democratizer of the high street, but also of electric avenue. The retailer saw the value of a mass e-porium, and introduced a virtual dressing room in 2006, whereby shoppers could 'try' clothes on a virtual model designed to look like them. The technology has since been refined and the latest iteration lets shoppers change the hairstyle and expression of virtual models, dress them in myriad H&M looks, button and unbutton clothes on them, rotate the models to see silhouettes front and back, and even choose the most appropriate skin colour. Shoppers get to play stylist and creative director before they buy; it's retail rebooted as added-value purr-chase.  


H&M brought the same excitement to designers they worked with. "Exuberant, sexy, covetable and hopeful," is how former Pucci designer Matthew Williamson described his capsule collection for H&M in 2009. "I want my friends, family, young girls, old girls, even my Mum, to wear it," he said of the trouser suits, peacock prints and cocktail dresses. H&M also asked Williamson to design menswear, his first foray into male fashion territory. So too, Tamara Mellon, at Jimmy Choo (2009). "They had to push me a bit!", said Mellon, who was asked to imagine the look of the beau that would date/partner Jimmy Choo belle. "But we came up with washed leather jackets, slim cashmere sweaters in electric blue and grey, light suiting and some bags as well - the man bag! And Chelsea boots," said Mellon. "The idea was pioneering and we felt flattered to be asked." As did French designer Isabel Marant (2013): "H&M's invitation is an exciting honour."


H&M collaborations were like a variation on a classic 'two-for-one' Hong Kong deal. H&M gets great PR and strengthens its brand as a fashion house, while designers can reach a younger demographic at a lower price point. Stella McCartney (2005) was gung-ho from the get-go. "I think the impact of collaboration is fast and furious. You leave a good taste in everyone's mouth. I think they're great way to  speak to a wider audience and let them get to know me and my designs better. At the end of the day, it's about consumers being happy. I'm very aware, and I think not many other people are these days, that it's about the customer." Lanvin (2010), Versace (2011) and Maison Martin Margiela (2012) all benefitted from the cross-pollination.


That exposure worked especially for Japan's Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons (2008 - left), H&M's most avant-garde choice. "I thought it would be exciting to work with H&M to sell CdG clothes in new markets and appeal to consumers who, up until now, may not have been familiar with the CdG concept. Pairing H&M's international design expertise with Comme des Garçons' creations has resulted in a fascinating accomplishment," Kawakubo said. "The coming together of two contrasted histories, asethetics, ideas leads often to something greater than the sum of its parts."


An unsung voice central to all collaborations is H&M creative advisor Margareta van den Bosch. She instigated the majority, and despite 'retiring' from H&M several years ago, continues to oversee the projects. "They are all important and exciting projects for us. We like to surprise by doing the unexpected. Karl Lagerfeld, master of couture, street-cool Stella, Viktor & Rolf with their modern twist on tailoring, Roberto Cavalli, glamorous and extravagant, and then Rei Kawakubo: always pushing the frontiers of design and never accepting the status quo. It has been an amazing journey." Does she have a favourite? "I have millions of fantastic memories at H&M and I'm still collecting new ones. My first encounter with Karl Lagerfeld was memorable. He was extremely aimiable and just the perfect host. The collaboration with him was a real pleasure." 


A book commemorating H&M's decade of fashion democratization has been released, 25 percent of which goes to UNICEF's work against child marriage. With behind-the-scenes pictures, campaign visuals, interviews with all designers and key pieces from each collection, it's playfully titled, too. The First Ten Years. "I like the constant change, the humour, the open attitude, the classic fashion designers and tailors as well as the hyped-up stars, the beautiful and the strange - sometimes even the ugly," says van den Bosch of the business. "Fashion should be fun, feeling good about yourself." Here's to the next decade. 


Images: Courtesy of H&M


Russian Art Rush



Of all the enigmas, riddles and mysteries concerning Russia, none is more recondite than our limited knowledge of its artists, a fact made all the more apparent given the kaleidoscopic super-abundance of its other cultural icons, which we namedrop with the boutiqued ease of French and Italian luxury labels. Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Gogol, Chekov, Tolstoy and Nabokov in literature; Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky in music, and from dance's Rudolph Nuryev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, the Ballet Russes and the Bolshoi, to stage and cinema's Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky and Constantin Stanislavsky. Just to rub salt in the aesthetic wound, movies gave us director Alexander Sokurov's mesmerising Russian Ark, filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum in a single 96-minute Steadicam sequence shot in 2002, in what may be cinema's greatest artwork. 


And yet ... Russia's artists? Well, there's Kandinsky, Wassily Kandinsky, of course. But who else? Russia, the largest country on the planet by size, is yet to find its place in the art world and conquer the global art market. Despite the efforts of Western galleries internationally, such as the Guggenheim in New York, Russian art is still a black hole, a blank canvas to most of us, and Russia's galleries haven't helped much either. The Russian government has done little to promote its contemporary artists' works, there are few contemporary art museums, and traditional museums lack the means to build collections.

 


All of which makes the appearance of St Petersburg-based Erarta Galleries in Hong Kong something of a revelation. Stylishly set opposite Hollywood Road's Man Mo Temple, the gallery's inaugural exhibition, Game Changers, lays down the artistic gauntlet and lets it run. As magnetic as it is magnificent, and as fresh as it is flamboyant, this energetic confection of more than 30 exclusive works by contemporary Russian artists is everything like, and nothing like, you've seen before. Bristling, philosophical, poetic and technological, it's Matrioshka doll unravelled in 21st-century mosaic, artistic epicentre of everything.  


There's Pavel Brat, a Moscow favourite, known for creating collages that invoke the worlds of fashion, design and advertising. Brat is considered among Russia's most collectible young artists. Likewise Konstantin Khudyakov, one of Russia's pioneering digital media artists (see The Birth of the Moon, 2014, left). Emerging talents include the wistful Degas-esque sculptures of Aleksey Gromov, and the elegantly executed graffiti work of Katya Krasnaya (Boat, 2014, below).


There's no single movement at work, but pluralities of influence; surrealism, the Italian avant-garde, and social realism, along with Pop Art's declensions and plenty of them. There's early Salvador Dali in the 3-D works of Viktor Ponomarenko; a parody of Japanese otaku in K.G.B's Girl in Blue, and Warholian Marilyn overtones in Egor Bogachev. There's Dmitry Shorin's guardian angel for the modern age Angel No. 8, (given jet engine wings to keep up with progress) a retrofuturistic standout of Michelangelo proportions, to reminders of Russia's prodigious space provenance in Aleksey Chizhov's (Gagarin, 2011, top) two canvases which can be purchased for HK$58, 800 each, or as a diptych. Russian cosmonaut and national hero Gagarin spent 90 minutes orbiting Earth from the bespoke black of space in 1961, the first human to accomplish such a feat. 


There's a Russian proverb: Vsio vozmozhno, tolko ostorozhno (everything's possible, just be careful). Game Changers is a celebration of endless and economic reality - each canvas comes with a price tag. With art this appealing and affordable, just be careful not to buy everything.


Game Changers: Erarta Galleries, 159 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Opening hours: Tues-Sat 11am-19:00pm; Tel: +852 2685 5199; Email: hongkong@erartagalleries.com; Until January 17, 2015

Images Gagarin by Aleksey Chizhov, Acrylic on Canvas (Diptych), 100 x 100 cm each, 2011; The Birth of the Moon. Limited edition 2 of 5, 110 x 110cm, 2014; Boat by Ekaterina Krasnaya, 170 x 100cm, 2014.


 

Future Perfect

Science fiction has been around for longer than many might think. In fact, gazing into the future and imagining mankind's potential has been with us since the dawn of civilization. Parts of the Bible have such elements - the prophet Ezekiel's 'vision' is thought to be a UFO sighting, as does the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (2000 BC), reckoned by many to be the first reference to sci-fi in humanity. Greek playwright Aristophanes had voyagers flying to other worlds in The Birds and The Clouds, as did Ovid's Metamorphoses. The Indian Hindu epic Ramayana (5th century) - one thousand years before Leonardo Da Vinci created robots in 1495 - has flying machines that travel into space and destroy galactic cities using advanced weapons, and the old English poem Beowulf (9th century) and German poem Nibelungenlied (1230) all have futuristic, though often fantastical rather than science fictional elements. Sightings of strange objects such as flying saucers may even predate modern man. Carvings on rocks of the granite mountains of Hunan Province, China, reckoned to be 47,000 years old, around the time of Neanderthal man, show cylindrical objects resembling spacecraft.

Structured around the themes of retrofuturism, steampunk and archeomodernism – a concept developed by the academic, critic and curator Arnauld Pierre - the exhibition FUTURE PERFECT strives to create a dialogue between past cultural output that imagined the future – our postmodern era – with work from contemporary artists, which in both form and substance refer to the past by revisiting and reviving certain visions of the future or of modernity, generated between the last third of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. We feel the strong influence on and of cinema, and superhero comic forms on this journey. We also feel the impact of scientific and technological development. 


There's some interesting discoveries too. Hugh Ferriss, a trained US architect who never built a single structure but influenced generations of his peers. He was a delineator - creating a perspective drawing of a building - whose work was frequently used for advertising purposes. He was the architectural equivalent of fashion's Rene Gruau. (See Ferriss's The Metropolis of Tomorrow, sketches of tall buildings and skyscrapers to get a flavor of his work). 


The transporting works on display evoke divided feelings: first, the triumph of science fiction - or its popularization of science - as a genre on culture for 150 years and its ability to foretell events which came to pass. Second, whither science fiction today? So techno, bio, nano and digitally driven, it has become almost indistinguishable from the world it attempts to signify; bionics, gene therapy, asteroid mining, bio-terrorism, nano-medicine, NASA space suits for Mars, robotics, 'designer babies', 'mind uploading' and 3D printing of satellites. We already live in futopia, a cyberlyptic, robopolitan neuro-now. Science fiction was meant to be the contemplation of the 'What if', yet humanity's progress and expectation has surpassed it. 'What if' has become 'When'. Technology will make transhumans, or posthumans of us all and the long dreamed of 'future perfect' might be one in which, ironically, humanity transcends itself. Old-school science fiction has become new-school artifactual, and it's a tantalising and troublesome vision to contemplate. Here's hoping the artwork and its impact on 21st century culture continues to be as exhilarating as this collection. 

FUTURE PERFECT curated by Jean-Francois Sanz. agnès b.’s LIBRAIRIE GALERIE. G/F, 118 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Until July 5. 11:00am - 7:30pm daily (closed on Sundays and public holidays) Tel: 2869 5505. Free Admission.

IMAGES: (Top)  Ray Caesar, Metatron, 2012. Digital Ultrachrome on paper. 8/10, signed. 183x122cm. 

(Below): Warped, Mr TIB: New Order, 2011. Digital print © Warped Prod. 35x50cm


 



Signs of the Times

The neonscape of three- and four-storey electronic signs has been a trademark of  Hong Kong's street life - and its cinema - for decades, like a signature of approval. But while relentless property and retail development sweeps out characterful old for panglossian new, neon has become less luminous in the ever-changing palimpsest. 


"Neon signs, which hold a prominent position in the visual culture of Hong Kong, are fast-disappearing from the city's urban landscape," says Dr Lars Nittve, Excecutive Director of M+, Hong Kong's future museum for visual culture in the West Kowloon Cultural District. 


NEONSIGNS.HK, M+'s first online interactive exhibition, is a reaction to their demise. As well as celebrating this key feature of the city's urban landscape by researching, exploring and revealing stories behind individual neon signs - members of the public are invited to contribute to the museum's research by uploading images and stories of their favorite signs to an electronic "Neon Map", via Instagram, e-mail, and the Neonsigns.Hk website. These will be searchable by district and "featured" sections, and sharable through social media. 


The site will be updated with new curatorial content - essays, slideshows, videos and timelines - to provide a richer view of Hong Kong's neon signs from the perspectives of craft and industry, design and typography, urbanism, cinema, visual art, literature and popular culture, within both local and global frameworks.


The exhibition is also a public call to action. "The intention is to elicit the public's help in documenting and researching the city's remaining neon signs--but also to further a discussion about the multiple readings offered by these once ubiquitous landmarks of Hong Kong's streetscapes,” say Nittve.


M+ recently bought two of the city's most recognizable neon signs: the neon cow that hung above Sammy's Kitchen steakhouse in Sai Ying Pun since 1977, and a Kai Kee Mahjong School rooster sign, dating from 1976, from the company's now-closed branch in Kwun Tong. At one time, Hong Kong had the world's biggest neon sign sponsored by Nanfang Pharmaceutical Factory's 999 brand of traditional Chinese medicines; it stood six stories tall, 111-metres wide, weighed 80 tons and beamed from the Shun Tak Centre in Central. The three figure '9's were made up of more than 13 kilometres of tubing; a neon-colonial sign of the times. 



NEONSIGNS.HK - until June 30, 2014; Instagram: #HKNEON

Grab a line

Frank Gehry’s Fish Lamps see the legendary architect on perfect form

 

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, at times, looks like a fish. It leaps and flashes and glides and shimmers and undulates with every curvilinear form and contour of its exuberant, quicksilvered gills. To say Bilbao was a game changer is the understatement of 20th-century architecture. Bilbao was architecture’s most significant moment since the Colosseum. Bilbao rewrote Vitruvius. Bilbao rewrote Roman code. Bilbao recalibrated 2,000 years of architecture by opening the door to a bold and brave new world of aesthetic and imaginative possibility. Bilbao was Wow times one-hundred. Bilbao. Wow. Wow.   


Even today, 17 years on, revisit Bilbao and catch sight of those scales, and the hairs of the back and the down on the cheeks rise in adulation. The senses salute. Erumpent, triumphant, transcendental, monumental and miracle. "The fish is a perfect form," Gehry once said. Much like Bilbao. 

Fascinating it is then to discover a darkened gallery space brightened by Gehry’s luminous life-size and outsize fish at Gagosian Asia in Hong Kong, for which Gehry specially created these vigorous light sculptures. Playful and kinetic, the Fish Lamps, (first made by Gehry in 1983) are composed from a formica plastic laminate called ColorCore to form individual groupings, elaborate chandeliers and wall sconces. Curling and flexing as if in motion, they emit a warm, incandescent, almost meditative light. They are lantern-like, and they are piscatorial, yet, neither ticks any obvious Chinese box, despite the prevalence and provenance of both in China's artistic culture.  And they are perched – no pun intended for these are koi – on wooden pedestals, celebratory canvases sprung from an easel, like prize possessions. 

And then, unannounced, appears a snazzy, flashy, party piece of reptilian accessory.  So vivid you expect it to move, and still so fresh it's yet to be christened. For now, it's known as the rather unsnappy Untitled. Much like Damien Hirst’s 1991 shark in formaldehyde, you don’t question this piece; it’s a snap decision – you like it, you buy it. Boutique hotels, garden parties and D&G or Versace showrooms could wear this shiny black statement-maker like a second skin. 


Gehry's energetic structures prompt an unusual reaction: you want them to move. One pictures the glossy predator prowling the apron of an outdoor swimming pool, menacing, and the fish, shoaling and streamlining through the mid-air of anywhere. Now and zen. There's direction for today's frantic zeitgeist - art performance rather than performance art - living the art, not just looking at it. Which brings us back to Bilbao and a bold future. And Gehry shining new light on it, once again ...  


Frank Gehry: Fish Lamps Gagosian Gallery, 7/F Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852.2151.0555. 

Hours: Tues-Sat 11am to 7pm. 

 

Images: Fish: Untitled (Hong Kong II), 2013. Metal wire, ColorCore formica and silicone on wooden base, 66 x45 x42 inches (167.6 x114.3 x 106.7cm). ©Frank Gehry. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Josh White/JWPictures.com.  

Alligator: Untitled (Hong Kong IX), 2013. Metal Wire, ColorCore formica and silicone. 26 3/4 x 118 1/8 x 148 inches (68 x300 x 376 cm). ©Frank Gehry. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Josh White/JWPictures.com.


The New Victorientals

What do Ian Fleming, Isabella Blow, Mary Shelley, Joseph Conrad and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart all have in common? They all lived and worked in London's Victoria district at one time or another in their careers. That may surprise some, for whom Victoria evokes images of a scruffy and sprawling railway, tube, bus and coach terminus, and back-packer central mentality; it's more a place to pass through than pass time in. But, much like 110 years ago when the partially completed railway station was destined to become a bustling hub for Continental traffic, Victoria is having another moment, care of London developer Land Securities and a new cultural interchange. 

Land Securities' ongoing new-build residential, office and mixed-use projects are refitting and rebranding Victoria as an upscale, creative and fashionable destination in which to work and play. So far, its colossal 
£2.2 billion investment is paying dividends: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, auctioneers Phillips de Pury, British fashion house Burberry and American designer Tom Ford have all set up headquarters in Victoria, raising the district's style credentials.
  
But as much as elegant living space, it's about dynamic investment potential. Prime Central London property prices are at an all-time high, having risen 60 percent since the financial crisis of March 2009. Prices for the best homes increased by 7 percent during 2013. And if Continental was the buzzword in Victoria over a century ago, today it's Oriental. Buyers from Hong Kong and China were the largest group of new-build prime London buyers in 2012-13, comprising 27 percent of the market by volume. London has accounted for 80 percent of all Chinese property investment in Europe since 2008. 

New on Victoria's block this month is Nova (pictured), Land Securities' ultra-modern, cutting-edge Benson + Forsyth-designed office, residential and shopping development with luxury concierge services, business centre, private cinema, residents’ lounge and rooftop garden overlooking Buckingham Palace. The private sale of Nova’s luxury apartments starts this month in Hong Kong. Given China’s predilection for London and the capital's financial and regenerative potential, it seems a 21st-century cultural shift is unfolding. The Age of The New Victorientals is upon us.  


Les Enfantines debuts in Hong Kong

Despite the prevalence of fashion and high-fashion design in today’s world for toddlers, there’s yet to emerge a leader in the pack. Until now, with the arrival of Les Enfantines, French haute-couture for children from 3 months to 8 years.


Les Enfantines is the vision of Laure Gues, descendant of the legendary Jeanne Lanvin, one of France’s most influential designers of the 1920s and 30s. Following a Masters in Management Science and Marketing from Paris Dauphine University, Gues worked with some of France’s leading lifestyle and luxury brands, such as LVMH, developing their branding, marketing and even designing their packaging. 


But the birth of two children saw Gues step into children’s fashion.


Blending classic and contemporary, but reviving lines with a modern twist and surprising marriages of fabric, Gues describes Les Enfantines as “quintessentially French”: think chic, luxurious and timeless. Note one of the brand’s signature trademarks: adjustable collars which are interchangeable from one dress to another for different looks.


Gues feels children’s fashion should be more fun, and develops her collections so the collars, the pockets et al, become accessories, making each outfit unique and new everyday. Elegant animal iconography such as elephants, butterflies, frogs, squirrels, crabs, ants, locusts and ducks feature prominently on her wares. It’s a tribal motif that taps well into kid’s natural curiosity.


And that's a market expanding faster than any in retail. A recent Global Industry Analysts' report projects the world market for children's wear will reach US$173.6 billion by 2017. Fashion trends, current adult wear, and demand for smart and hip infant wear from more 'market savvy' kids are driving the market. Despite economic problems in Europe and America in recent years, the children's apparel market has sustained momentum, while growing affluence in emerging markets and smaller families are fostering rapid market growth, too. Asia-Pacific, spurred by the markets of India, China, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, will deliver the fastest growth rate of 5.3% over the next three years. 


Hoping to tap into that burgeoning market, Paris-based Les Enfantines is growing as rapidly as the young bambinistas it dresses. Gues is looking East, where she currently sells at Cherbébé in Seoul, South Korea, and has just debuted Les Enfantines in Hong Kong at TroiZenfants boutique in Wanchai. Les Enfantines is one to watch. lesenfantineshk.com


The Venus Beauty Myth

If beauty resides in the eye of the beholder then Florentine Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli's Venus, currently showing at MGM Macau's newly inaugurated 8,000-square foot MGM Art Space, is a blinder. We gaze, so wrapped up in its grace, that we don't immediately spot the unnatural length of the somewhat sturdy neck, the steep fall of her almost non-existent  left shoulder, and the odd way her seemingly overlong and muscular left arm is hinged to the body, a clumsy artificial protuberance that seems to belong to someone else. For one so beautiful, Venus can seem more misfitted than muse in close-up, in her impossibly ungainly pose, anchored by her bloated feet yet angular, extended, architectural toes. The real beauty, the artist seems to be saying, or painting, resides in the imperfection. 

Venus, painted on wood around 1482,  is one of a series of paintings commissioned by Florence's powerful Medici family. The goddess - symbol of love, beauty, fertility and prosperity in Greco-Roman mythology - was recast by Botticelli and his workshop who juxtaposed her contrapposto posture against numerous backdrops in variant works, most notably, the Birth of Venus, (1482), in which her floating vision balances atop an oyster shell, a Renaissance metaphor for the vulva. Some of these works hung in assorted Medici homes and even bedrooms, and may have incorporated personal aesthetic predilections. Painters sold different versions of identical or similar compositions to wealthy and less-wealthy clients alike during the Renaissance. This was especially evident in Botticelli's Madonna and Child images, which were produced more like fast moving consumer goods than objects of sanctity. If LVMH had existed in the Renaissance, Botticelli would have been their bag. 

Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, nicknamed 'Botticelli', (from 'botticello' meaning 'small wine cask'), had his moment from 1477-1490. The much-debated Primavera (Spring) and Athene and the Centaur were created at this time. The year before Venus, Pope  Sixtus IV summoned Botticelli to Rome - his only commission outside Florence - to decorate the walls of the recently completed Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, along with Ghirlandaio, Rosselli from Florence and Perugino from Umbria (Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes came 27 years later). On his return, Botticelli  painted Venus, along with Venus and Mars three years later. But the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492 saw the lights dim on Botticelli's moment. Dominican preacher Giorlamo Savonarola, whose influence grew in Florence, denounced Botticelli's paintings as 'lascivious', along with certain books, and urged people to destroy such 'vanities'. In the face of such condemnation and the approach of younger artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, Botticelli faded into relative obscurity. Little commissioned and in bad health, he later died in 1510. His name didn't re-emerge until the 19th century with renewed interest in his, and Florentine artwork. 

Botticelli's Venus - The Life and Times of a Goddess, until Feb 16, 2014; Tuesday to Sunday, 12-noon to 9pm. Free admission. MGM Macau, Avenida Dr. Sun Yat Sen, NAPE, Macau. Phone: (853) 8802 8888 or email: artspace@mgmmacau.com. 
Sandro Botticelli Venus, circa 1482. Tempera and oil on wood. H 177cm x W 71cm. Galleria Sabauda. Turin. 


Loliconography

Mr. (real name: Iwamoto Masakatu, who took his alias from the nickname of a Japanese baseball player) is a so-called otaku, who paints innocent girl characters in cartoonish style with Lolita-esque sexualization. Otaku, originally a term that meant geek, has come to define a person with obsessive interests in anime, manga, sci-fi, video game and cosplay that can push the boundaries of acceptability, especially in matters of sex. Cyberpunk author William Gibson defined otaku in 1996 as "pathological-techno-fetishist with social deficit" and later as "the information age's embodiment of the connoisseur". Otaku has evolved to include a declension called 'moe' (the slant of the works at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong). Moe involves a predilection for fictional preadolescent girls and fetishization of a single object. For example, a fixation on broken glasses moe (girls with broken spectacles), large watery eyes moe, and military moe (cute girls in uniform brandishing guns). Surprisingly, the otaku/moe industry in Japan is driven as much by women, as men. 

Against which backdrop arrives Sweeet!, 44-year-old Mr.'s art specially created for Galerie Perrotin. Standing in the white-walled gallery observing these poster-sized glossy controversial confections of voyeurism and fetish, hurry-scurry with multiple mo(e)tifs promoting cute and kink - young girls almost like dreamy pets - it's hard to reconcile as art, and can seem like tacky grotesquerie; a gallery of pre-teen fandom stuck on a bedroom wall, the busied paint-splattered canvases like premature ejaculations or the pre-pubescent wet dreams of a sensibility that never grows up. It isn't saucy, just saucer-eyed. 


Mr. paints things he is ashamed of. He is a  'lolicon', a term derived from Vladimir Nabokov’s protagonist Humbert Humbert who bears the ‘Lolita complex’, and projects his dark, obsessive and presumably doomed desire through his moe girls. This time around, he has incorporated elements of Western art, sort of Banksy-san, with graffiti-esque patterns familiar to a wider audience. But if the subject matter shames the artist, how should the viewer feel? Do we berate the artist, how 'lo-moe' can he go, or do we just indulge the cartoon or comic Pop and some of its undeniable wit and fun, as though viewing a version of Roy Lichtenstein's splashy canvases, and ignore the parental guidance rating? 


Iwamoto is a big name in Japanese art, who matured under the even bigger shadow of Takashi Murakami. After graduating from the Department of Fine Arts, Sokei Art School in Tokyo in 1996, he became Murakami's assistant, and founding member of Murakami's Kaikai Kiki company, a Japanese equivalent of Andy Warhol's Factory in New York. Iwamoto has been associated with the Superflat art movement - which explores the emptiness of Japan's post-war consumer culture and sexual fetishism, where distinctions between high and low art dissolve at the door. 


Of the pictures Mr. fashioned for Hong Kong's Perrotin gallery, only one  so far remains unsold (right). Illustrating a form of 'Yankee street' culture (yet another otaku declension), we see a girl in black leather and a car (auto moe) behind her; its effect is positively post-coital compared to the rest, and certainly more Western driven. Which makes one switch gears and relap the gallery: Mr.'s work is not racy, but chaste, and feels ready for H&M's first artistic collaboration to drape its multi-coloured Kuteness around. 


But we're still left with a paradox: On the surface these confections are contagious, candy flossy, highly cultured Pocky-sweet pop, yet, below, like the ever-present references to planetary opposites Jupiter and Saturn in the paintings, we feel Jupiter law-abiding, honourable, and Saturn, licentious, one step away from restraint. Such explicitly vibrant work, harbours a mordant subtext; Mr.'s impossible love, a dark desire that cannot speak its name but can show its lot in supra-luminous paint. And standing four feet ten in one sock, it's worth a look.  


"Sweeet!" at Galerie Perrotin, 17/F, 50 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tues-Sat: 11am - 8pm. Until November 9. 


Images: High School Story - Satsuki-tan & Miyabi-kyun Favorite (194cm x 162cm); and Shakotan Love: Virgin Blue (162cm x 130cm); ©2013 Mr./Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

China's shot of avant-garde

Miss C, 1994, Zhang Haier

During the Cold War era following World War II, China was a closed country up to the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s. Photography for those 30 years was mostly limited to official media and private family portraits. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) sought to destroy artistic and intellectual heritage of centuries of imperial rule. After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, China under his successor Deng Xiaoping began to pull back the curtain and gaze out. The April Photo Society took the lead in a 1979 Beijing exhibition titled "Nature, Society, Human," a significant shift in which the photographic focus switched from politics to art. However, the country was still mostly rural, poor, censorship was severe, and artists were eyed with equal parts derision and suspicion. [Photographers in China were still being arrested or detained in the mid-1990s]. Nonetheless, a revolution in Chinese photography started in the early 1980s - the post-Mao/pre-McDonald's era in which China's long-term destiny and immediate direction wasn't at all clear - with the birth of the New Wave art movement, economic development and the influx of Western ideology and pop culture. 


And then came 1989. 


The "China/Avant-Garde Art Exhibition" opened at the National Art Gallery in Beijing, featuring installation, photography, performance and video works. Chinese artist Xiao Lu shot to fame overnight when she fired a loaded gun at her work Dialogue on the show's opening day and modernism in China halted in that moment. Four months later, a man, a tank and Tiananmen Square silenced a captivated world. Just as Chinese photography had been about to reach an important turn, it came to a standstill, an impasse between man, machine and the void between. 


During this time, and thereafter, as much as critiquing or not the establishment's present, future or past, these independent photographic voices - 12 of whom are showcased here including notables like Ai Weiwei, Gu Zheng, Zhang Haier and RongRong, the curator - began producing experimental, and highly individual work, much of which was published in New Photo magazine, launched in 1996, China's first such independently-run title, co-founded by RongRong and Liu Zheng. Much work expressed a sense of people's fear, isolation, ambiguity to identity, and laid the blueprint for much of what followed. China's journey from 'New Documentary' photography, to conceptual and then experimental photography in one long avant-garde flash makes striking and surprising revision for apres-garde eyes. A cultural revolution in the history of photography. 

New Framework: Chinese Avant-garde photography 1980s-90s. Blindspot Gallery (Central) and Blindspot Annex (Wong Chuk Hang). Until June 22.

Image: Zhang Haier, Miss C, 1994.

Going up in the world

The tall, small city of Hong Kong gets some Gulliverian artistic appreciation with the appearance of six giant inflatable sculptures on the site of the Park at West Kowloon Cultural District, next to M+, Hong Kong’s future museum for visual culture, until June 9, 2013.


This playground of monumental artworks make Mobile M+: Inflation! one of the largest contemporary art exhibitions mounted in the city, and features selections by international artistic luminaries - Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller's 'Sacrilege' a full size inflatable replica of one of the world's iconic monuments, Stonehenge (bottom) - alongside newly commissioned artworks by local and regional artists Tam Wai Ping (giant insect, below) and Cao Fei (glowing pig, left). The six works will be accompanied by a performance piece by Tomás Saraceno (Argentina) on May 4 and 25  and June 8.

Inviting the public to interact like Lilliputians with this sizescape, Inflation! questions the nature of public art and ways audiences engage with it. (Anything like the recent Andy Warhol free-floating silver pillows exhibit at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, then adults - and kids - are in for a treat). Several pieces are derived from everyday objects inflated to render the familiar defamiliar, more tangible and tactile. Others question the nature and potential of art and architecture in public space through installations which reflect on human relationships to the built environment and the natural world.

By exploring the shifting notions of nature and artifice, intimacy and monumentality, temporariness and permanence, as well as beauty and the grotesque, Inflation! probes the role of public art in the context of an evolving and endlessly mutating constructed landscape. It's art but not as we know it and Tam's channelling of Planet of the Apes, the Statue of Liberty, the lower half of a human body and a headless cockroach in black latex may not please the aesthetes, but makes exclamation marks. 

Inflation! acts as a prelude to the opening of the Park in 2014, highlighting the future possibilities for multi-disciplinary arts programming on the site. “Inflation! is an example of the numerous possibilities that the future park will offer for our exhibition programming," says Lars Nittve, executive director of M+. "It represents our ambition to display the full spectrum of visual culture from a Hong Kong perspective that incorporates a global vision. Inhabiting the future site of the Park of West Kowloon Cultural District, ‘Mobile M+: Inflation!’ also broaches the possibilities of how art might play an integral role in this park as we go forward,” Nittve says.

Inflation! is a part of Mobile M+, a series of pre-opening ‘nomadic’ exhibitions curated by M+ that aim to engage the public ahead of the opening of the museum, scheduled for completion in late 2017. By realising projects that aren't possible in a conventional museum, Mobile M+ seeks to turn the perceived disadvantage of being “rootless” into an advantage by staging events that embrace a multi-disciplinary approach. Watch this space!

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of on-site events ranging from artist talks, workshops, guided tours to performances.

Mobile M+: INFLATION!Tues – Thurs: 12pm to 7pm; Fri – Sun: 11am to 8pm; Closed MondaysDuring Art Basel Hong Kong: 10am – 8pmWest Kowloon 

stamps: our silent ambassadors

An obsession, or occupation, an addiction, a disease, a fate, an absurdity and a fascination, stamps are more than just proof of postage. These unassuming colored windows into time and space have, since their inception in 1840, become a chronicle of our development. They are miniature gateways to the world instructing collectors and novices in geography, politics, biography, history, culture and art. They honour heroes and stories of heroism, they honour daring explorers and major scientific events, they commemorate historical events and the leaders who either made them happen or governed over them. Stamps have transcended their quotidian function and become something greater: compelling works of art that serve, in the words of the poet W. B. Yeats,  as "the silent ambassadors on national taste."  As art - postage stamps are seen by the largest audience - they gallery around the globe. 


And then there's monetary value. From nerd to niche, stamp collectors and their art are the new painting, jewellery, vintage cars and complex watches combined. Sweden's Treskillng Yellow, accidentally printed yellow rather than blue-green, at $US2.3 million and weighing 0.02675 grams, is described as the world's most valuable item. That's a mighty US$85.98 billion per kilogram. Can any artifact fight so far above its weight as the ubiquitous and flimsy stamp? The stamp is stylish syntax no lifestylester can afford to be stuck without. And their names, titles and eccentricities are legends you may next be quoting, if not wearing: the Mauritius Blue, the Penny Black and Twopenny Blue, the Inverted Jenny and 1c Z grill. The Treskilling has a glamorous past. The only one of its type ever found, it was discovered by a Swedish schoolboy in 1885, [try finding that on PlayStation today] later seized by the French government as reparations after the first world war and has since belonged to eminent collectors including King Carol II of Romania. [England's King George V was a prolific collector and his oeuvre was passed on to Queen Elizabeth II]. 


Given increased interest in collectable items with the rising affluence of Hong Kong and mainland consumers, stamp auctions are becoming as frequent as their wine and watch counterparts, To wit, Zurich Asia will auction a series of stamps and covers [more than 2,000 lots] issued by the British Postal Agencies in China (1917-1930), comprising many rare Hong Kong CHINA overprints. These treasures have never been auctioned before. The star lot is a unique 1922 'two cents' green 'specimen' stamp [above] in black italic, thought to be the only one of its kind, and expected to fetch between HK$130,000-HK$150,000. Britain gained a number of commercial privileges in select Chinese ports in the 19th century, which were also known as 'Treaty Ports'. In each, British consulates were created where consuls acted like postal agents. From 1844 onwards, the Hong Kong Post Office allowed the consults to receive and transmit post to Hong Kong. In the 1910s, a set of stamps were specifically printed for use in China, rather than adopting Hong Kong adhesives. These stamps were used for a short period as the Chinese government negotiated the abolition of all foreign postal agencies on the mainland on the first day of 1923

Also noteworthy is a unique 1894 Dowager 9 Candarins bright green block of four [right] with perforations between and on the corner margins which is expected to fetch from HK$800,000 to HK$1 million. It is the only recorded tete-beche block [a pair of stamps printed with one upside-down in relation to its partner - see bottom-left pane - which happens either  deliberately or by accident]. The stamps were previously in the private collection of esteemed luminary Huang Ming Fang.


Sale items will go on view at the Harbour Plaza Hotel in North Point, from April 11-12, where Zurich Asia will hold its auction: Stamps, Postal History & Coins of China and Other Countries from April 13-14.



Top of the Pops

http://www.isbn-magazine.com/stop_press/files/armadillo/media/35.jpg

Now extended until April 1, 2013 - 210,000 visitors have seen the exhibit since its December 16 opening - the Hong Kong Museum of Art's Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal exhibition comprises more than 400 works by the influential superstartist divided into four sections spanning the 1950's to the '80s. Paintings, drawings - Warhol cited fashion illustrator René Gruau as a big influence during the first decade of his career in the 1950's - photographs and screen prints, sculptures, films and videos [he made more than 600 films and nearly 2,500 videos], ensure Warhol's prodigious output is broadly represented. His greatest hits are there - the Campbell's Soup Can series, the Brillo Box, the Marilyn, Mao and self-portraits, along with art project Time Capsule-23, which includes items collected by Warhol during his visit to Hong Kong in 1982.

The surprise is that the lesser known work is more interesting and more varied. As chief curator Eve Tam notes: "I am sure visitors will appreciate the fact that the art of Andy Warhol is more than the familiar images of Campbells Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe."  His shoe illustrations from the 1950s are high on style and humour, the latter a quality less evident the longer Warhol's work goes on; Suicide [1964],  a grainy black and white silkscreen print depicts a man  with bent legs and upraised arms in free-fall following a leap from a high-rise tower, and is harrowingly reminiscent of the World Trade Centre attacks of September 11, 2001. Alternatively, installation piece Silver Clouds [1960s] is a room filled with free-floating pillow-shaped silver balloons - a fantastical children's playground - conceived by Warhol to give visitors a joyful experience. It's fun, smart, surprising, the sort of mass-participation counter-culture that says Warhol's Pop art is for everyone. 

Sunsets [1972] - who knew Warhol painted such natural subjects - emerge like a prototype Apple Mac colour palette. A 'Children's Gallery' showcases Warhol's work for pop tots in 1983; monkeys, parrots, dogs and circus clowns are set against Fish wallpaper. The extended Long Horse painting is enchanting, and the Day-Glo pink and chartreuse of Warhol's Cow (left) in wallpaper format vivid and uplifting. Films Empire and Eat are worth a diversion, while Greek king Alexander the Great [1982] gets two iconic images to himself. All of which goes to prove, when it comes to Warhol's pop art, there's more fizz in the less familiar. 

The Hong Kong Museum of Art, 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. From 10am to 8pm daily. The museum is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Chinese New Year. Admission HK$20 on Monday, Tuesday and Friday to Sunday, and HK$10 on Wednesday. 

 

Image: Andy Warhol, Cow, 1966, screen print on wallpaper. Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh ©2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

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