Friday, 15 January 2010
How to untie the gordian knot?
Hong Kong has no modern art museum. No public or private one. Few curators, art critics, publications, art patrons, arts funding or venues and a small but growing audience.
There are pockets of cultural endeavor. Some talented artists, some private galleries taking risks and little bits of activity but nothing on the scale of the other major cities around the world. NYC, London, Paris, Tokyo are all flooded with museums, galleries, education and artists.
So how does one go about building a massive piece of art with no space, no money, no audience and no support?
Well, if you're passionate enough and prepared to put in the hours, you'll find a way.
The first challenge was the space. I knew Swire Properties had space that could be used for a temporary show as my gallery, 10 Çhancery Lane gallery, had borrowed a huge space to show work by Julian Schnabel back in 2008. So even before they opened Artistree I knew there was potential. Was a little luck that they opened the space as I was about to approach them with my idea. It was just as I was recovering from being sick too and was really motivated to do something monumental.
Some months earlier I'd produced an installation which was a piece of video art. It showed at Hong Kong's Museum of Art. The film was part of a project that allowed an independent curator into the museum to produce a contemporary show. This was the first time the museum had allowed anything like this to happen in the space. The curator was Valerie Doran, an exceptional human being in the best way possible. The show, 'Looking for Antonio Mak', was very well received. I spent a lot of time there watching people wandering around. It seemed to have such a positive impact on people viewing the show it motivated me further to produce more installation work. So this experience, realising the value of non-profit art, it's impact on the general public, along with the opportunity to get a large space and believing in my own energy and resourcefulness, all led me to commit to Hope and Glory.
Swire gave me the space for 2 months, April and May 2010, for free. The usual rental for that period would be around $4-5million HK$.
I have to fund all the art production myself. This cost would be $5million+.
After being sick for so long I'd run out of money but I figured I could hustle sponsorship or find funding and sell new work and take commissions too.
Even with the financial crisis, HK seemed ok economically. Though early 2009 was not great, I'd put on a show in Miami with no sales at all, things really started picking up after summer and I started selling work quite regularly in HK. By the end of the year I put together 'Small Wonder', new paintings at my gallery here. This sold about 90% at the opening so I suddenly got a huge boost to my income. The gallery take half unfortunately. My income immediately got poured into Hope and Glory. I also picked up a few very substantial commissions which added to that income.
While all this was going on, over the last year, I've been trying to find money from other sources.
I went to the HK Arts development Council who said 'don't bother asking'. Their system of funding is difficult. You can only apply for a grant twice a year. They take 6 months to look at the application and then some time to think about it on top. Then they usually only give out a small percentage of the total. When I pursued this possibility it was in the summer, almost a year before the show was due to open. But they wouldn't have looked at the application until January 2010 and then by the time they would've announced any funding the show would've been open already. They won't give you any money if your show is open so even if they had approved any funding, because the show was open, they would've not given it to me.
So then I thought let's go corporate. I had a friend at IMG who did a great job of putting a slick proposal together and showed it to many big brands. Banks, airlines, alcohol, fashion but they all said no. In HK these kind of big companies are used to sponsoring events but they tend to be things like tennis tournaments or golf competitions or maybe canto-pop concerts. Events they have a history of supporting, events that bring them a quantifiable return. Events that have proven to bring them the exposure and therefore the income they need to justify their marketing budgets.
In HK, and art exhibition on this scale is a complete unknown quantity. There's no frame of reference. How many people will see it, what the exposure will be like...there's just no precedent here.
So with no guaranteed return, no-one was prepared to come in with a big chunk of cash. Too risky.
So, what next?
Well, I personally went to people that I knew in the corporate world and hustled. I had some success, no cash really but just bit of support and resources to chip away at the overall budget.
G.O.D. agreed to design and build one part of the show, Diesel agreed to take care of graphic design and the opening party, Louis Vuitton some events management of the educational component, and on and on.
On top of this I did a couple of barter deals, so KplusK architect agreed to do the technical drawings in return for free paintings of mine.
Then a lot of people jumped in, just friends really, to help out. So James Lavelle (UNKLE) agreed to do the music for some of the video installation, a bunch of actors here, including Daniel Wu, agreed to do some acting for free.
So slowly the budget started shrinking to a more manageable $2-3million dollars.
I also applied for 2 more grants. One, which I already got a 'no' from, is the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. This is a very wealthy fund for everything from building hospitals to building schools. They were really nice to talk to and genuinely interested but the time from application to the opening was too tight for them to be able to help.
The more interesting one is the Mega Fund. This is a new government run cultural fund. This one has real potential. They have about $100million to give out over 3 years. They already funded the HK Philharmonic to do a great performance, they gave money to Louis Vuitton to organise a yacht race in the harbour and a big tennis tournament too.
Our show is non-profit so we are eligible. None of the work is for sale, well, we don't have any institutions here that could buy large sculptures and installation anyway. To get the money you have to be a registered society which I am, well, will be when the government process the paper work, have been waiting months for this.
I had to fill in a 40 page application to justify the show, explaining, or rather, quantifying it's value to Hong Kong. What are the economic benefits to HK? The cultural value? The benefit to audience, to developing cultural software, tourism, local industry and on and on.
This was no easy task but I got some advice from Louisa, a lovely girl who works at the HKMA, who used to work for the government and I went through many many pages of government PR documents to try to get my head into their way of thinking.
We have our face to face meeting with them next week so we shall see.
HK is about to build a $28billion cultural district, the West Kowloon Cultural District, in around 5 years time. It's a 2km long strip of waterfront that will have theatres, concert halls and an enormous contemporary art museum. It's caused a lot of heated debate here. While there's no doubt the government can build the buildings real quick, the real question is who will run it all, who will come to see it?
With or without the funding we'll be doing it anyway. No guts, no glory. It's really a wonderful opportunity to build something so large scale for a virgin audience. Anywhere in the world and installation like this would be just another show on a non-stop calender of art events but here it's truly exceptional.
I honestly couldn't be happier to have undertaken such a monumental challenge. The struggle and effort and cost to me will be far outweighed by the positive impact on my HK community, I believe.
It's hugely risky but one heck of an adventure too.
And how do you untie the Gordian knot? As Alexander did, get a big fucking sword and hack it in half.