Cui Jie: The Peak Tower review

3 out of 5 stars
Cui Jie: The Peak Tower review
Cui Jie 'The Second Generation of Peak Tower' (2019) © the artist. Image courtesy of Pilar Corrias

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island and the place to head if you want to flood Instagram with panoramic shots of Victoria Harbour. Artist Cui Jie, however, doesn’t want you to look at the view from the peak, she wants you to look at the place you view from.

Over the past 100 years or so, three structures have been constructed up there. The current one, a space-age pavilion designed by Terry Farrell in 1997, along with an earlier version by Chung Wah Nan inspired by Chinese philosophies and design, features prominently in Cui’s latest series of large-scale paintings. 

There are two disarming things about them. First, the oddness of viewing a viewing platform, one that’s entirely empty of the hordes who use it and probably usually ignored in favour of the cityscape below. Second, the slightly nauseating un-naturalism of the colours. Cui paints in bright mauves, artificial peaches and that minty turquoise people were fond of coating 1950s fridges with. These are anti-landscape colours, shades that speak of shiny interiors, not vast tree-dotted scenery.

It’s ideal, because the artist isn’t interested in the natural world, she’s interested in humans leaving their imprint on it. Architecture says a lot here: the difference between the vision of a British architect on ’90s Hong Kong, compared to the earlier reference points of Chung, for instance. Displayed in between the paintings are a few small sketches in coloured pencils of historic Chinese-style buildings and skinny trees, ancient landscapes that couldn’t be more different to the hyper-modern skyscrapered HK.

All of which is fascinating, but Cui’s paintings are almost too good at recreating the aluminium-coated world of peopleless buildings. You get a view, but not any thrill of emotion – and isn’t that what everyone puffs up the hill for?


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