Two Masters of Light

Here at Asia Society Hong Kong Center, we create connections to foster a deeper understanding of culture. This past Spring, we were honored to present two presentations featuring masters of light: A Story of Light: Hon Chi-fun and Yukaloo by James Turrell. A Story of Light re-introduced the pioneering Hong Kong modern artist Hon Chi-fun (1922 – 2019) through a select presentation of thirty of his most sublime paintings, prints and photographs. Yukaloo marked the famed Light and Space artist James Turrell's (b. 1943) first institutional show in Hong Kong, bringing a transcendental wide glass piece to ASHK's Chantal Miller Gallery. 

Installation view of A Story of Light: Hon Chi-fun. Photo: Kitmin Lee
Installation view of A Story of Light: Hon Chi-fun. Photo: Kitmin Lee

A Story of Light: Hon Chi-fun was critically praised by both international and local media, including reviews in Artforum International, ArtAsiaPacific, South China Morning Post, Apple Daily, The Stand News, Zolima City Magazine, Ming Pao, UMagazine, Ta Kung Pao and ARTouch.

"If A Story of Light contends that light, as much as line, is a foundational material of representation, it is also, significantly, a study of lightness. The philosophic density of this idea lends the paradox that makes these paintings glow." - Harry Burke, Artforum International

Installation view of Yukaloo by James Turrell. Photo: Martin Wong
Installation view of Yukaloo by James Turrell. Photo: Martin Wong

Yukaloo was listed as a must-see installation by Sotheby's, Hong Kong Tatler, COBO Social, Soho House and Coconuts Hong Kong, and was also our most 'Instagrammed' exhibition ever, with over 200 posts, and comments such as:

“Like a balm – James Turrell’s soothing light installation #yukaloo was just the thing for a rainy Sunday afternoon.” @lizziewes

From March 12 through to our closing day of June 9, 2019, we welcomed over 14,000 visitors, led 168 guided tours to schools and community groups, and organized 24 educational lectures, workshops and experiences that parsed through the ideas behind the artwork. Below, four highlights of the exhibition period.

Four speakers sitting on a stage in front of a presentation.
Left to Right: Choi Yan-chi, Dr. Louis Ho, Quanan Shum and Tang Siu-Wa discussing Hon Chi-fun's A Place That Was (1998). Photo: Kaitlin Chan

March 14, 2019: Bringing Legends Together
To open the exhibition, we initiated a cross-generational dialogue between those who knew the legendary Hon Chi-fun best. Choi Yan-chi, new media artist and Hon's wife, Quanan Shum, a member of the Modern Art Literature and Art Association whose friendship with Hon dates back over forty years, Dr. Louis Ho, now an Assistant Professor at Baptist University who met Hon when he was only a teenager, and Tang Siu-Wa, celebrated Hong Kong writer who waxed poetically about Hon's work in her writing. The evening was filled with reminiscence and oral history, a video recording of which can be viewed here. Shum in particular recalled how at the time (in the late 1950s, early 1960s), none of the young Hong Kong artists or writers considered themselves pioneers, though they did become the first Hong Kongers to exhibit internationally. He reminisced fondly that they simply felt impassioned by the power of literature and paintings, and often stayed up until dawn exchanging ideas and hatching plans. As most of them worked other jobs in the day time (Hon was a postman for two decades), the evenings were theirs to cherish.

Photo: Kaitlin Chan

April 24, 2019: Little Friends at Yukaloo
On a cloudy Wednesday morning, our Exhibitions intern Rachel Leung welcomed twenty kindergarten students on a special tailor-made tour. While the exhibition had been viewed by various elementary school classes, this group was by far the youngest visitors to Yukaloo so far. The students impressed us with their sophisticated questions, as well as interpretations about what might be illuminating the artwork from behind the scrim. Their visit was a reminder to remain curious about artwork: many older visitors said they had seen a James Turrell artwork before, so seeing these youngsters witness a Turrell for the first time ever was truly a pleasure.

Leung Po Shan Anthony explaining to visitors the former Pok Fu Lam Dairy Farm's presence in colonial Hong Kong.
Leung Po Shan Anthony explaining to visitors the former Pok Fu Lam Dairy Farm's presence in colonial Hong Kong. Photo: Kaitlin Chan

May 5, 2019: A Walk Through Colonial History
Braving the all-day rainstorms that Hong Kong is so famous for, a group of around fifteen of us walked through Hong Kong island with the knowledgeable critic Leung Po Shan Anthony, who is also the co-editor of Hon's biography, Modern Art in a Colony: Narrated by Hon Chi-fun at the Millennium, 殖民地的現代藝術: 韓志勳千禧自述. Leung took us to former grounds of the Pok Fu Lam Dairy Farm, where a young Hon witnessed his father picking up deliveries of milk, as well as City Hall in Central, which has not changed since Hon Chi-fun and his collective Circle Art Group started exhibiting there shortly after its opening in 1962 (then the City Hall Museum and Art Gallery). Leung brought along several primary source materials to illustrate how colonial Hong Kong cultivated a nascent art scene, which made the walk all the more special. We also extend our thanks to Rachel Lau, who provided Cantonese to English interpretation throughout the afternoon.

Giuliana Rivero giving a Gong Bath to visitors with Yukaloo by James Turrell.
Giuliana Rivero leading a Gong Bath session for visitors to Yukaloo by James Turrell.

June 7, 2019: A Feast For the Senses
As a special closing event, we invited the trained sound therapist Giuliana Rivero to host a a special meditation session featuring her instrument of choice: a Chinese gong. As an example of Turrell’s perceptual art, Yukaloo exemplifies Turrell’s desire to “investigate the materiality of light and the sensorial experience of space, color, and perception.” The gong bath was a one-hour immersion in sacred and healing sound during which one will lie down and allow the sound of the gong to bathe one completely, entering a deep state of meditation. Visitors commented on how they had never experienced such a strong visual and aural presence before, which is testament to how viewing a James Turrell artwork is an experience quite unlike any other. 

Later this year, we will be exhibiting Hon's friend and contemporary Irene Chou in a solo exhibition A World Within: The Art and Inspiration of Irene Chou. We aim to continue shedding light on our city's talents, and continue building bridges between artists for years to come.