sectionheading

Cultured Pearl

Hong Kong’s art, culture and culinary scenes grow in diversity and sophistication.

By Kathy Chin Leong

 

ong Kong, nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient, has long been revered as an international finance center and shopping Mecca for tourists. But if all goes as planned, Hong Kong is destined to become the Culture Capital of Asia. 

Museums, gallery fairs, art-centric hotels and fashion-forward restaurants are elevating Hong Kong’s status. In addition to some 55 art galleries in the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association alone, the eclectic city and island is home to more than 30 museums. Among the largest are the Museum of History (hk.art.museum) and the Heritage Museum (heritagemuseum.gov.hk). By the end of 2019, the massive Hong Kong Art Museum will have opened after an extensive multi-year remodel and expansion. At the same time, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority is expected to unveil the M+ (westkowloon.hk), a $640 million contemporary museum of visual culture filled with more than 6,000 items from Asia. The government authority is also planning four additional art and performance venues on the same site, known as the West Kowloon Cultural District, a designated arts hub on 100 acres of landfill. 

Meanwhile, art lovers can anchor their Hong Kong holiday to one or more events that take place every year, especially in March, when Hong Kong becomes a giant salon with art discussions, cocktail parties and art receptions throughout. The three-day Art Basel (artbasel.com) showcases contemporary art from 248 galleries representing 32 countries with established and emerging artists. Said show director Adeline Ooi in an earlier interview, “If you are involved in art in this part of the world, this is the one show you must attend.” 

Art Central (artcentralhongkong.com), the Asia Contemporary Art Show (asiacontemporaryart.com), HK Walls (hkwalls.org) focusing on murals and graffiti art, and the Affordable Art Fair (affordableartfair.com/hongkong) are other popular festivals for art lovers and collectors alike. In the fall, culture fests such as the Asia Contemporary Art Show and Fine Art Asia (fineartasia.com) offer masterpieces from modern and traditional schools. 

Officially a Special Administrative Region (SAR) belonging to China, Hong Kong still maintains its independence, to some degree, with its own currency and government. Critics, however, are concerned that self-censorship takes place among artists who want to stay below the radar of the Chinese government. Hong Kongers are well aware of the 2015 incident where China security agents allegedly abducted five book purveyors for selling books criticizing government leadership. 

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of art to go around that avoids pushing political hot buttons. High-end hotels go all out, giving artists and designers a bold voice. Enter décor melding with the historic and modern at Hotel Indigo (ihg.com/hotelindigo.com) in the working-class-turned-tony Wan Chai district. The boutique hotel’s aim is to stimulate exploration of the immediate community with interiors that reflect Wan Chai. Every room features a turquoise lacquer statue depicting a famous kung fu master who ran his studio in the neighborhood. Pillows are printed with street names. Rooms feature vibrant prints of the Blue House cluster, a 1920s tenement complex with blue, orange and yellow buildings that have been preserved — and attained the 2017 UNECSCO award of excellence for cultural heritage conservation. 

Classic art with a twist is found at the Intercontinental Hong Kong (hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com), facing the famed Victoria Harbor. This feng shui-inspired hotel features more than 300 original contemporary ink brush paintings throughout the guest floors. The lounge’s wood table centerpiece, carved by a Beijing artist, weighs 2 tons and is shaped as part whale, part grand piano. At its presidential suite, nine glass dragons are displayed in the suite’s office where they symbolically empower the person sitting at the grand desk. Eat at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Yan Toh Heen Chinese restaurant filled with hand-carved jade place settings and room dividers of 100 percent jade. 

Across the waters at the Ritz-Carlton (ritzcarlton.com) in the International Commerce Centre, the tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong, at 1,588 feet high, leads with knockout design. Go to Ozone, which claims to being the highest lounge in Asia at floor 118. It takes three elevators to get to the pinnacle, but the literally ear-popping experience is worth the ride. The Sky Bar could double as a movie set of a blue and white ice planet. The bar resembles a horizontal iceberg, the narrow entry feels like a bluish snow corridor, and the floor and ceiling look like fractured sheets of ice. And the white pillars? Stacked snowballs melting all at once. Kudos go to famed designer Masamichi Katayama of Tokyo-based Wonderwall. For something YouTube addicts will lust after, film your waiter as he delivers you the Hong Kong Skyline specialty cocktail. Hovering over the drink is a spiral of smoke, and the whole concoction arrives under a clear dome. Your server lifts the glass upon presentation, releasing wafts of smoke, which, of course, depict the Hong Kong clouds.

Just as beverages are served with cinematic flair, artful presentation is clearly on tap with food. In Macau, a one-hour ferry ride away, dim sum never had it so Instagram-worthy as in La Chine restaurant at the new Parisian Macau hotel. An order of har-gow (shrimp dumpling) is presented as three goldfish with edible black flecks for eyes, swimming in homemade broth. A dessert soup of almond milk and exotic ingredients is served in a just-sliced coconut shell. Sweet taro arrives on a tapas plate, each piece shaped like a small root layered with yellow paper-thin sheets like an origami fold out. 

Back in Hong Kong, One Harbour Road (hongkong.grand.hyattrestaurants.com), a restaurant on floors 7 and 8 of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, is the place to toast special occasions. Visitors are whisked to an imaginary 1930s Shanghai mansion with a large mosaic fountain, unique plates for each guest and a sweeping curved stairway, not to mention harbor views. Dim sum and Cantonese dishes are prepared with an ecological conscience. Only sustainable seafood and fish are utilized as ingredients. Unobtrusive servers are quick to switch out soiled plates and refill tea cups before they are empty.  

And at The Popsy Room (thepopsyroom.com), owner Jennifer Chung, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, creates a gourmand’s extravaganza where eight-course dinners sync up with artwork on the walls and music during the meal. She curates the “galleristic dining” herself with rotating exhibitions. Said Chung, “People don’t have to feel dumb when it comes to art. Food is a great communication tool.” Ever-changing menus are not necessarily based on Chinese cuisine: Last year diners supped on Spanish beef tartare and baked quail with black rice, each a photographic treasure.

With design-driven restaurants and hotels, art fairs and an increasing number of museums and performance facilities, Hong Kongers are confident that the region of over 7 million residents will only grow more appreciative of modern and fine art, music, architecture and creative endeavors of various disciplines. Said Ooi, Asia director of Art Basel, “There is a healthy art scene (here) and a community that supports the arts.” Like Ooi, many are convinced that the Pearl of the Orient is rising to become a precious cultural diamond. 

 

Murals typically clad the exteriors of businesses in Hong Kong’s Central District, where art galleries and museums abound. Hong Kong loves its street art, celebrating murals and graffiti every March during the HK Walls festival.

Artifacts and ceramic vases in a typical art gallery.

One Harbour Road restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Hotel boasts traditional Cantonese dishes and an exceptional view of Victoria Harbour.

Elaborate gardens, such as Carmo Garden in Macau’s Old Taipa Village, make for serene respites in a busy metropolis.
Photos by Kathy Chin Leong

05-01-2018

Back to top