A chat with Calvin Hui… 

Calvin Hui

- Co-Founder and Artistic Director, 3812 Contemporary Art Projects
- Co-Chairman and Director, Fine Art Asia
- Chairman and Director, Ink Asia Fair
- Founder and Chairman, Arts in Heritage Research
- Member of Art Museum Advisory Panel, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, HKSAR, 2014-2016
- Advisor for the Arts Education Group, Hong Kong Arts Development Council
- Member of the Advisory Board of Visual Studies, Lingnan University
- Member of Board of Governors, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2009-2012

Although the Chinese art market has slowed down recently, Chinese art remains a good long-term investment. What’s your view? And do you think Hong Kong will remain the centre of this amazing market?

The current economic situation has affected the art market, however it provides an opportunity for a healthy correction especially for the Chinese market. Collectors now become more cautious, sensible and choosy when collecting art. They would acknowledge the aesthetic and academic values. Galleries will work much hard to build their credential by improving their artist portfolio as well as curatorial presentation.

Hong Kong will continue to play a significant role as Asia’s art centre thanks to the city’s taxation policy, professional infrastructure and facilities for art handling, and growing number of art collectors particularly from China and other Asian cities who are keen to buy art in Hong Kong.

How has the West influenced contemporary Chinese art?

At one time, totally. Now it’s changing. Remember that typical images of political pop and so called Chinese symbols which have been exhaustingly seen since the nineties? Perhaps this can be described as the first phase, during 2003 and 2007, when we saw the Chinese contemporary art market was greatly manipulated or influenced by the western institutions.

Post 89 was a period of cultural enlightenment because the flourishing of political pop art in China. The western influence had given the Chinese artists an ingredient for expressing their sentiments towards their living and social environment.

However, such political ideology was overly consumed and commercialised by the market when many artists became to repeatedly produce works of similar styles, colours, or so called China symbols. This “trend” started to die down when the prices of these artworks substantially dropped in the auction market after 2009.

Principles or profit?

I’m lucky I have the freedom to choose who I want to associate with. People ask me to buy or recommend art for them. While I’m not being snobbish, art collecting is about having a vision. It’s personal. It’s not just about money. Art isn’t a commodity.

When people have a certain mindset, they can be quite direct. They say: “I have this amount of money, can I get a 50 percent or 100 percent return? What artists do you suggest?” I still share my views. However I would rather not provide a profit projection. Our mission is to promote emerging artists, therefore our focus is to provide favourable platforms for artists to present their art; this can be achieved through professional curatorial planning, artist exchange programmes. We believe artistic progression of an artist will strengthen his/her own “market” and ultimately the commercial value will be solid.

When I turned passion into business, the first principle was to share and appreciate the passion. That’s why I told myself that 3812 would not be conventional!

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Who are the new buyers?

After to the economic crisis in 2008-2009, number of expatriates living in Hong Kong, who used to be main buyers of art, has been drastically dropped; or their remunerations were trimmed. I think the market has significantly changed when now the new buyers are coming from Mainland China, and young local professionals and entrepreneurs are keen to collect art for pleasure and investment.

Where do you see the art market going?

It won’t collapse. It will develop. It will grow stronger. We need greater participation from the public across a variety of levels, though. Getting people more involved is the only way to truly embrace the local community.

Why do you promote Chinese ink?

I am passionate towards ink art, perhaps because of the cultural connection, as a Chinese. What I comprehend is that ink is definitely a cultural heritage of China.

From an art market point of view, the vast number of ink art collectors in China will form a solid foundation for the development of the Chinese ink market. Meanwhile Chinese ink will be emerging in the international art scene. I am delighted to see a more diverse development of Chinese ink market which provides more opportunities for the artists.

Why Wong Chuk Hang? 

Some years ago, the market eyed on Central when some international galleries began to open their branches there. At that time, Mark Peaker and I selected Wong Chuk Hang where industrial buildings here offered us much bigger space. Obviously we had already anticipated no foot-traffic in this area. We were the first of few galleries opening in this area. Our concept and business strategy were different from those in Central. People questioned the arrival of international art fairs and western galleries in Hong Kong would benefit Hong Kong art? My answer is YES; and Hong Kong is a free market, we need to accept cruel competition. Another attraction of Wong Chuk Hang would be the beauty of space in such “far away so close” distance.

What’s your big dream?

I like to do things that inspire people. That’s important. Culture is part of our life. I hope more and more people appreciate Hong Kong’s cultural heritage and identity. Through art fairs, my non-profit organisation, and the projects I organise, I try to convey this. Art and cultural development, however, is a long-term business. This business relates to the soul and spirit of the people in this city.