TEXT: Camilla Russell
IMAGES: Courtesy of K11 MUSEA
Graffiti art—and its sister, street art or neo-graffiti—is perhaps one of the best examples of a rags-to-riches story in the history of art. Once categorized as the enfant terrible of society, graffiti art is a creative force inspired by anarchy and beautiful chaos. For many years it has been tossed in the typical high art versus low art debate and was once a key leader of a radical art movement that rebelled against all deemed polite and good in artistic society. It is then a great irony that in recent few years graffiti art—but even more so, street art—has joined the higher echelons of art history, with Western contemporary artists such as Barry McGee, KAWS, Shepard Fairey and Banksy, among others, leading the way for graffiti artists and street artists worldwide.
The artistic vision of Adrian Cheng, Founder of K11 Group, is for K11 MUSEA to be a community leader in the museum retail business model, which seeks to break away from the conventions of the retail experience and make art accessible. Dedicated to street art, the third floor of K11 MUSEA—dubbed the Graffiti Zone—features unique, site-specific commissioned works of nine leading street artists. This dedicated space provides a visual guideline on the complex nature of graffiti art and street art, including how to place it in the wider context of contemporary artistic expression. Immersing the visitor, the entire third floor is quite literally amassed in street art; vibrant murals consume the walls, ceilings and columns, with more spilling over onto the ground below your feet.
Highlights include prolific American artist Ron English, admired by many younger street artists; Geng Yini, whose strong practice in narrative oil painting gives murals a figurative expression not commonly found in street; and Hong Kong favourites; Simple Bao, Kristopher Ho, and artist collective Graphic Airlines. All these artists have come together to provide a unified representation of street art and its growing place in our contemporary moment. Visitors are met with a variety of distinct artistic narratives that vary from humorous to cartoonish to magical realism—all the ingredients that reflect the great story of graffiti art and its place in the cannon of art history.
The Graffiti Zone may be easy to dismiss upon initial viewing as a tongue-in-cheek means to attract foot fall, however in lieu of Cheng’s 10-year commitment to transform K11 MUSEA into a reality, the group of artists who inhabit the third floor has been commissioned following a deliberate and careful selection process, as well as a project brief, to ensure they best represent the artistic mission of Victoria Dockside and its community.
Hong Kong has become the playground to some of the most talented street artists, and their work can be found in neighborhoods such as Sheung Wan, Sai Ying Pun and SoHo and increasingly popping up in various retail and hospitality businesses seeking to create a distinctive decor. Street art will only continue to climb the ranks of art and be accepted within posh artistic society. This trajectory from being an outcast to becoming a member of an elite club ultimately influenced the development of this art movement. But how does an enfant terrible grow up and still retain its rebellious nature?
Therein lies the question that the Graffiti Zone at K11 MUSEA strives to answer as visitors to the third floor are greeted with a visual cacophony of artistic voices competing to stand out amongst the brightly colored din. Artists like KAWS and Banksy may be paving new ground for a future generation of street artists finding acceptance in galleries, institutions and auction houses, but as seen in the Graffiti Zone, graffiti art and street art is always best when it can remain faithful to its street savoir faire attitude. Frankly this is why everyone is in love with graffiti art and street art—it will always remain wild and untamed at heart.