Hauser & Wirth resisted opening a branch in Hong Kong until conditions were perfect, “and with H Queen’s, the stars aligned,” says its president, Iwan Wirth. The gallery opens its first space in Asia with 10,000 sq feet on the 15th and 16th floors of the shiny new gallery building this week (showing the artist Mark Bradford, March 26-May 12).
H Queen’s has, in fact, been open for a few months. Bangkok-founded Tang Contemporary Art moved in first, to the 10th floor at the end of 2017 and anchor tenant David Zwirner opened two floors (another 10,000 sq feet) with Michaël Borremans in January and now opens a Wolfgang Tillmans show. But this week’s local and international hoopla surrounding Art Basel will mark the official launch of the 24-storey building on the art world map.
Wirth describes it as a “trophy building” and it certainly stands out. To date, galleries have had limited options in Hong Kong, which barely featured on the international art market tour before the fair came to town as Art HK in 2008. Most of the local scene, chiefly selling antiques and traditional Asian arts, centred on the Hollywood Road area while early international entrants, such as Ben Brown, took themselves into the nearby Pedder Building. With its relatively high ceilings, heritage status and central location, this quickly became an attractive option for overseas galleries — Gagosian and Lehmann Maupin are among those in Pedder — but, like much in Hong Kong, it doesn’t come cheap and is a challenging space. Its other tenants — including a toy shop, musty cigar seller and range of small fashion outlets — make for a quirky experience, but not necessarily one suited to an aspirational art crowd.
By comparison, H Queen’s is seriously high tech. It was conceived initially as a commercial building, but in 2012 architect William Lim and developer Henderson Land came up with a culture and lifestyle theme, and built with art exhibitions in mind. “It’s great. We can be a white cube, a glass box, or something in between,” says Henrietta Tsui-Leung, the homegrown founder of Galerie Ora-Ora, now on the 17th floor.
Galleries including Pace and Pearl Lam open in H Queen’s — with Yoshitomo Nara and Arcangelo Sassolino respectively — while also maintaining spaces within spitting distance (Pace in the Entertainment Building, Lam in the Pedder Building). Lam says the commitment is a measure of the accelerating scene in the city: she founded her first space in Shanghai in 2004 but says, “My business is increasingly concentrating in Hong Kong.”
As well as all the gallery openings, visitors this week will also get to see a temporary non-selling exhibition of work by Christopher Wool in the building’s atrium (March 27-April 8), mounted by the US financier and collector J Tomilson Hill, as a taster for his private Hill Art Foundation, which opens in New York this September.
The “H” in the new building’s name stands for “Henderson Land” (Queen’s is the name of the road it is on, neatly creating the nickname HQ), but the developer’s commitment goes beyond stamping its name. The building has been something of a pet project for Henderson Land’s owner Lee Shau-kee and his eldest grandchild, Kristine Li, the deputy general manager of its leasing business. “They’re a family-owned business, like us, and we’ve had some wonderful meetings with our landlords,” Wirth says. “They even came to visit us in Somerset,” he adds.
Most gallery-hoppers are shorter on time, however, and one trend that H Queen’s has tapped into is the draw of several exhibitors in one easily accessible place. Areas such as Alserkal Avenue in Dubai and the redevelopment of London’s Cork Street are banking on the same preference. With luxury watch group and Art Basel sponsor Audemars Piguet on two floors of the building and high-end restaurants and chic shops on their way, H Queen’s has the feel of a permanent mini art fair.
The cluster effect is already working. Ora-Ora opened in H Queen’s at the beginning of the month and, says Tsui-Leung, “In my old space [in Sheung Wan], there were more people outside drinking coffee. Here I’ve been getting between 60 and 120 visitors on a Saturday. The general public is more and more open-minded about contemporary art and this building is already a destination.” This week, she opens a solo show for Chinese contemporary ink artist Xiao Xu (March 26-May 9).
H Queen’s is not completely full. Restaurants, including the first Asian outpost of La Petite Maison, are coming, but getting a licence to operate takes longer than opening an art gallery. There are also four floors (17 per cent of the building) yet to find occupants: at more than HK$100 ($12.75) per square foot per month for galleries, it is quite a commitment. But Hong Kong’s art market continues to thrive and the long-awaited M+ Museum — due to open next year — finally seems around the corner, so it’s likely just a matter of time. For now, it’s a case of getting everything together for this week. At time of writing, gallerists including Lam and Wirth were still finalising their individual fit-outs. “It’s always tight, but it always gets done,” Wirth says.
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