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Local talent: Gallery Exit

We sit down with gallery director Anthony Tao, who's made as name for his commitment to showcasing contemporary, edgy Hong Kong talents

“Every exit is an entry to somewhere else”. This Tom Stoppard quote instantly lit up the bulb in Mr. Anthony Tao’s brain when he was searching for names for his gallery. Now a well-established platform for emerging artists, Gallery Exit has been paving career paths for many of them, creating a platform to rising stars of the art industry.

We sit down with gallery director Anthony Tao to talk about how his Aberdeen art space is helping to make a name for homegrown talent.

Hi Anthony, thanks for chatting to Time Out! When did Gallery Exit open?
We planned it in 2008, and we officially opened in 2009. I have one other partner. Other people have helped out, but mostly it’s just me and another guy called Aenon Loo.

Who in the art industry inspires you?
Herb and Dorothy Vogel for their lifelong passion in art.

What is it about art that touches you? Is it the visuals, the emotions, or messages, or something else?

There’s different kinds of art, but I would say, something that touches me emotionally would be the pieces I pick.

What motivated you to open Gallery Exit?
I opened the gallery because I started out collecting and as I went along, I realised there are so many talented Hong Kong artists that need a reliable platform to showcase their work because they lack the exposure. So I decided to open the gallery to showcase mainly Hong Kong local artists, but to a certain extent other Asian artists as well like Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and other Southeast Asian artists. We had this idea of doing edgy, contemporary stuff that you didn’t normally see in Hong Kong at that time.

What do you want Gallery Exit to bring to the local art scene?
From the very beginning, our focus has been on Asian art with heavy emphasis on emerging local artists. We just happened to be in a unique phase of time that saw the commercial or institutional development of art. Also, sometimes when people talk about art collecting, people think you always have to have a lot of money to be able to do it. The media often has a very standard view when they are reporting on collectors, they always focus on those people with a lot of money. These are people’s perceptions of an art collector but I don’t think this should be the case. I don’t think art should necessarily be only rich people’s cup of tea. I have seen so many ordinary people who still collect artworks because they love them, although sometimes it has to be within a budget. With the case of emerging artists, a lot of it is affordable, especially when they first start, so everyone can be consumer.

Would you say there is no platform for emerging artists to grow in Hong Kong?
I wouldn’t say so. But before we opened, it was very conservative. Most galleries at the time only showed paintings, and sometimes sculptures. Other conceptual artists, for example the ones doing videos and installations, had very little chance to do shows in Hong Kong. But then we saw Art Hong Kong and galleries coming from the west, and the announcement of West Kowloon Cultural District. All of a sudden, people became interested in not just only more traditional art forms like painting, but they're now discovering video and all other kinds of modern art.

How do you discover your artists?
There are various ways. We go to a lot of graduate shows, and a lot of studios. Some of them are discovered through recommendations of other artists, collectors and curators. We also get a lot of emails from people exploring chances to be able to work with us. It’s more about expanding the network and trying to reach out to everyone. We are very proactive in the process of discovering artists.

Throughout the process, you surely discover so many new talented artists, but obviously you can only accommodate so many at a time. As a gallery owner, how do you decide on who to work with and what kind of work is worth a space of its own?
From the start, we obviously have to look at the work. We don't particularly endorse any curators or artists, we try to work with people that share our aesthetics and have a unique vision. We sort of already have this first impression of whether the work is good or not and then we talk to the artist. I think communicating with the artist is very important. You have to know them, their thought process, the whole intellectual development, and whether they are really serious about making art. Some artists, when they start out, just want to try it for a year or two and if it doesn’t go anywhere, they stop. You have to really talk to the artists to know their intention of making art. It’s very important to meet the artists in person. It’s not just about the product itself, but it’s also about the personality of the creators.

How is the relationship between you, as a platform provider, and the artists?
For us, it’s a very long-term relationship. Even when we're just trying someone out for exhibition, it’s a discovery process of whether we can have longer relationship or is it just a one-show thing, as well as where the artists will go from that show, and their whole artistic development. Those things are very important for both us and the artists. Some of them do develop long-term partnerships with us. Sometimes we will even represent in a way where they can focus on making the work and developing their careers both in an artistic and commercial sense. So, we need to work with people who understand us, but we also need to understand them.

What are some of your success stories of artists you've worked with?
I would say Kwan Sheung Chi is one of them. He’s a conceptual person, and works mostly in videos and installations. These mediums aren't easy to sell in Hong Kong so we showcase them a lot outside Hong Kong during art fairs, collaborating with other galleries, especially in Japan. His turning point came when he won the first Hugo Boss Asian Arts award and all of a sudden, people started discovering him and gradually supporting what he does. Some of his works are now part of very important collections, and also show in other institutions overseas. He’s one of the successful cases. There’s also Nadim Abbas. We did a show a couple of years ago in New York City, where there’s this special section of The Armory Show Focus: China. It’s curated by Philip Tinari who is the curator at UCCA in Beijing, and he selected Nadim as one of the exhibiting artists. From there, he got a lot of exposure from the States. He then went on to be a part of a new museum trend in LA.

What do you think about Hong Kong's reception of arts?
I think it’s getting more and more diversified now. There’s now a lot of opportunities to see different forms of art in Hong Kong – it’s wonderful, it’s really a great development in terms of arts and culture. This is probably why now there are a lot more emerging artists than ever. Ten years ago, no young people in Hong Kong would consider art as a career, but now, people are getting more confident about art. They can actually have a career and life from making art.

Gallery Exit, 3/F, 25 Hing Wo St, Tin Wan, 2541 1299; galleryexit.com

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