How Flowers Gallery instils hope in unprecedented times with Michael Wolf show at new Hong Kong space

Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density #99, 2018, chromogenic colour print, 121.9 x 139.7 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.
Michael Wolf, Cheung Chau Sunrises #17, 2018, archival pigment print 101.6 x 76.2 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.
Michael Wolf, Cheung Chau Sunrises #57, 2018, archival inkjet print 37.5 x 25 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.
Michael Wolf, Informal Solutions Installation, 2017, video, achival inkjet prints and found objects, 170 x 330.2 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.
Michael Wolf, Industrial #26, 2015, chromogenic print, 122 x 173 cm. Image courtesy The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery
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ART Power HK

Amidst uncertainties due to COVID-19, the launch of the international gallery’s first outpost in Asia reaffirms the art world’s confidence in Hong Kong’s art scene.

TEXT: Valencia Tong
IMAGES: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

 

Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density #99, 2018, chromogenic colour print, 121.9 x 139.7 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.

 

A slanted, concrete-paved street in the eclectic and old neighbourhood of Sheung Wan welcomes visitors to Flowers Gallery’s brand new, Hong Kong space. The elegant, minimalist, cobalt blue façade of the entrance echoes the urban aesthetics captured in the artworks of the late Munich-born Hong Kong-based photographer Michael Wolf (1954–2019), which are currently on display in the inaugural show. Beginning with this timely exhibition amidst the public’s growing interest in exploring the future of post-handover Hong Kong, the presence of Flowers Gallery in the megacity provides a platform for cross-cultural dialogues between the UK, Asia and beyond.

For five decades, Flowers Gallery has nurtured the careers of many artists. The expansion into Asia coincides with the 50th anniversary of the gallery’s establishment in London, in 1970, by gallerist Angela Flowers. The founder’s son, Matthew Flowers, who is also Managing Director, commented on this occasion, “Timing this opening with the gallery’s 50th anniversary demonstrates our commitment to build a new and exciting future while celebrating the achievements of the past.” Of the original gallery, Jonny Davies, the Hong Kong director of Flowers Gallery, said, “In London, Flowers were one of the first galleries to open in the East, taking over an industrial space in Hackney in the 1980s.” He went on to explain that the atmosphere and space in Sheung Wan fits the gallery’s artists and its program, “Sheung Wan has a similar feeling to this area and we have an opportunity for a unique space that echoes our history.”

The launch of the new outpost in Hong Kong is a step that instils hope in the art scene as it slowly awakens from difficult times. Since the beginning of this year, the art market has faced major shifts in its calendar such as the cancellation of both Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Basel in Switzerland, among many other high-profile cancellations and postponements. The “new normal” that began with the coronavirus epidemic has given Hong Kong’s urban existence a new meaning, with shops shuttered and people working from home, leaving the streets deserted. When asked why Flowers Gallery decided to launch its Hong Kong space this year, after such upheaval, Davies said, “A number of cities across Asia have emerged as important destinations in the art community in recent years, however Hong Kong remains the pivotal trade hub for galleries and auction houses in the region.” He added, “During the last decade we have built up a collector base in the region and specifically Hong Kong. It is on the back of this foundation that we decided Hong Kong was the correct location for Flowers in the region.”

While many citizens are contemplating the future of Hong Kong, the gallery’s current roster, which includes South Korean artist Boomoon and Hong Kong artist Movana Chen, among others, signifies the gallery’s commitment to building a community across Asia. “The gallery in Hong Kong will be a home for our artists in the region,” says Davis. “This platform allows our artists to experiment, and spotlight exhibitions showcase a new range of artists to the city. The Hong Kong gallery hopes to build a community of artists and create the diversity in the region over time.”

The inaugural show is an example of this commitment. Showcasing both natural imagery and manmade structures in Hong Kong, Wolf documented and revealed the different sides of the city and its ability to adapt. Throughout his career, Wolf’s devotion to capturing the unique features of Hong Kong can be seen in his oeuvre. The flat, rectangular shape appears as a key feature in the urban fabric of the megacity, while the endless repetition of these modular components in Wolf’s work showcases the hyper-density of the architectural setting that its inhabitants find intimate yet alienating.

 

Michael Wolf, Cheung Chau Sunrises #17, 2018, archival pigment print 101.6 x 76.2 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.

 

Michael Wolf, Cheung Chau Sunrises #57, 2018, archival inkjet print 37.5 x 25 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.

 

Wolf moved to Hong Kong in 1994 to work for Stern Magazine, and then began to focus on his personal work in 2003. In 2005 and 2010, he won first prize in the World Press Photo competition. Self-described as “a chronicler of Hong Kong,” Wolf began working with Flowers Gallery in 2011. The highlight in the exhibition is the iconic series “Architecture of Density,” (2003–14), which not only became indicative of Wolf’s signature style, but also went viral on the Internet and put Hong Kong on the radar for many art aficionados abroad. This forms a stark contrast with the series “Cheung Chau Sunrises” (2017–19), the last project Wolf worked on before his death in 2019. Two archival pigment prints from this series are juxtaposed with each other, each featuring a blue-to-orange gradient and sublime-looking clouds backlit by the sun’s rays. The abundant open spaces depicted in this series celebrate the beauty of nature and the transience of the scenery that Wolf witnessed every morning for two years on the island of Cheung Chau in Hong Kong, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

 

Michael Wolf, Informal Solutions Installation, 2017, video, achival inkjet prints and found objects, 170 x 330.2 cm. Image courtesy of The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery.

 

Michael Wolf, Industrial #26, 2015, chromogenic print, 122 x 173 cm. Image courtesy The Estate of Michael Wolf and Flowers Gallery

 

Elsewhere in the gallery, Informal Solutions (2017) explores the nooks and crannies of Hong Kong’s back alleys and how discarded items are repurposed to serve new functions. The framed photographs that form the installation are arranged in clusters. At the bottom right, a red plastic chair with nylon strings wrapped around one leg is suspended from the wall, while in the centre, there are two deformed hangers with plastic clips. All of these form vernacular sculptures highlighting quotidian experiences in the city. Placed beside the installation is Industrial #26 (2015), a chromogenic print, which portrays the exterior wall of a typical concrete building, featuring striking horizontal and vertical lines. The geometrical shapes such as square or rectangular windows, as well as pipes arranged in 90-degree angles, create rhythm in the overall composition of the piece. The monochromatic palette, with the exception of specks of red and blue clothing hung in the windows, and the textures created by repetitive patterns prompt us to re-examine the living environment around us as we look at manmade structures through the lens of the photographer.

By showcasing the body of work by Wolf, Flowers Gallery shows confidence in the city’s ability to thrive during a time of unprecedented change, both locally and globally. Not only do the artworks on display exemplify the unique characteristics of Hong Kong, the positivity in the last series that he created also signify the hopeful prospect of peace and renewal.

 

Spotlight on Michael Wolf
22 May – 25 July, 2020
Flowers Gallery, Hong Kong

 

About the artist

Michael Wolf is known for capturing the hyper-density of cities, such as Hong Kong, Tokyo and Chicago in his large-scale photographs of high-rise architecture and intimate studies of the lives of city dwellers.

Born in Munich in 1954, Wolf grew up in Canada, Europe, and the United States, studying at University of California, Berkeley and under Otto Steinert at the Folkwang School in Essen, Germany. He moved to Hong Kong in 1994, where he worked for eight years as a contract photographer for Stern Magazine, before moving on from photojournalism in 2003 to focus on his personal work. Wolf published over 30 books, including the critically acclaimed titles Tokyo Compression and Architecture of Density.

His work features in many permanent collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Museum Folkwang, Essen; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag and M+ Museum, Hong Kong.

 

 
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