Antonio Casadei, Brian Brake, Cheung Yee, Douglas Bland, Arthur Hacker, King of Kowloon (Tsang Tsou Choi), Luis Chan, Antonio Mak Hin-yeung, Yau Leung
Oct 13, 2023 – Jan 28, 2024
Hong Kong’s Forgotten Masters focuses on the critical contributions of departed artists who had a significant influence on Hong Kong’s art scene from the 1960s to 90s, featuring an enriching collection of over 20 paintings and sculptures. Additionally, it will provide a thoughtful compilation of archival material, casting a retrospective lens on an era of Hong Kong’s art history that was more subdued, in contrast to the vibrant, bustling scene of the present day.
Amid Hong Kong’s once dormant art ecology, these largely overlooked artists thrived in a time of minimal cultural infrastructure and scarce patronage. Their struggle took place in a markedly different Hong Kong, devoid of the rich private and public support we see for artists today. Their work bears testament to their resilience in the face of such adversity.
The exhibition features artists, all now deceased, who each had their own personal experiences of life in Hong Kong as creative practitioners. They often balanced a secondary occupation alongside their artistic endeavours.
Hong Kong’s Forgotten Masters continues the tradition at Ping Pong of presenting exhibitions of historical Hong Kong artists, including Arthur Hacker, who will feature in this show with, ‘Lap Sap Chung Doll’ (c 1970). “Ping Pong has always been and will continue to be a unique crossroads where local and international art communities converge and engage in discourse about the essence and emotional impact of art—all facilitated by our renowned gin and tonics,” stated Hugh Zimmern, curator, collector and founder of Ping Pong.
“These artists constitute the bedrock of the art we appreciate in Hong Kong today. It prompts one to consider that without these artists’ trials, we might not have the globally recognised art scene we proudly participate in. The exhibition is a magnificent showcase, reflecting the creative diversity and dynamism of our extraordinary city.”
Showcased in the exhibition, for instance, is the work of Yau Leung, who captured still images for Shaw Brothers Studio while independently documenting the stark contrasts of Hong Kong street life, presenting vibrant, colourful 60s scenes. Tsang Tsou-choi, aka the King of Kowloon, wrote Chinese calligraphy throughout the streets of Hong Kong thousands of times, beginning in 1956, but only six works survive in public; ‘Untitled’ is from the early 2000s. Antonio Mak, part of the generation of Hong Kong artists who made it to art school, left a limited but remarkable legacy of bronze cast representational works that explore immediacy and fluidity, notably ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ (1992), created two years before his early death. Cheung Yee, renowned for his paper castings and bronze relief work, masterfully blended western modernism with traditional Chinese aesthetics, folkloric elements and ancient philosophies. His works, created as a co-founder of the avant-garde Circle Art Group, can be seen in the China Building in Central and outside the Space Museum and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Kowloon. Brian Brake, best known for his photographs of China from 1957 and 1959, when he enjoyed a chance encounter with Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, going on to shoot for Life magazine. Douglas Bland, an active part-time painter while serving as commercial manager at the Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown Co, is remembered for his significant murals for the Hong Kong Hilton hotel, which, sadly, have been lost. Lastly, Antonio Casadei’s work is a standout: ‘Untitled’ (1962) is a mixed-media painting on board. Starting his career studying ceramics in 1948, Casadei taught at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence before moving to Hong Kong in 1961. His work, commissioned by Jardine Matheson in 1965, is still there for the public to enjoy.
Despite their critical acclaim in the 60s and 70s, the public visibility of many of these artists has regrettably diminished over time. Nonetheless, the enduring legacy of certain artists featured in the exhibition can still be experienced today, their works spanning various locations, from Central to Causeway Bay to Mei Foo.
Ping Pong 129 is a gintonería in a disused ping pong hall with a lively programme of exhibitions and events.