Gallery to street: Agnès b. ‘Far East Far West’ graffiti exhibition takes it outside

Agnès b. celebrates 20 years in Hong Kong with the ‘Far East Far West Graffiti Hub Exhibition’, which spills out into its surrounding neighborhood with the help of HKwalls.

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Hong Kong Street Art 

Street art has been having a moment for awhile in Hong Kong. With the takeoff of HKwalls, Hong Kong’s once fledgling street art scene has evolved to produce some world-class artists that can hang with the best of them. Meanwhile, the art world has slowly come to recognize the quality of Hong Kong’s homegrown talent in a handful of ‘street art’ themed exhibitions, although a guided outdoor component for newly created pieces has been regrettably missing. A public element undoubtedly helps a gallery offering of ‘street art’ work – otherwise, it risks stripping the art of its integral meaning as both visual signpost and indicator of placefulness. Therein lies the challenge– how can an upstanding gallery exhibit a broad selection of freshly created urban artworks in situ throughout the community, as they are meant to be seen? With the help of HKwalls, the brilliant not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing art to Hong Kong’s public spaces, Agnès b. has done just that.

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Philippe Baudelocque at Shin Hing Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

Agnès b., grand dame of the French fashion world with an international network of self-named lifestyle boutiques, has long nurtured a special appreciation for street art. Agnès b. representative Marine Delveno shares, “She has always supported the graffiti scene. She started in the 80’s, when no one wanted to show this kind of art in a gallery. [It] makes sense to do a graffiti show to commemorate her 20th anniversary… It’s her thing and her main theme this year.” The design mastermind is also running two street art exhibitions concurrently in Paris through October, and opens the notable ‘Far East Far West’ Graffiti Hub Exhibition at the Agnès b. Librairie Galerie in Hong Kong on Friday, September 25th, 2015.

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Caratoes with her creation on Gough Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

So what makes ‘Far East Far West’ in Hong Kong so special? Simply put, there has been a monumental effort (thanks, HKwalls!) to source outdoor spaces from private property owners to create an extension of the gallery into the local neighborhood. Although it might seem volunteering one’s property to an art show is a savvy community-oriented decision, there is a catch that gives pause many– creative control. Resolving the contradiction of the artist’s desire for creative freedom and the practical needs of many different business owners is no easy task, which is likely why it’s never before been done by a gallery in Hong Kong. It’s an exquisitely complicated show to do– yet undeterred, Agnès b. has turned Hong Kong’s Central streets into a curated selection of her personal vision, complete (of course) with a handy walking map.

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Parent’s Parents on Aberdeen Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.
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Lek & Sowat on Mee Lun Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

Agnès, always the curator of the shows displayed in her gallery empire, personally selected the 8 exhibited artists for ‘Far East Far West’. Five are based in Hong Kong (SINIC, the Parent’s Parents collective, Barlo, Wais, and Caratoes) and 3 are overseas champions of their craft (Philippe Baudelocque and Lek & Sowat from France, and Cleon Peterson hailing from Los Angeles in the United States). Notably, this is the first time for each of the overseas artists to visit Hong Kong and have their work shown in Asia. What draws the artists together is a practice of nontraditional street art style– these are not painters of usual urban concepts, bubble letters, or reminiscing of hip hop. The works are figurative painterly and abstract graphic pieces that would normally be viewed on a canvas within a controlled setting, but are instead disorientingly on the side of a building. Rather than taking art from the streets and placing it in the gallery, art from the gallery has been set loose on the neighborhood.

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Wais for Agnès b. on Gough Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy Agnès b.
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SINIC for Agnés b. in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnés b.

There are natural complications with an art show that involves outside stakeholders– those whose property literally becomes the art. Agnès b. representative Marine Delveno explains:

“HKwalls got the authorizations, contacting many owners in the area. It’s been difficult because all the owners asked for sketches prior to the confirmation and the artists usually do not work this way. We tried not to offend anyone but it’s been a lot of back and forth emails to confirm the sketches since the owners asked to change the art most of the time, according to their own tastes and to what’s accepted or not by the society… For instance, violent content is prohibited kind of… Finally we got more walls once the artists arrived, because other owners saw them paint in the street and liked it, and it’s also easier when people really meet and talk. Then they can share, communicate and get along, that’s how more opportunities come up.”

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Cleon Peterson for Agnès b. in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

With ‘violent content’ perceived as potentially taboo, the work of Cleon Peterson, which explores the dark side of human nature, conflict, and power relationships, presented a particular challenge in finding appropriate outdoor display space. However, property owners were eventually won over by his artistry despite heavier subject matter. Peterson says:

“Getting permission to paint the spaces has been difficult. I think people see graffiti as vandalism and not art. I hope that our work can change this perspective. That being said the people that did grant us spaces to paint in have been amazing and are really acting as cultural pioneers… I think when art is at its best it opens minds and lets people share and experience different perspectives of their worlds. Because we’re working with the city as our canvas it is in a way our partner in the art. It’s our culture mixing with Hong Kong’s culture. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see how people here live with the work.”

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Cleon Peterson for Agnès b. in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

Perhaps an acceptance of more challenging content like Peterson’s in the public space is an indicator that Hong Kong has grown up a bit in its tastes. Life isn’t all cute rubber duckies, and the more sophisticated palette for contemporary art will reflect such a balanced outlook. Either way, it is a boon for Hong Kong to have such a well-organized showing of street art in the public space. Life goes on, and the love goes on.

You can check out the ‘Far East Far West’ Graffiti Hub Exhibition at the Agnès b. Librairie Galerie in Hong Kong and throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

Agnès b. Librairie Galerie
118 Hollywood Road, G/F
Central, Hong Kong

Opens Friday, September 25th, 7pm. On from September 26, 2015 – January 2, 2016

Erin Wooters Yip

 

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