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Claire Hsu - self-portrait of an art champion

Claire Hsu
self-portrait of an art champion
by Adeline Chong
March 5, 2007

The Hong Kong-based Asia Art Archive (AAA) was initiated in 2000 as a direct response to the increasing number of Asian contemporary art exhibitions and events worldwide, as well as a lack of available and timely resources on the subject. Dedicated to documenting the recent history of visual art from the region within an international context, it has become a well-used, one-stop research and resource center. We spoke to the Asia Art Archive's co-founder and executive director, Claire Hsu, on what inspired her to take on the mammoth task, as well as the challenges of introducing and growing a "brand" in a new market.

 
 

Art was not a subject I was really encouraged to focus on—at least not while I was in high school. During my year off in 1993 before university, I went to Beijing for six months to study Mandarin at the Beijing University. On my last night there, I coincidentally found myself in Beijing's East Village, where many of the important experimental Chinese artists lived. (The East Village was subsequently shut down by the authorities in 1994.) I'm glad I visited the area, as that's where I got my first taste of the exciting developments in the field of contemporary Chinese art.

After Beijing, I went to the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I convinced my professor to allow me to focus my M.A. dissertation on contemporary Chinese art of the early to mid-1990s—not an easy task, considering the course ended somewhere at the end of the 19th century! I soon realized that despite the increasing interest and development of contemporary Chinese art around the world, it was very difficult to get information. The library at SOAS was a haven for traditional Chinese art, but deficient in anything to do with modern or contemporary art. I am sure this has changed since I left in 2000, considering the growing academic interest.

The only easily accessible information was from the now-defunct website, chinese-art.com, and the library at Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong, where I worked in the summer of 1997. At Hanart TZ, I became acquainted with Johnson Chang, with whom I subsequently co-founded the Asia Art Archive at the end of 2000.

The AAA really is unique in the way it was set up—as a response to an urgent need in the field—and is an organization that has developed organically and responded specifically to developments in the field.

In founding the archive, I was even more idealistic than I am now. I never for a moment feared it might not work. While I have become more realistic about certain aspects of running the AAA, I am still very idealistic despite the increasing financial commitments, responsibilities, and expectations that come with a growing organization. I really believe in what we are doing and it helps that we have great support from our staff, board members, sponsors, and advisors.

Luckily, we began with a very strong board of directors, whose names added immediate credibility to the project. I think individuals in the field are also ready to lend their name and expertise to the organization because they believe that the work we are doing is important.

In addition to staff in our Hong Kong office, we are supported by researchers in Beijing, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul, and Japan. We will be extending our reach and setting up new research posts in India, Pakistan, and the Philippines in 2007.

Hong Kong has some of the most important collections of modern and contemporary Chinese ink painting in the world. I do not think people in Hong Kong are apathetic to Chinese art. There is a more general problem, which is that art is seen as a luxury and not as something integral to the quality and way of thinking about life. This is reflected in the limited art education in schools and the lack of jobs in the field. I believe it's important to foster a love for art.

I also believe there is a need for a mid-size public art gallery, modeled after London's acclaimed Serpentine Gallery, in Hong Kong. The gallery should have a strong curatorial focus and showcase the most important artists of our time. I submitted a proposal to have such a public art gallery in the former police station on Hollywood Road in the Central District of Hong Kong. The Magistracy, one of the buildings of the police station, would be the perfect venue for such an art space. There are a number of different interest groups looking at the site, however, and it is a hotly contested piece of land.

In 2005, the AAA organized a workshop called "Archiving the Contemporary," the first in Asia to focus on the importance of documenting and encouraging research on contemporary Asian art. One of our goals for the workshop was to assist those in other Asian countries to begin setting up similar facilities.

Our fifth annual fundraiser was held in December 2006 and comprised an exhibition at Sotheby's and a dinner-cum-auction. We had 60 works donated by important and up-and-coming artists and galleries from around the region, including big names like Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Wucius Wong, and Michael Lin.

We would like the AAA to offer professionals in the field—artists, curators, or critics—a space where they can propose new ideas and projects. We plan to set up residency programs.

We are also planning to launch an endowment campaign to ensure that the AAA will be around for generations to come and to equip the organization to become the most important authority in the field.

My greatest wish for the AAA is that it will evolve with the times to ensure its position as a platform to generate new ideas and that the collections are well preserved and remain easily accessible for future generations.

 
  

Adeline Chong has over 10 years of experience in branding and communications on both the client and consultancy sides, including working for Interbrand. She lives in Singapore and harbors thoughts of becoming a globetrotter.

 
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