If there is any lesson to be drawn from the unveiling of the M+ Sigg Collection, it’s that even a single collector can have an enormous role in preserving a country’s art. And while Sigg single-handedly built the world’s largest collection of contemporary mainland Chinese art, William Lim is doing his best to give Hong Kong art the same kind of exposure.
Next Destination: Hong Kong is a new exhibition at Sotheby’s Hong Kong that draws from Lim’s constantly-growing collection, which includes many of Hong Kong’s best and most fascinating contemporary artists. “It’s amazing, important work, some of which hasn’t been exhibited for a long time,” says Jonathan Wong, a specialist in contemporary Asian art at Sotheby’s. Wong worked with Lim to curate the show, which includes 16 works drawn from Lim’s collection and another 34 by the same artists.
Lim is an architect and artist in his own right, known for large-scale installations like the giant goldfish he made from bamboo and paper lanterns for the 2011 Mid-Autumn Festival in Victoria Park, or Bamboo Curtain, a wind chime he exhibited outdoors at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center. He started building his collection in 2006 with work by ink artist Wilson Shieh, who comments on Hong Kong architecture, pop culture and politics with precise, witty illustrations. He then went on to collect street scenes by painter Chow Chun-fai, intimate installations by Lee Kit and performance artefacts by Nadim Abbas. His collection now counts more than 200 pieces.
Hong Kong is the subject of many of them. Others deal with urban space and living environments. “You can see a strong interest in space in his collection,” says Wong. “The scope of his collection is quite wide, but I think he’s still on the stage of collecting work that really interest him – a lot of it is about the city or architectural elements.”
That’s apparent in works like Sir Youde’s Proposal (2014) by illustrator Chi Hoi, which depicts a colonial-era ceremony at Hong Kong’s City Hall, and Revenge of Nature (2010), an acrylic-on-plywood painting by Lam Tung-pang that explores the tension between nature and Hong Kong’s particularly intense form of urbanism. But Lim is also interested in conceptual works of a more personal nature, like Au Hoi-lam’s Sixty Questions for My Father (or for Myself) (2012-13), in which the artist painted questions for her late father on funereal pieces of plywood. Many works reveal Lim’s fondness for eccentric curiosity, as in Nadim Abbas’ installation The Distance of the Moon (Moon-milk) (2012), which includes a fridge full of coconut milk pudding that Abbas photographed to appear like the surface of the moon.
Next Destination also includes a number of extra works by artists represented in Lim’s collection, which Sotheby’s is selling. This includes recent work by Chow Chun-fai, whose interest in taxis has expanded to include paintings of media stories about the city’s cabs, and A Flags-Raising-Lowering Ceremony at My Home’s Clothes Drying Rack, a 2007 video by Kwan Sheung-chi that sardonically recreates the July 1, 1997 handover ceremony on his apartment’s laundry line.
Wong says the selling exhibition has drawn strong interest from collectors, which marks a departure from the years when Hong Kong art was overshadowed by the mainland art boom. “In the early days of his programme, William was questioned by people [as to] why he was collecting Hong Kong art,” says Wong. “He chose to collect by his own taste and his own eyes, which is really courageous.”
He could soon have more company. “We’re trying to get more people interested in collecting Hong Kong art,” says Wong. “We really need these pioneers to open up the road for the next generation of collectors.”
Next Destination: Hong Kong runs until 10 March, 2016 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5/F, One Pacific Place. Click here for more information.