As Art Central and Art Basel descend upon Hong Kong next week, will it become Asia’s arts hub?

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The ‘Umbrella Man’ statue, shown here at a pro-democracy protest site in Hong Kong in October, is one example of locally produced art inspired by the city’s civic unrest.

Wall Street Journal (by Wei Gu): 

Once ridiculed as a cultural desert, Hong Kong is now a major destination on the global art circuit.

Next week alone the city will see two art fairs: A new fair, Art Central, debuts March 14-16, while Art Basel Hong Kong, the most important annual art event in Asia, will open March 13, featuring more than 230 galleries from 37 countries.

Buying and selling art fits perfectly with the city’s history as a trading center. But Hong Kong’s local art scene—the one in which local people actually make and enjoy art—has been slower to develop. The Occupy Central protests that paralyzed parts of the city for nearly three months last fall has given Hong Kong a creative boost.

The protests resulted in a number of dramatic images, including umbrellas that protesters used to fend off police pepper spray and the iconic 10-foot “Umbrella Man” sculpture. Before police dismantled the protest sites in December, there was a major effort to preserve the art that had been created.

Hong Kong Arts Center director Connie Lam says social tension is a nutrient for art making. Cosmin Costinas, executive director and curator of Para Site, a nonprofit art space in Hong Kong run by independent artists, agrees. “An active civil society with different ideas is a much more interesting place for diverse art to develop than a closed society where the king decides he wants to build a museum,” said Mr. Costinas.

The burst of creativity could transform Hong Kong from an art marketplace to an arts center akin to New York or Paris. Cities like these have thriving artists’ communities, famous museums, respected art schools and a wide range of galleries. Until recently the art scene in Hong Kong was dominated by high-end auctions and top international galleries, but that is changing with a new art museum under construction and a wave of new galleries.

Hong Kong is now the world’s third-largest art market by auction sales. The total number of galleries in the city has grown from about 10 before 2000 to more than 90 now, according to Hong Kong Art Galleries Association. Western dealers such as Gagosian, White Cube, and Ben Brown Fine Arts have opened galleries in Hong Kong in recent years.

People don’t pay taxes on art in the city, which gives it a huge advantage over nearly every other Asian city. Despite Hong Kong’s notoriously high rent and small spaces, selling paintings can be very profitable. Lehmann Maupin, a New York-based gallery, expected its Hong Kong gallery in the Central business district to break even in two years. It was profitable in the first year, said founder Rachel Lehmann.

Hong Kong has been recognized as the international Asian art hub,” said Adeline Ooi, Asia director for Art Basel. “Ten years ago it wasn’t the case, now it is very pronounced.”

Meanwhile, local interest in art has lagged behind. When Spring Workshop exhibited a work by top Chinese filmmaker Yang Fudong a few years ago, it had a hard time attracting visitors. The nonprofit art organization sent young women with hot chocolate into the street to bring in visitors, but they still couldn’t convince people to come see the art.

I am glad that we don’t have that problem anymore, it still makes me cry that we have these beautiful artworks but people don’t want to come to see,” said Ms. Brown, founder of Spring Workshop, located in Wong Chuk Hang, a former industrial town in Hong Kong. The gallery now regularly brings in 800 people a day for its shows.

One of the most memorable visitors, Ms. Brown recalls, was a 60-year old lady who showed up on a Tuesday with two friends wearing backpacks and sneakers. The woman said she had been reading about contemporary art and came to check out the arts space with her fellow retirees. Since then she has returned for several events. “Hong Kong is now ready for a lot more deeper engagement with culture,” said Ms. Brown.

The city has many students studying music and art—some schools even require students to play two musical instruments—but people treat art as something that isn’t accessible by ordinary people. Parents rarely take their children to museums—partly because hasn’t been much to see. M+, the visual-arts museum scheduled for completion in 2018 in the West Kowloon district, should help by giving the city a world-class exhibition space with an important collection.

As the global collecting world descends on Hong Kong next week, bringing with it art valued from hundreds to millions of dollars, it will give residents lots to be inspired by. Two local arts communities will hold their own events to draw in the visitors.

There is at least one show dedicated to the Occupy movement. Kacey Wong, a Hong Kong-born artist, will exhibit photographs in a show called Art of the Protest. For visitors who look closely at the city’s overpasses and sidewalks, stenciled images of umbrellas can still be spotted, the last remnants of the art created during the protests.

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A visitor looked at an art installation at last year’s Art Basel in Hong Kong.

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rag & bone “HOUSTON PROJECT” by Yoon Hyup

Image of rag & bone "HOUSTON PROJECT" by Yoon Hyup

Art is everywhere in New York. Like music or fashion, its an undeniable aspect of urban life here, spilling off of its respective canvas onto the streets, melting into our everyday experience. rag & bone embodies this in a way, with the New York-based contemporary brand an exceedingly popular choice amongst the young populace.

Beyond the clothes though, the label strives to promote other arts, exemplified in its latest endeavor: “HOUSTON PROJECT.” rag & bone recruited Yoon Hyup – who splits time between Seoul and New York – to create a new mural on the outer wall of their Houston Street location. Hyup draws influence from traditional Korean line drawings and Cubist techniques to compose his own brand of intricate, colorful work. His new work for rag & bone is no different, echoing his work for Seoul’s Creative Map project to add a bright sense of diversity to downtown Manhattan.

Explore the work above, and learn more about Hyup here.

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Image of rag & bone "HOUSTON PROJECT" by Yoon Hyup
Image of rag & bone "HOUSTON PROJECT" by Yoon Hyup
Image of rag & bone "HOUSTON PROJECT" by Yoon Hyup
Image of rag & bone "HOUSTON PROJECT" by Yoon Hyup
Image of rag & bone "HOUSTON PROJECT" by Yoon Hyup
Image of rag & bone "HOUSTON PROJECT" by Yoon Hyup
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A look at the Japanese underground music scene in Brooklyn

BPM

On the western edge of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY lies Studio BPM, an underground studio and music venue, and a hub of the Japanese expat art scene in Brooklyn.

Studio BPM has almost no online presence and the physical location is camouflaged… The only signage on the small brick building is a faded blue sign that reads: “King Collision: Body and Fender Repair.” A graffiti-tagged door, propped open with a cinderblock, indicates that BPM is open. The main room features a stage, sound equipment and an array of disco balls that hang from the ceiling at various heights. Artists, musicians, Americans and Japanese expats trickle in steadily, mingling in the cramped hallways.

Kobayashi, one of BPM’s founding members, and a group of Japanese artists moved into the belly of the defunct King Collision auto shop in 2001. They erected walls, built a stage and rewired the building, transforming it into a studio space. For over a decade now, people have been making music here.

Studio BPM became an important venue in the afrobeat revival of the last decade. Today, afrobeat, dubwise (a bass-heavy reggae subgenre) and jam bands are the venue’s staples, but BPM hosts other bands, artists, and DJs as well. The music here is rhythmic and earnest in attitude — a peculiarity in Brooklyn, where “cool” is often synonymous with “sardonic.”

But one can’t enter BPM on just any night. There are only a few shows a month, and finding out the schedule is difficult. BPM doesn’t have a website, so concertgoers rely on word of mouth or Facebook messages.

Most of the time, BPM serves as a private workspace for a crew of musicians and sound engineers, all from Japan.

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A look at the Japanese underground music scene in Brooklyn

BPM-Jam