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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

The Re-opening of the Hong Kong Museum of Art! Museum Highlights and an Amazing Harbour View!

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

Hope everyone is doing well! This post is a continuation of my previous one where I go through my trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong at the beginning of December 2019. There were just too many highlights for one blog!

Since I pretty much grew up in Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum is definitely one of my favourite museums of all time. But back in the 1990's I spent the majority of my summers in Hong Kong visiting family, so it was during this time I really appreciated the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMOA).

Located across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui, the HKMOA was a state-of-the-art museum in Asia when it first opened in 1991. It was spread out over four floors and featured amazing galleries with Chinese ceramics and works of art, Chinese paintings, and Chinese export art.

They also held many amazing exhibitions over the years including the incredible collection of Chinese antiquities from Hong Kong's prestigious Min Chiu Society, and most recently, 'Ming and Qing Chinese Art from the C. P. Lin Collection'.

For museum-standards, the HKMOA did not have an especially long lifespan when they realized more space was required. To my disappointment, the museum was closed August of 2015 and completely gutted. 4.5 years later, the HKMOA finally re-opened again.

The renovated museum now features over 10,000 square meters of space, which is 30% more than before. In addition to a much more modern look, the museum also has new galleries for Hong Kong contemporary art, legacy highlights of the museum, and permanent collections.

1. View of the Hong Kong Museum of Art's new exterior.

My favourite area is still the Chinese antiquities gallery, and with the refreshed look, I must have wandered around taking photos for a couple of hours. This gallery contains earthenware, porcelain, Buddhist sculpture, jade carvings and scholar art.

The gallery is now called the 'The Best of Both Worlds: Acquisitions and Donations of Chinese Antiquities'.

2. Entrance to the Chinese antiquities gallery at the HKMOA

Rather than having a straightforward narrative about the history of Chinese antiques, there are certain sections that pays homage to the many donors who gave the museum objects from their private collections to benefit the public.

3. View of blue and white porcelain wares from the mid to late Ming Dynasty in the antiquities gallery.

4. A beautiful Junyao purple-splashed dish from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Simply elegant!

5. A wucai (five-colour) dish depicting the 'five poisons' from the Wanli Period (1573-1620) of the Ming Dynasty. This is such an unusual dish and probably my favourite wucai example of all time.

The title itself sounds like something from a kung fu movie. The 'five poisons' wudu (五毒) refers to the depiction of the snake, centipede, toad, lizard and scorpion along the bottom of the main scene. Some say that the depiction of these poisonous animals is actually used as a charm to counter the adverse effects of intense heat during the summer days.

6. One of the most iconic vases from the HKMO is this yellow ground doucai and famille rose enamelled moon flask from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) of the Qing Dynasty.

This flask would have been incredibly difficult to create and is the only known version of this type in existence. There are two distinct enamelling methods which would have required multiple kiln firings. The doucai enamels can be found on the flask's central medallion depicting the eight Buddhist emblems, along with the base and shoulder/neck area.

The famille rose enamels includes the yellow ground on the body in addition to the multi-coloured clouds and pink bats. This flask would have been made especially for the Qianlong Emperor.

7. Another famous piece from the museum is this large iron red 'dragon' vase from the Yongzheng Period (1723-1735) of the Qing Dynasty. It features a bold design of two confronting dragons chasing the flaming pearl of wisdom.

This vase was donated to the museum by famed Shanghai/Swiss dealer Edward T. Chow in 1967. The three-part sale of his estate in 1980-81 by Sotheby's was one of the most epic auctions to ever occur.

8. This is an incredible gilt bronze seated figure of the Buddhist deity Amitayus from the Kangxi Period (1662-1722) of the Qing Dynasty.

Amitayus is the Buddha of long life and this particular example has amazing casting and sharp details. These figures fetch incredible prices at auction these days, with one selling at Christie's New York, The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Travel and Americana, 10 May 2018, lot 82 for USD 2,532,500.

9. A really cute and realistically rendered bamboo carving of a toad from the 16th/17th Century inscribed 'Zhuhai Ying'. It was donated to the museum by the legendary collector and philanthropist, Dr Yip Yee. This object would have been places on top of a scholar's desk.

10. A contemporary art display on the upper floor with a stunning view of Victoria Harbour in the background.

11. The HKMOA also features one of the largest selection of works by Chinese modernist master Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010). The museum is now celebrating the centennial of the artist's birth by featuring the exhibition 'From Dung Basket to Dining Cart: 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Wu Guanzhong'.

This show narrates Wu's humble, yet precocious beginnings as an art student, then goes on to his visits to Paris, his strife during the Cultural Revolution Years in China, and finally to his migration to Hong Kong during the 1980's.

Shown here is Wu's 'Waterway' (1997). It depicts a traditional Chinese village, but the painting also embraces the artist's trademark synthesis of traditional Chinese ink painting and Western modernist aesthetics.

12. Another of Wu Guanzhong's paintings I really liked titled 'Balzac in Paris' (1989).

13. A sketch on paper by Wu Guanzhong depicting Hong Kong's skyline in 2002.

14. Wu Guanzhong's box of paints along with assorted brushes and spatulas now donated to the HKMOA.

15. The HKMOA now features a legacy gallery that features all the major highlights owned by the museum. This includes classical and modern paintings, Chinese ceramics and works of art, and contemporary art.

Walking through this gallery was quite amazing, especially when I passed by a small window that gave a quick glimpse of 'Book from the Sky' (1987-1991), a monumental art installation by Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing (1955- ).

This work showcases the artist's interest in text, Chinese language and contemporary culture. He produced traditional Chinese books that resemble those from the Song and Ming Dynasty, but the Chinese characters he uses are all made-up. In total, the artist created 4000 non-sensical Chinese characters!

16. Actually being inside the room with 'Book from the Sky' is quite a phenomenological experience! I really wish I made a video of this.

17. And just outside the museum is a small café where you can have a seat to enjoy the fresh air and a wonderful view of Victoria Harbour!

That's it for this edition of my blog. If you have questions of comments please feel free to send me an email.

My upcoming Chinese art market trends report for Orientations Magazine will be out soon, and after a couple of months off, I've been writing Asian Art blogs on Bidsquare again.

Mid-March will see me visit Asia Week New York for about five days. Many of the Asian Art auctions are postponed until late June because of the Corona virus, but there will still be various previews, gallery openings and museum exhibitions worth checking out.

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